Presidential races

Brussels attacks roil WH race

Tuesday morning’s series of fatal explosions in Brussels rocked Europe’s sense of security and stirred the U.S. presidential race with fresh anxiety about terrorist attacks here.

{mosads}Presidential candidates in both parties raced to call for tougher U.S. security measures, following the bombings that killed more than 30 people and injured well over 100 at Brussels’s main airport and a downtown subway station just steps from European Union offices.

But Ted Cruz — who went into Tuesday looking for critical victories in GOP primaries being held in Arizona and Utah — found himself battling controversy over a call to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized,” as well as block some refugees from entering the country.

“We know what is happening with these isolated Muslim neighborhoods in Europe,” the Cruz campaign said in a statement to The Hill, in an attempt to clarify his comments. “If we want to prevent it from happening here, it is going to require an empowered, visible law enforcement presence that will both identify problem spots and partner with non-radical Americans who want to protect their homes.”

Cruz’s initial remarks drew quick rebuke from Democrats and civil rights groups, who accused him of endorsing Islamophobic sentiment in order to appeal to voters on the right-wing fringe.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the head of the Democratic National Committee, called Cruz a “disgrace” and warned that his remark “only serves to foment anger and make the world less secure.”

“It’s shocking that a leading presidential candidate in our nation in 2016 would suggest monitoring a section of our American society just because of its religious faith,” echoed Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in an interview with The Hill. “He claims in his speeches to defend religious liberty, but he seems to be fake when it comes to this.”

Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, said in an interview on CNN that he agreed with Cruz’s call “100 percent.”

“I bet you the local police know much more what’s going on than anybody would understand,” he said.

Tuesday’s deadly attacks renewed American fears about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which took credit for the Brussels blasts hours after they went off.

Months after an ISIS-­inspired couple killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. — the deadliest attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 — concerns were high that Americans could find themselves in the crosshairs again.

“This is yet another reminder that the world must unite, we must be together, regardless of nationality, or race, or faith, in fighting against the scourge of terrorism,” President Obama said in remarks from Havana, where he was in the midst of a historic trip.

“We can — and will — defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world,” he said. 

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson insisted there was “no specific, credible intelligence of any plot to conduct similar attacks here in the United States,” but nonetheless added extra security to major U.S. airports and rail stations.

The Transportation Security Administration “is also working closely with state and local law enforcement, airport and transit authorities, and the aviation industry in order to augment that security,” Johnson added.

Travelers on public transit systems in Washington, New York and other major cities saw beefed up security details on Tuesday morning.

No Americans were reported killed in Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels, though the Pentagon confirmed that one service member and his family were injured. Reports also emerged of three Mormon missionaries from Utah who had survived the attacks with significant injuries.

In the U.S., responses to the new violence were mixed.

Trump called for the U.S. to “close up our borders” and tied the terror threat to immigration.

“We are taking in people without real documentation,” he said on Fox News’s “Fox and Friends.” “We don’t know who they are or where they’re from.” 

The billionaire real estate mogul also reiterated his support for waterboarding terrorism suspects, which he claims would help extract information about possible threats.

Hillary Clinton, who is leading the Democratic race, urged the U.S. to strengthen its intelligence operations and crack down on ISIS’s ability to spread propaganda online.

“We have to also toughen, as you say, ‘soft targets,’ with greater police presence,” Clinton added in an interview on CNN. “There is no getting around that.”

Tuesday morning’s attacks are likely to refocus the presidential race toward issues of national security, which have been percolating for months.

“The narrative will change in the short term,” said Cliff Young, the president of polling company Ipsos Public Affairs. “The media will focus on this, the candidates probably will talk about it. But three months from now, if there’s no other terrorist attack, probably we’ll be talking about domestic issues again.”

The race turned sharply toward terrorism fears late last year, following attacks in Paris and San Bernardino that underscored the growing reach of ISIS.

That focus had quieted down in recent weeks, with the race centering on Trump’s personality traits and questions about whether the parties could unify behind a single candidate.

Scrutiny has mounted on Trump, given his lack of firsthand national security experience and willingness to deviate from the norms of conventional foreign policy. On Monday, just hours before blasts rocked Brussels, he had questioned the U.S.’s contributions to NATO, an alliance he said “is costing us a fortune.”

Yet in terms of poll ratings, Trump has benefited the most from the pivot in December to terrorism fears, and he stands to gain again if new fears spike, given the public’s tendency to support Republicans on national security issues, speculated Young.

“It’s really a Republican halo effect — it’s not a candidate-specific halo effect,” he said. “It might be the case that he doesn’t have as much of a halo effect — that it’s less than, or attenuated — but he will be helped by it over Hillary, because he’s a Republican.

Updated at 8:04 p.m.

Tags Brussels attack Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Ted Cruz

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