Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas closed out the annual Conservative Political Action Conference by calling on the thousands of people in attendance to join him in standing up for the U.S. Constitution.
Mr. Cruz also poked fun at Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who labeled him and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky as "wacko birds" because of the outspoken brand of politics they've brought to Capitol Hill.
"I have to admit when Rand and I first heard that we thought it was a new kind of drone, " Mr. Cruz said. "But if standing for liberty and standing for the Constitution and standing for liberty makes me a wacko bird, then count me a proud wacko bird."
Mr. Cruz's closing remarks -- in particular his jab at Mr. McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee -- marked a fitting end to the three-day conference, which was billed as "America's Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives — New Challenges, Timeless Principles."
The event showcased some of the movement's up-and-coming leaders, including Mr. Paul, as well as Sen. Marco Rubio, and Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
And it provided the hordes of people who converged on the Gaylord National Hotel just outside the Washington Beltway to regroup from last year's election, when President Obama won a second term and Democrats captured seats in the House and Senate.
Mr. Cruz, though, won his seat in Texas after knocking off the pick of the GOP establishment in the Lone Star State.
And he has been no shrinking violet since being sworn into the Senate earlier this year. He grilled former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel during his nomination hearing to be the next secretary of defense over his views on Israel and teamed up with Mr. Paul in putting forward a proposal to prohibit the use of drones to kill U. St. citizens on American soil.
He also introduced a proposal to defund Mr. Obama's health care law, which died in the Senate last week despite support from every Republican.
Taken together, the moves have bolstered Mr. Cruz's standing in the eyes of grass roots conservative and tea partyers, and some political onlookers say that he could very well run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.
Mr. Cruz came in seventh in the 2013 Washington Times-CPAC presidential straw poll on Saturday.
Shortly after the results were announced, Mr. Cruz told the crowd said that there are some signs that the conservative movement is gaining ground on Capitol Hill.
He pointed to Mr. Paul's information-seeking filibuster against John O. Brennan, as well as the $85 billion in sequester cuts that were set into motion on March 1, which he said was a small step in the direction of fiscal sanity.
Pushing forward, he said Republicans "need to get back to the Constitution" and that Congress needs to repeal the National Defense Authorization Act, which civil liberties groups say codifies indefinite military detention without charge or trial.
"The federal government does not have the authority to indefinitely detain a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil without due process of the law," he said.
Sparking loud rounds of applause from the crowd, Mr. Cruz said Congress needs to rein in the Environment Protection Agency, repeal the "Dodd-Frank" financial regulations, audit the federal reserve and abolish the Department of Education.
"Education is too important for it to be governed by bureaucrats in Washington taking choices away from parents and kids," he said. "And we need to champion school choice -- the civil rights issue of the next generation."
Bring the crowd to its feet, he closed out his remarks by saying that conservatives have to make a choice between "surrendering or standing up now to defend our liberty."
"On guns, do we surrender or do we stand up?" he asked, drawing applause form the crowd. "On drones, do we surrender or do we stand up now? On spending, do we surrender or do we stand up now? On debt, do we surrender or stand up now. On the Constitution, do we surrender or stand up now?"
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