It's either the latest sign of Sen. Ted Cruz's deep admiration for anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela -- or the Texas freshman's latest bit of grandstanding. Either way, Cruz is headed to Johannesburg on Monday to attend a memorial service for the former South African president alongside more than 90 heads of state.
Cruz joins an official Congressional delegation of mostly Democrats such as Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to attend the Tuesday service at FNB Stadium.
"I'm honored to be able to travel to South Africa to attend the memorial service for Nelson Mandela," Cruz said in a statement. "He was an historic figure who led his nation to move beyond unjust segregation and toward a more humane future."
News that Cruz will represent Senate Republicans prompted some guffaws from liberals on the Hill given the freshman lawmaker's relatively low-profile on foreign policy or civil rights issues -- and his reputation for grandstanding. "Of all the Members of the United States Senate to lead a delegation to the funeral of perhaps the most revered statesman in modern times, you've got to wonder, why Ted Cruz?" said a Democratic Congressional aide. "He's not exactly a guy known for his views on reconciliation or social and racial empowerment. Looks like a pretty transparent attempt to rework his image after his self-engineered government shutdown debacle."
Cruz's open mourning of the deceased civil rights icon hasn't necessarily gone off well with conservatives either. On Thursday, Cruz took flack for the effusive praise of Mandela on his Facebook page. "Has political correctness gotten the better of you???" wrote one fan.
"Did he not also ‘inspire' much of the black-on-white violence of the present day?" wrote another. "I wish you would have damned Mandela with faint praise instead of sounding like a liberal, Senator."
The ceremony is expected to fill the 95,000 capacity stadium with a range of VIPs including President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton. Jimmy Carter and leaders from around the world. Separately, a state funeral will be held December 15 in Qunu, Mandela's ancestral hometown. While Cruz is not leading the Congressional delegation, he is at the moment the only Senate Republican attending. The House Republican delegation will be lead by Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) who issued a statement following the announcement.
"I have always had great respect for former president Mandela," Schock said. "The personal sacrifices he made in order to achieve what was right for the people of South Africa is something I carry with me every day. I am humbled to be leading so many of my colleagues in tribute to Nelson Mandela."