This time, Senator Ted Cruz’s fight over U.S. spending ended with a whimper, not the bang of a government shutdown or a rebuke over President Barack Obama’s policies.
The Texas Republican kept his colleagues in Washington for an uncommon Saturday session because he wanted to exhaust avenues of protest against a $1.1 trillion spending bill that doesn’t block Obama’s action easing deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants.
Cruz made one last procedural play late tonight, a point of order on Obama’s action. It was rejected, 22-74, with many of his fellow Republicans joining Democrats in opposing it.
Cruz signaled his surrender late in the afternoon by allowing Senate leaders to prevent a government shutdown while they put the final touches on a broader spending bill. His agreement meant the Senate unanimously passed a short-term spending bill to fund the government through Dec. 17.
Until then Cruz managed to be on the outside of the debate and the center of attention at the same time. His parliamentary objection will give Republicans an idea of who in their party stands with him on the immigration issue and who does not.
After several days of delay in passing government funding, Cruz’s inability to derail the measure showed that power has shifted in the Senate. It’s the party bosses, not the party bases, that won this year’s battle.
Last year, Tea Party-backed Republicans, led by Cruz, forced a 16-day partial government shutdown because they didn’t want to fund Obamacare.
Cruz was able to give attention to an issue that plays well with the Republican base -– much as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts took her turn this week in trying to bring down the bill by leading a populist surge against a bank-backed provision that infuriated Democratic Party leaders.
Still, the ability of Cruz and Warren to command attention by positioning themselves as champions of their causes shifts the national discussion in their direction. For instance, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California created delays for the bill in her chamber on Dec. 11 after initially signaling she’d go along with the measure.
Cruz’s efforts also show how difficult it will be for Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell to run the Senate next year when he becomes majority leader of the Republican caucus with the tough-to-please Texan in its ranks.
And this time, Cruz didn’t hold forth on the Senate floor, as he did in late September 2013 in delivering a 21-hour speech, softening his diatribe against Obamacare with a reading of “Green Eggs and Ham.”
This time, Congress made tough choices about how to allocate money, including the decision to allow Obama’s immigration plan to go forward for now.
Cruz and Warren succeeded, though, in pushing their colleagues to choose between activists and their party leaders.
“My advice to people on her side is don’t follow her lead,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said on the Senate floor last night. “She’s the problem.”
Democrats are wary enough of Warren’s clout in the party – – and perhaps with her enough in sentiment — to avoid criticizing her publicly. Cruz isn’t always given the same deference from his Republican colleagues.
He is “utterly counterproductive,” Texas Republican Representative Michael McCaul said earlier this week in an interview with Bloomberg reporters and editors.
Other lawmakers criticized Cruz and his allies for continually threatening to delay government funding to advance their policy objectives.
“This is what’s wrong with this place,” said Senator Mark Begich, an Alaska Democrat who was defeated in November’s election. “The same show, same place, same players.”
Early today, as senators and their staffs filed into the Capitol for a weekend session forced by Cruz and his allies, the Texas senator released a statement that shows there are times he’s willing to legislate.
The headline: “Sen. Cruz measure granting Purple Heart eligibility to Fort Hood victims heads to president’s desk.”
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