Lawmaker on African trip: Cruz 'was on the spot'

Many members of the Congressional Black Caucus were curious why Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) decided to join them on a 20-hour flight to South Africa, but Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) said today that she thinks the time together was productive.

Cruz was the only senator, and one of two Republicans, to join the 22-member congressional delegation to Nelson Mandela's memorial service last week. Moore noted today on MSNBC's "Jansing & Co." that many of the other members, such as Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), had personal connections to the issues from working against apartheid.

"He was on the spot because there were many members who were curious about why he would want to take this pilgrimage," Moore said.

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But she also said there were benefits to having him on the trip. ObamaCare was a particular focus of the discussions. "He sort of stuck to his guns about it, but I do think we were able to break through some of the talking points and really challenge them," Moore said.

Moore had a great chance to get to know Cruz because she sat next to him on the 40 hours of round-trip flights, in addition to dining and riding on the bus with him.

She said Cruz showed her pictures of his daughters learning to ice skate and helped her get her bags down from the luggage rack.

There were also more serious moments, such as when a member tried to impress upon the Texas senator the effects of poverty. "One member even sort of woke Sen. Cruz up as we were riding along and passed a shantytown, to show him the real contradictions in that particular society," Moore said.

Cummings spoke to The Baltimore Sun after the first leg of the journey and said that Cruz had gotten "an earful" on the trip. He also indicated the discussion had helped illuminate that, "He's running for president — I don't have any doubt about it." 

Both Moore and Cummings said the conversations were always respectful, though.

Cruz made headlines on the trip, when he walked out of Cuban President Raul Castro's speech at the service. But he also made clear his reverence for Mandela. "Nelson Mandela will live in history as an inspiration for defenders of liberty around the globe," Cruz said in a statement upon news of Mandela's death. "Because of his epic fight against injustice, an entire nation is now free."

Moore recalled that, at the end of the trip, Cruz asked her if she was ready to become a Republican. "I did indicate to him that I thought the Republican Party would have to change a lot," Moore said.