Something has gotten into Ted Cruz. The Republican senator is known as a conservative firebrand willing to take on his own party, but in a Thursday meeting with reporters in his Capitol Hill office, Cruz was sounding almost ecumenical. Maybe it was the presence of Pope Francis.
“I thought his remarks were excellent,” Cruz said, about an hour after the Holy Father’s remarks to a joint session of Congress concluded. “It was a powerful call for all of us to set aside pettiness and partisan divides and come together with shared values to solve the very real challenges facing this country. And I hope that is a message that is heard on both sides of the aisle.”
And as Congress prepares for the possibility of another government shutdown, Cruz called for, of all things, Republican unity.
“Lets do this together, unified on something,” he said. That “something” is the fight Cruz himself has spearheaded to defund both Planned Parenthood and the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. But Cruz said he is even willing to go along with a fight for something else, if only GOP leadership in the House and Senate were willing to actually fight.
“If the Republican leadership doesn’t like the issues I’m suggesting we fight on, perhaps they can pick something else,” he said. “We don’t win any fights unless we actually engage in the fight, we pick the terrain to fight it, and then we go and take it to the people, and that is something the Republican leadership cannot fathom.”
In truth, he’s the same old fightin’ Cruz, but he has a point. He argues that when Republican leaders in Congress say there will be “no more shutdowns,” as Mitch McConnell said shortly after Republicans won control of the Senate last November, the GOP is giving up on its best bargaining chip in divided government: the “must-pass” legislation, like spending resolutions.
“You have one side, President Obama and the Democrats, who are relentlessly committed to defending their principles. Like the Terminator, they never stop, they never give up,” Cruz said. On the other side are “no-shutdown” Republicans.
“When you have a radical in the White House who will exploit that promise, what it means, in effect, is the Republican leadership will support every single failed big government policy of President Obama,” he said.
Those Republican leaders certainly wouldn’t see it that way. The best they can do, they argue, is to slow down or put roadblocks in the way of the White House until a new president is elected in 2016. This is pretty much what Mitch McConnell said in the run-up to the 2014 midterm elections.
Still, it’s hard to argue with Cruz’s logic.
“If the Democrats filibuster appropriations, they will not pass. Which means we will get to the end of the funding period, pass either a CR [continuing resolution] an omnibus. Republican leadership has already promised there will never ever be a shutdown, and so therefore Democrats can simply say, ‘Okay, fund ever single thing we want, exactly what we would have done with Harry Reid as majority leader or else we’ll shut the government down.’ And Republican leadership says, ‘Great. Works for us.’”
Cruz pointed out a number of developments that have occurred since Republicans won in 2014: the so-called Cromnibus spending deal, the continued funding of Obamacare, and the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as attorney general. This, he argues, show that “nothing’s changed” now that the GOP is in charge.
In the upcoming fight Cruz is leading to defund Planned Parenthood and the Iran deal, has anything changed from his last major battle, the defund Obamcare fight in 2013? Cruz frequently noted to the gathered journalists Thursday that what followed a year after the protracted but unsuccessful shutdown fight was a massive landslide victory for Republicans. “I’d certainly take another historic, massive victory for Republicans in 2016 if we actually stood up and stood for something,” he said.
The problem in 2013, he said, was Republican Senate leadership going after House Republicans in an attempt to delegitimize the defund side of the debate. Cruz calls that a “miscalculation” on his part.
“We assumed leadership would quietly grumble but would vote with us and would simply surreptitiously try to knock off votes off somewhere. That had been their pattern on previous fights,” he said. “We did not anticipate they would publicly, aggressively, vigorously lead the fight against House Republicans.”