WASHINGTON – One colleague called the tactics of tea party-backed Sen. Ted Cruz on the $1.1 trillion spending bill a painful echo of last year’s 16-day partial government shutdown.
Another senator said it was a strategy without an end game.
And that sniping came from Cruz’s fellow Republicans.
The 43-year-old Texas freshman in a political hurry – he’s considering a 2016 presidential run – infuriated several GOP colleagues with a last-minute attempt to force a vote on President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
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The move upended lawmakers’ weekend plans and, more troubling for his party, gave Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., an opening to move forward on long-stalled Obama nominees.
When Cruz got his vote Saturday, he lost badly, 74-22, as even Republicans who agree with him on immigration repudiated his effort. Moments later, Congress cleared the spending bill.
“You should have an end goal in sight if you’re going to do these types of things and I don’t see an end goal other than irritating a lot of people,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said it was a repeat of last year’s shutdown showdown over Obama’s health care law, when it was engineered by Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Isakson said it was a movie he had seen before and “wouldn’t have paid money to see it again.” He called Cruz’s move a problem, not a strategy.
Added Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.: “I fail to see what conservative ends were achieved.”
For once, Democrats opted not to criticize Cruz publicly, a surefire indication they calculated that he was only hurting Republicans.
Cruz was unapologetic. He said the sole purpose of his efforts was to secure a Senate vote to “stop President Obama’s amnesty” – his description of the president’s plan for work visas for an estimated 5 million immigrants living in the United States illegally.
“Both Democrats and Republicans will have the opportunity to show America whether they stand with a president who is defying the will of the voters or with the millions of Americans who want a safe and legal immigration system,” Cruz said in a speech to a crowded Senate chamber moments before the vote.
Reid derisively said the “junior senator from Texas” was “wrong, wrong, wrong.”
In a Facebook post, Cruz had blamed Reid, arguing that Saturday’s series of round-the-clock votes on nominations was to prevent the vote he sought.
Cruz said Reid was “going to an embarrassing length to tie up the floor to obstruct debate and a vote on this issue because he knows amnesty is unpopular with the American people, and he doesn’t want the Democrats on the record as supporting it.”
Republicans said Cruz’s move had the reverse effect of his campaign on immigration, ensuring a vote on the nominee for Customs and Immigration Enforcement who would carry out Obama’s executive actions.
Cruz, a Cuban-American with an Ivy League resume, time as Texas solicitor general and a Supreme Court clerkship with the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, created headlines in his first few months in the Senate with a fierce challenge to Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be defense secretary.
Last fall, it was Cruz and Lee who roiled the GOP and Washington with their push to starve Obama’s health overhaul of money, a drive that led to the partial shutdown.
Democrats weren’t surprised that the conservative duo struck again.
“They’re all about headlines. They’re trying to get attention for themselves. They’ve succeeded in doing that,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
In his current maneuvering, Cruz sent a shot across the bow at incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, suggesting the two should not be entirely trusted to keep their promise to challenge Obama’s immigration policy when the all-Republican Congress takes over in January.
“We will learn soon enough if those statements are genuine and sincere,” Cruz said Friday night.
Cruz’s moves troubled Republicans looking ahead to next month and their new majority.
“I’m concerned that we fight when we can win and get something accomplished. And of course that’s what we’re trying to set up for next year when we have the majority in the Senate,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.