BOLDUAN: A lot of new faces in Washington, D.C., today and this week, and Wolf is very excited about it, but soon they'll be familiar to the whole country. We're talking about the new lawmakers sworn in today as members of the 113th Congress.
BLITZER: Two of them are joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, the new Republican senator from Texas, Ted Cruz; also, the Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard.
It's your first day in Washington. All right, Congresswoman, what do you think?
REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: First of all, we've had a large group of people who flew out from Hawaii for this special day. Very lucky that they brought me some lei and fresh flowers --
BLITZER: -- any symbolic meaning...
GABBARD: This is the Maile lei, which a very sweet-smelling fragrance and a lei that's often worn by the Alii (ph) in Hawaii.
BLITZER: Ooh, very nice.
Senator, do you want to smell this?
GABBARD: Sorry we didn't bring anything --
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: You know, I feel very underdressed.
BLITZER: You got a hat, you got boots, what do you got from Texas...
CRUZ: I've got my boots on.
BLITZER: Oh, you do have the boots. OK, good.
Is this your first time -- first time, obviously, as a senator. You've been here before, but what do you think?
CRUZ: Well, it's my first time in elected office. I've actually joked: the last office I was elected to was student council.
BLITZER: And now you're the United States senator from Texas. How cool is that?
CRUZ: Well, it's been a pretty magical trip.
BLITZER: Are you walking around pinching yourself a little bit?
CRUZ: A little bit, and when I'm not, my wife is pinching me for me.
BLITZER: Right. So you're getting excited.
This is a very exciting time, obviously, for both of you.
So what's going to be your priority? Now that you're a United States congresswoman from Hawaii, what is the number one issue that you want to work on?
GABBARD: You know, there's an issue that means a lot to me personally today, but that means a lot to a whole bunch of really selfless heroes across the country, in that Tammy Duckworth and I are the first female combat veterans ever elected in our nation's history.
And understanding that we have 1.8 million -- over 1.8 million women veterans all across the country, women who leave their homes every day to go and serve overseas, leaving their families behind, I look forward to being able to bring a very strong voice to the challenges that they face, but also the capabilities that they offer and the opportunities that are there.
BLITZER: So you want to be on the Armed Services Committee?
GABBARD: I will not be on -- I will be on the Homeland Security Committee, actually, but look forward to being an advocate for the armed services, as well as veterans, as a veteran myself. BOLDUAN: You know, Senator, I had the opportunity to speak with you, just the day after the election. And during our interview, you said that if President Obama followed the model of President Clinton and worked with Republicans, you would be happy to work with him on many issues.
So you are here today, you're finally not senator-elect, you are Senator Ted Cruz. What does that mean now that you are in -- you are here, you are in Washington, and specifically, when you've seen the debacle and the fight that has gone on over the last few weeks?
CRUZ: Right. Well, I think the deal that was cut on the fiscal cliff was a lousy deal. I would have voted against it.
BOLDUAN: You would have?
CRUZ: It raised taxes by $620 billion. I think that's going to kill jobs. I think that's going to hurt small business, and I think that's going to hurt Americans.
BLITZER: You would have voted against it?
CRUZ: I would have voted against it. And it combined tax increases with not spending cuts but $330 billion --
BLITZER: You would have voted against it, even though millions of Texans would have seen their -- middle class families would have seen their taxes going up?
CRUZ: I would have voted against it. The only reason their taxes would have gone up is because President Obama and Harry Reid were pushing to raise taxes.
BLITZER: Except in the real world, the only reason their taxes would have gone up is because you would have voted to see their taxes going up.
CRUZ: At the end of the day, I think we need to be solving these problems. And jacking up taxes and increasing spending makes the problems worse. We need economic growth.
Now, the nice thing is, part of the reason we got a lousy deal is that when you have divided government, whoever owns the default, whoever wins if there is inaction, has the advantage.
With the fiscal cliff, if there was inaction, it would be a massive tax increase, that would be a President Obama advantage. Moving fast forward to the debt ceiling, I think it is the mirror image, and I am hopeful we will see some serious reforms to rein in our spending and to address these fiscal...
BOLDUAN: Let me ask you real quick about that. Part of that lousy deal you're describing, that was cut by your leader, Mitch McConnell, working with Vice President Joe Biden. So what are you going to tell Mitch McConnell about that lousy deal and how you're going to work with him going forward?
CRUZ: Well, what I have said is I would have voted against it. But the reason we got a lousy deal is, as I said, the terrain was incredibly favorable to President Obama.
BOLDUAN: So it sounds like you're -- well, you're saying you want to work with President Obama; it sounds like it's going to be pretty tough for you to get to a place where you're ready to work with President Obama.
CRUZ: Well, I'm happy to work with him if he's actually being productive solving the problems. I think jacking up taxes and increasing spending hurts growth, costs jobs, makes them -- the lives of the American people worse.
BLITZER: Congresswoman, how would you have voted?
GABBARD: I would have voted for it because I think what we have to remember here is how many middle class families all across the country would have seen that tax hike immediately, and by making those tax cuts permanent for the middle class families, I think, is incredibly important.
I think there's no doubt about the fact that we have a lot of work to do. There are many reforms that need to be done. There was a tight deadline here. And when you're looking at working families, families who are struggling just to put food on the table, you've got to work with what you have and have a plan for how to go forward.
