(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Ted Cruz defied critics angry that he eulogized Nelson Mandela and left for South Africa Monday as part of a 23-member congressional delegation going to honor the former South African president and anti-apartheid hero.
“He endured decades of imprisonment and steadfastly continued his fight for equality. And, when justice prevailed in his battle against apartheid, and Mandela was elected president of his nation, he nobly chose reconciliation instead of retribution — a legacy for which he will be remembered forever,” Cruz, R-Texas, said.
Cruz’s press secretary, Catherine Frazier, also rejected the arguments of those who criticized Cruz for lauding Mandela.
“Mr. Mandela deserves to be remembered and honored for his sacrifices in pursuit of freedom for the oppressed and his historic achievements to that end,” Frazier said.
Rep. Aaron Schock, the Republican congressman who was tapped by Speaker John Boehner to lead the delegation to South Africa, has also been met with social media heat for eulogizing Mandela as “the George Washington of our time.”
In response to the Illinois congressman’s tweet, Twitter user Mark Christopher said, “@aaronschock @NelsonMandela George Washington? He was a communist…. Not the devil, but GW?”
Perhaps the staunchest defense of praising Mandela came from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
On Friday, Gingrich wrote a scathing criticism of Mandela’s opponents among his fellow GOP members, and suggested that Tea Party types share Mandela’s values, even his violent resistance against apartheid.
“Some of the people who are most opposed to oppression from Washington attack Mandela when he was opposed to oppression in his own country,” Gingrich wrote.
The former Speaker of the House continued to speak out against Mandela critics, sighting examples of historic American leaders fighting against oppression, sometimes with force.
“As Americans we celebrate the farmers at Lexington and Concord who used force to oppose British tyranny,” Gingrich noted. “We praise George Washington for spending eight years in the field fighting the British Army’s dictatorial assault on our freedom.”
“Patrick Henry said, ‘Give me liberty or give me death,’” he added.
Republicans aren’t the only ones being met with criticism for honoring Nelson Mandela.
The White House posted a video to Facebook of the president speaking about the anti-apartheid leader’s passing, and quoted Obama saying, “He no longer belongs to us—he belongs to the ages.” The Facebook post received 4,085 likes, and 700 comments, many of which were critical of the president and his eulogizing of the South African leader.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio