Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a moderate Republican, called remarks made Wednesday by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) at a Christian event “outrageous and incendiary.”
In an interview Thursday, Dent said he was sitting in the front row as Cruz spoke at a gala hosted by In Defense of Christians, an organization that seeks to raise awareness of the persecution of Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East, and that he cringed as Cruz responded to hecklers.
At the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, Cruz said, “Those who hate Israel hate America, and those who hate Jews hate Christians." A handful of attendees jeered the senator’s rhetoric and tone.
“I am saddened to see some here, not everyone, but some here are so consumed with hate,” Cruz said as he was booed and before leaving the stage. “If you will not stand with Israel and Jews, then I will not stand with you.”
Dent, whose district has a large population of Americans of Syrian and Lebanese descent, said he sympathized with those who were unhappy with Cruz, and wondered if the senator's intent was to inflame the audience in order to gain traction with tea party activists ahead of a potential 2016 presidential run.
"I support Israel, but what Senator Cruz did was outrageous and incendiary," Dent said. "He showed a true lack of sensitivity for the people he was speaking to, especially the religious leaders who were there. It was a political speech, inappropriate and, overall, an uncomfortable moment."
Dent added that Cruz seemed to be speaking "for another audience" beyond the ballroom that would later watch the video.
"He was speaking to people outside of the building," Dent said. "It was a willful and deliberate confrontation, and very self-serving."
Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.