As Americans learned about the latest terrorist attacks in Western Europe, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz called for law enforcement targeting of Muslim neighborhoods, while also taking swipes at both President Obama and his leading Republican rival, Donald Trump.
"Our European allies are now seeing what comes of a toxic mix of migrants who have been infiltrated by terrorists and isolated, radical Muslim neighborhoods," he said in a statement. “We will do what we can to help them fight this scourge, and redouble our efforts to make sure it does not happen here."
He further called for a "need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized."
The comments elicited a visceral reaction from the leader of the Council of American-Islamic Relations.
"Mr. Cruz’s call for law enforcement to ‘patrol and secure’ neighborhoods in which American Muslim families live is not only unconstitutional, it is unbefitting anyone seeking our nation’s highest office and indicates that he lacks the temperament necessary for any president," said CAIR executive director Nihad Awad.
“We urge Ted Cruz to retract his call for fascist-like treatment of American Muslims and to offer an apology to all Americans."
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, an Austin Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, homed in on a key point in the statement: Cruz did not specify whether the suggested patrols should happen in the U.S. or in Europe.
"I think that the difference between Europe and the United States is [Muslims] are relatively integrated in the United States," McCaul said. "And in Europe, they're not, particularly in Belgium and France. They're very segregated, and so they have become more radicalized."
Speaking separately to reporters Tuesday morning, Cruz accused Obama of "abdication of leadership from the world" and revisited his frequent criticism of the president for prioritizing "political correctness" over what the senator perceives to be the most effective strategy for combatting the international threat from extremist Muslims.
And he sought to tie Trump to that argument.
"I would note that retreat from the world, the Obama-Clinton retreat from the world, is very much the retreat from the world that Donald Trump is advocating," Cruz said. "Even Barack Obama hasn't gotten so far as argue from withdrawing from NATO, the way Donald Trump has.
"And the way to respond to terrorist attacks is not weakness, is not unilateral and preemptive surrender, abandoning Europe," he added. "Withdrawing from NATO, as Trump suggests, is preemptive surrender."
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a military alliance between European nations and the United States to counter the rise of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe after World War II.
Cruz's remarks were in reference to comments Trump said on CNN and elsewhere Monday. Trump aired a common American criticism of NATO - that the United States shoulders an outsized financial share of protecting Europe from outside threats. He argued the U.S. ought to spend less but to not decrease involvement.
"I think we have to reconsider -- keep NATO but maybe we have to pay a lot less toward the NATO itself," Trump said. "So there has to be at least a change in philosophy."
"Not decrease its role, but certainly decrease the kind of spending. We are spending a tremendous amount in NATO, and other people proportionately less -- no good."
He did not clarify how he would manage these two seemingly mutually exclusive tacts.
At least 31 people died in the Brussels region attack, according to The Washington Post.
Jamie Lovegrove contributed to this report.