Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told actress and activist Alyssa Milano that he was a fan of Who’s the Boss? and Commando, while she told him that his stance on gun reform “has made you almost like this caricature of a villain.”
“That is why this meeting was so important to me — I wanted to look at you in the eye and know that you really are a human with a heartbeat,” she told him.
The occasion was an unusual, livestreamed and Twitter-inspired meeting Tuesday at Cruz’s Capitol Hill office to talk about efforts to bring gun legislation to the floor of the Senate. During the session, which lasted more than an hour, much was made of the fact that they were sitting down for a thoughtful conversation at all, even if legislative views remain unchanged.
From the right, there was Cruz, who often bashes Hollywood and has been critical of Democrats’ proposed gun reform legislation. From the left, there was Milano, who has emerged as a prominent activist on a host of progressive issues and is in Washington this week as Democrats pressure action on a series of measures in the wake of recent mass shootings.
“I’m asking you, begging you, to have the courage to lead,” Milano told Cruz at the outset. Joining her was Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was among the victims of the Parkland shootings.
Cruz said: “This is a divided time. This is an angry time. … I think it is beneficial for is to have a human conversation.
“I also hope that just seeing people on different places on the spectrum, treating people with civility and humanity, that is contagious.”
They agreed to the meeting last week, after a short back-and-forth on Twitter over a Republican’s response to the mass shooting in Odessa that killed seven people and injured 22. Milano criticized a lawmaker, Matt Schaefer, who said that gun control solutions would not stop a person “with evil intent.”
Milano wrote, “Can someone cite which passage of the Bible God states it is a god-given right to own a gun? This guy is unbelievable and is clearly owned by the gun lobby.”
Cruz then responded in a series of tweets that “it is of course not the right to a modern-day firearm that is God-given but rather the right to Life & the right to Liberty. Essential to that right is the right to DEFEND your life & your family.”
She proposed that she and Cruz meet in a livestreamed setting, and he agreed. It was not a debate but a discussion, with Cruz sitting in between Guttenberg and Milano as they asked him to support legislation or at least urge that measures make it to the Senate floor.
Cruz, however, said that he wanted to “focus on policies that would really stop these crimes.” He expressed doubts that some of the gun control measures that have been proposed, like one to expand background checks, would have stopped some of the high-profile mass shootings. Instead, he said that the focus should be on improving the prosecution of gun cases and to make the federal background check database more accurate. He and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) first proposed the legislation in 2013.
“I believe that gun control laws that restrict law-abiding citizens are incredibly ineffective,” Cruz said. “I think they are harmful.”
But Milano and Gutenberg pressed Cruz on why he couldn’t at least support an expansion of the background-check system to cover private purchases, including those at gun shows.
Cruz said that he has misgivings about such as law, warning that it would require background checks on instances like a grandfather passing along a gun to a grandson. He said that he fears that such a bill eventually would lead to a gun registry, something that his 2018 Senate rival, Beto O’Rourke, already has proposed.
“A gun registry is how gun confiscation is carried out,” Cruz said.
Milano, though, said that given the crisis of gun violence, “we have to try everything and figure out what works.”
Cruz didn’t give any indication that he was going to change his stance, but there was some talk in the meeting of toning down rhetoric around the issue and aiming for bipartisanship.
The meeting ended with Milano again pleading with Cruz to “please do something about gun violence” and then pledging to give “the Democrats as much hell about working together.” Before the streaming video was shut off, they hugged.
She wrote later: “He was gracious. I’m unsure if it changes anything. But appreciative for the opportunity to bridge the divide with civil, meaningful discussion.” He wrote that the meeting was “productive and respectful,” and “I appreciate their willingness to come here with an open mind.”