RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told a socially conservative advocacy group that President Barack Obama's Democratic administration is "the most hostile to religious liberty" in American history and uses the health reform law is its most formidable weapon against them.
Cruz, the Senate leader of an effort by congressional Republicans to condition funding for federal government to stripping the health law of funding, sought to shift blame for the resulting government shutdown to Democrats as polls show Americans hold the GOP more to blame for it than Democrats.
"I am sorry to say that this administration is the most hostile to religious liberties that this country has ever seen," Cruz said as several hundred Christian conservatives roared their approval. "We see the federal government mandate that people across this country violate their religious faith and provide for those whose faith prohibits it contraceptives or abortion drugs."
Cruz and fellow Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who is running for Virginia governor, headlined a fundraiser for several hundred people who support the nonprofit Family Foundation, the state's best-known lobby for socially conservative legislation.
Most of the senator's 54-minute address was aimed at the Senate's Democratic leadership, whom he accused of obstructing at least four bills that would have restored funding to select areas of government that have been suspended, including veterans services and the National Institutes of Health.
At this point, polls show more Americans blame Republicans for the shutdown than Obama and other Democrats.
A CBS News poll conducted after the shutdown began Tuesday shows 44 percent of Americans blame Republicans, compared to 35 percent for Obama and Democrats. Nearly 1 in 5 says both sides share the blame.
"Four times the U.S. House of Representatives has acted to fully fund the government, and yet prevent the very real harm that Obamacare is causing to millions of Americans," Cruz said.
Last month, Cruz staged a 21-hour, 19-minute filibuster on the Senate floor in support of defunding the health overhaul, reading a Dr. Suess children's fable during part of his overnight marathon.
He also paid tribute to Cuccinelli, saying "he is smart, he is principled and he is fearless."
But Cuccinelli, who spoke for just seven minutes, made no mention of Cruz.
Cuccinelli also flailed the health overhaul law and blasted the Democratic White House and his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, for supporting environmental regulations that he says amount to a war on coal. The issues are two major fault lines between the adversaries in America's only competitive gubernatorial race.
"The war on coal in Virginia is a war on our poor," Cuccinelli said, referring to new Environmental Protection Agency regulations that would impose strict carbon-emission limits on new coal- or gas-fired electrical power plants. McAuliffe last week spoke out for the first time in support for the new regulations that Cuccinelli and the GOP contend will curtail coal mining in mountainous southwestern Virginia.
Cuccinelli was the first state attorney general in the nation to sue the federal government alleging the health care overhaul violated the U.S. Constitution.
"Many of you have heard me say that states have a role to play defending that constitution. When the federal government oversteps its boundaries, we are the last line of defense," said Cuccinelli, who received two standing ovations.
McAuliffe supports the health care overhaul and has pledged to expand Medicare eligibility to about 400,000 Virginia working poor if elected, saying the state would forfeit $21 billion in federal support over seven years without it.