U.S. House Speaker John Boehner is reaping dissent sown by Republican Senator Ted Cruz -- and that’s working just fine for Cruz.
Boehner had to abandon a planned vote yesterday on a bill to address the crisis of undocumented children coming across the U.S.-Mexico border after Cruz, a Tea Party favorite from Texas, riled up immigration opponents in the House Republican conference.
“Ted Cruz and a handful of Republicans have hijacked the party,” Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, said after his party’s House leaders canceled a vote on a $659 million border-crisis measure.
Cruz often upends the best-laid plans of Republican leaders in both congressional chambers. His insistence Feb. 12 on requiring 60 votes in the Senate to advance legislation lifting the nation’s borrowing cap foiled his party’s plan to let the measure move forward with only Democratic votes.
He led the 2013 fight to defund the 2010 health-care law, resulting in a partial government shutdown in October and the party’s cratering in public opinion polls at the time.
Now, he’s given President Barack Obama a talking point that Republicans in Congress won’t act even in the face of a humanitarian crisis, a possible predicate for his own executive action on immigration.
“It’s not helpful,” said Representative Devin Nunes, a California Republican. “It’s kind of shocking to me that some people are willing to turn their voting cards over to the Senate or to outside groups.”
Cruz’s efforts put him at cross purposes with several members of Texas’s Republican House delegation who have been pushing for the bill’s passage. They included Representative Blake Farenthold, who said, “I’m going to have some ’splainin’ to do” during the congressional August break if the House fails to pass a measure before heading home.
Texas Governor Rick Perry -- like Cruz, a potential contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination -- also blasted the stalemate over a border bill.
“It’s beyond belief that Congress is abandoning its post while our border crisis continues to create humanitarian suffering, and criminal aliens still represent a clear threat to our citizens and our nation,” he said in a statement. “Congress should not go into recess until the job is completed.”
As he left the Senate chamber yesterday, Cruz didn’t answer questions from reporters about his influence with House Republicans.
He’d urged Republicans to reject any bill unless it included a ban on spending to implement a 2012 Obama order that stopped deportations for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children -- a move Cruz has attacked as “amnesty.”
He pressed that case in a statement he released late last night. “The evidence shows that the crisis at the border is a direct consequence of President Obama’s lawlessness, and the surge of unaccompanied children trafficked to the United States by drug cartels and transnational gangs will not ebb until Congress restrains the president from taking any further executive action,” he said.
Calling on Republicans to “unite to stop the amnesty that is causing tens of thousands of children to be victimized,” he also said, “The House of Representatives is working hard to solve this crisis.”
It’s not clear that Boehner would have had the votes to pass a border bill even if Cruz hadn’t had a pizza party on the eve of the planned House vote with Republicans also aligned with the small-government Tea Party movement, which objects to the costs of the border bill. Still, he got both credit and blame.
“This, by the way, is a big win for Ted Cruz of Texas,” wrote Redstate.com blogger Erick Erickson, who was once aligned with the Tea Party. “It appears enough Republicans in the House listened.”
Cruz has catapulted himself into the discussion of potential 2016 presidential candidates by taking up Tea Party causes -- oftentimes, other Republicans say, to elevate himself at the expense of their party.
“This is about Ted Cruz,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, a one-time aide to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. “He’s trying to show that he has the chops among Republican primary voters to be a serious 2016 contender, and that his influence in Washington is what they need to have in the White House.”
Cruz supporters accuse party leaders of wandering off course.
“Most Republicans promise to fight for conservative principles during the campaign, but then let us down after they’re elected. Ted Cruz is different,” the Washington-based Senate Conservatives Fund said in a video posted online last September. “Ted Cruz delivers.”
Even as he serves as vice chairman of grassroots outreach for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Cruz has maintained close ties to the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee founded by former Senator Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican. The fund has helped elect Tea Party-backed senators since 2010, and its incumbent targets for 2014 included Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who rebuffed the challenge.
The fund and another Washington-based small-government advocacy group, the Club for Growth, were Cruz’s top 2012 financiers. Donors to those groups shipped Cruz $1.7 million of his total $14.5 million haul, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.
The two groups provided another $7.1 million in outside advertising to help him win.
Cruz sent out a fundraising appeal today on behalf of the New Hampshire Republican Party accusing Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of being in “lock-step with President Obama to prevent any efforts to finally secure our border or stop President Obama’s amnesty.” Shaheen faces a challenge from former Republican Senator Scott Brown.
During yesterday’s round of party infighting, Texas’s other Republican senator, John Cornyn, tried to take the heat off Cruz by blaming the White House for the failure of Congress to pass legislation addressing the border crisis.
“It doesn’t help when there’s no leadership at the White House and the president is basically disagreeing with his own policymakers about what needs to happen,” said Cornyn, the Republican Senate whip. “So, as usual, nothing happens.”
Cornyn had been trying to gather support for legislation that would reverse a 2008 law requiring that undocumented immigrants from outside Mexico go through a judicial process before being deported.
Advocates for a broad revision of the nation’s immigration laws, passed by the Senate last year, said Cruz is only helping to marginalize the Republican Party in the eyes of Hispanics, the nation’s fastest growing voter bloc. Obama won 71 percent of the votes cast by Hispanics in the 2012 presidential election.
“Ted Cruz is doing everything he can to help himself, not his party, and in so doing he’s turbo-charging the base of the Republican Party and the most conservative members of both the House and Senate,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an advocacy group in Washington. “The more Republicans follow him, he’s making sure that Republicans never see the inside of the White House.”