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Ted Cruz calls Planned Parenthood 'criminal' and Iran deal 'catastrophic'

The GOP candidate declared that the Iranian nuclear deal is “catastrophic” and labeled Planned Parenthood a “criminal enterprise" during an NBC News interview.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz declared that President Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal is “catastrophic” and labeled Planned Parenthood a “criminal enterprise” during an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Hallie Jackson on Monday.

“The Iranian nuclear deal is catastrophic — the single greatest national security threat facing America,” Cruz said. “To allow a country led by a theocratic zealot who chants ‘death to America’ to have a weapon that could in the flash of an eye murder millions of Americans. We have to stop this deal.” He also called New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer “courageous” for recently coming out against the deal.

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The Texas senator, who holds particular appeal among hard-line conservatives and tea party members, reiterated his views on some of the most hot-button topics of the 2016 presidential race while on a bus tour through Tennessee. His comments came less than a week after the Republican presidential debates showcased Cruz and fellow rivals jostling for attention against the inflammatory remarks by current GOP front-runner Donald Trump. Cruz's team said the campaign had pulled in more than $1 million since the debates.

“The question of, should we be funding Planned Parenthood? The answer is of course not,” Cruz added on Monday. “It ought to be a no-brainer that we shouldn’t be sending $500 million of taxpayer money — of your and my money — to be funding a criminal enterprise.” The women's health organization has been under fire in recent weeks over secretly taped and edited footage leaked by an anti-abortion group that allegedly shows Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue. A Republican-led attempt to defund the organization failed in the Senate on Aug. 3.

Cruz spoke in Atlanta on Saturday at the RedState Gathering, a major conservative event attended by numerous Republican candidates — and one from which Trump was disinvited after controversial remarks aimed at Fox News host Megyn Kelly.

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Cruz noted on Monday that wooing the conservative base represents an important part of his 2016 campaign strategy.

“There are about 90 million self-described evangelicals in America, that’s about 30% of our population,” Cruz said. “In 2012, 54 million evangelicals stayed home. They vote 80-20 Republican when they show up .... It’s the largest single bloc of conservative voters that are not voting right now.”

During a press event on Monday, Cruz also responded to questions about Trump’s controversial remarks. He emphasized the need for “respect and civility” among candidates, but also praised Trump for shining the spotlight on issues such as immigration.