BLITZER: And if there wouldn't have been a deal, Senator, all the economists made the same prediction, that, within a few weeks, there would be a lot more unemployment; we could potentially be going into a recession. Look, it wasn't a perfect deal. Nobody was thrilled by it, but you got a deal with what's doable in a divided Congress like we have.
CRUZ: The only reason this lousy deal happened is because President Obama and Harry Reid wanted to raise taxes on Americans. I think that's going to hurt growth and it's going to hurt the middle class and working class.
BLITZER: But, remember, the president was re-elected. Harry Reid is the majority leader in the United States -- you're in minority in the United States Senate. You got to deal with reality. You can't just be -- you can't just be overly idealistic.
CRUZ: But let me say two things. Number one, the same voters that re-elected the president re-elected a Republican majority in the House.
BLITZER: But not in the Senate. And not in the White House.
CRUZ: Number two, this president --
BLITZER: You got a divided government. You've got to make concessions, you've got to compromise. If you're just going to come into Washington and say, do it my way or the highway, you're not going to get anywhere.
CRUZ: Now who's saying do it my way or the highway? Look, Wolf, this president campaigned, saying he supported spending cuts and his deal had zero in spending cuts and $330 billion in new spending. The person who's saying "do it my way or the highway" is the president.
BLITZER: I'm just saying 89 senators out of 100, including almost all of the Republicans, voted for it.
CRUZ: Well, I'm going to make a prediction. That was driven because the advantage of the default gave President Obama the leverage. Fast forward a few weeks to the debt ceiling, it's the mirror image, and I think we're going to see -- I hope we're going to see real reforms to address these problems.
BOLDUAN: You know, Congresswoman, the dysfunction of Washington, the dysfunction, specifically, of Congress and its inability to work together and with the White House is why Congress' approval rating is at an all-time low. It is the worst in Washington.
And you are walking straight into it. At some point, our elected leaders need to stop following and start leading. We're having -- I'm fearing we're having a similar conversation that we've been having with the senators and Congress and our congress men and women for an entire session now. How is it going to be different? How can -- what are you going to do to try to make it different?
GABBARD: Well, it has to be different. Like you said, it's up to us. We've been sent here to serve the people in our communities and the people of this country, and people are demanding that we be those servant leaders, who focus not on negativity and not on the blame game, but saying, OK, we can disagree on some things, but how can we find a point of agreement, find that common ground?
Because at the beginning and the end of the day, we all come from a place where we care very much about, we care very much about the families, the young people, our seniors in our communities who are trying very hard just to get by every single day.
So if we stay positive and stay focused on the opportunities that we have to work together, then I think that's the only way that we can make progress.
BLITZER: Both of you spoke at your respective Democratic and Republican conventions. We have a little clip of both you speaking. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRUZ: I have the honor of standing before you this evening for one reason, because thousands and thousands of grassroots activists stood united, not for a candidate, but for the sake of liberty.
GABBARD: The Democratic women of the House, standing here, will honor the service and sacrifice of our troops to move America forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Big issue for you. Are you going to work with the president to get comprehensive immigration reform? And I ask it not only because you're a United States senator from Texas, but also because of your Hispanic origins.
CRUZ: Well, I think there's no doubt that as Republicans, we need to do a better job connecting with the Hispanic community, and I think immigration is a critical issue.
The problem, unfortunately, is that I think both sides have been demagoguing on this issue. They haven't been willing to work together.
Most Americans agree on the issue of immigration. Most Americans agree, number one, that we've got to secure our border. We've got to get serious about stopping illegal immigration, and number two, that we should remain a nation that welcomes, that celebrates legal immigrants.
You know, today at the swearing-in, my father was sitting in the gallery, watching me be sworn in. Fifty-five years ago, my dad came from Cuba with nothing, 18 years old, couldn't speak English, washed dishes making 50 cents an hour.
If someone had told that teenage kid in Austin, Texas, that 55 years later his son would be representing the state of Texas in the Senate, that would have been unimaginable. That is our legacy as Americans and I think we need to welcome and celebrate legal immigration.
BOLDUAN: And congresswoman, we're running out of time, but really quickly, when you look at those clips that we were playing of you both speaking at your national conventions -- and I know you've heard it, but people are calling you both rising stars in your party. That comes with a pretty big burden in your first day in office, national office.
What do you say to that? How do you react?
GABBARD: Again, I'm just grateful. The overwhelming feeling that I feel today is grateful to the people of Hawaii for placing their trust and confidence in me. It's a great responsibility. And we have a lot of work to do. And I will do my best to serve them and to be their voice and to work hard to move our country and to move Hawaii forward.
BLITZER: I love the way you say "Hawaii."
BOLDUAN: And a very diplomatic way to answer that question.
BLITZER: Yes. And a beautiful state -- you've got a beautiful state as well.
Good luck to both of you.
BOLDUAN: Senator, Congresswoman, thank you --
BLITZER: You know, you're in the House; you're in the Senate. We'll see if there's some bipartisan cooperation.
I keep saying this, but I was thrilled, at least in the last few hours of this 112th House, 112th Senate, there was some bipartisan cooperation in averting that so-called fiscal cliff. Let's see how long that lasts.
BOLDUAN: Let's just not need deadlines and cliffs to get everybody to work.
BLITZER: Exactly. Congratulations to both of you and good luck to both of you as well.
CRUZ: Thank you for having us.