Ted Cruz Threatens Weekend Session in Quest to Defund Planned Parenthood

The Republican presidential candidate wants to force a government shutdown at the end of the month if Democrats don't relent, but it's unclear if his push will win out.

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Senator Ted Cruz speaks at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition 2015 Spring Kickoff on April 25 in Waukee, Iowa.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Will Texas Senator Ted Cruz be the Grinch that stole the weekend again?

With one week left before a government shutdown, the Republican presidential candidate is prepared to pull out all the stops to prevent smooth passage of a funding bill that includes federal dollars for Planned Parenthood.

He's ready to force the Senate to work on Saturday in protest of a status-quo funding bill, which Republican leaders see as the only option to prevent a shutdown. Cruz sees the debate as the right moment to make his stand.

“The only way to actually defund Planned Parenthood is to include it on must-pass legislation like the continuing resolution,” Cruz said. “It's the reason why Republican leadership wants a show vote. They know they'll lose instead of actually using their constitutional authority.”

Forcing a Saturday session would be reminiscent of last December, when the Texan delayed a funding vote into a weekend in an attempt to halt President Barack Obama's immigration policies. The gambit infuriated Cruz's colleagues and failed. Now he's ready to fight again and capitalize on conservative anger at Planned Parenthood.

“It ought to be a simple matter for Republican leadership to stand for something,” Cruz said, “and say at a minimum we're not going to send taxpayer money to a private organization that is under ongoing criminal ”

Cruz wants to force a government shutdown at the end of the month if Democrats don't relent, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly opposed that strategy as it relates to Planned Parenthood funding, calling it an “exercise in futility.”

In a letter circulating last week, Cruz asked colleagues to promise not to vote to fund the government unless Planned Parenthood money is stripped. According to a Senate Republican aide, Cruz had just one signatory—Louisiana Senator David Vitter—by the end of last week. A Vitter spokeswoman didn't immediately comment. The Texan's office confirmed the letter but declined to discuss the number of supporters.

“It's still out for signatures right now,” said Cruz spokesman Phil Novack.

McConnell has teed up a procedural vote for Thursday on a government funding bill that defunds Planned Parenthood. Democrats have the votes to block that measure. Next, the Republican leader is expected to seek unanimous consent to hold a quick vote on a “clean” stopgap bill that funds the government through Dec. 11. That's where Cruz comes in. Any one senator can object to a speedy vote on legislation, and force an intervening day after the motion is filed.

Cruz said he's prepared to oppose consent for a “clean” funding bill on Thursday. In that case the earliest it could get a vote is Saturday before it goes to the House.

The timing of the vote “depends entirely on the level of cooperation,” said third-ranked Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota. He said he wasn't sure if Cruz, who skipped a weekly Senate Republican lunch meeting Tuesday, would cooperate. “I can't imagine the Dems would object to” smooth passage of a clean funding bill, Thune said.

“Senator Cruz and a few others are in the race for presidency,” said Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat. “They're trying to separate themselves from the pack. Right now, Senator Cruz obviously thinks the Senate floor is where he can make his best effort, and we're going to pay the price in terms of whatever he decides to do.”

A potential problem with the plan is that Cruz's schedule places him in Iowa on Saturday for two events—one in Urbandale where he's set to open a new campaign office, another in Thompson, where he's poised to speak at a Republican gala.

Two other Republican presidential hopefuls in the Senate, Florida's Marco Rubio and Kentucky's Rand Paul, support defunding Planned Parenthood. They have argued that a shutdown would be Democrats' fault. But they haven't explicitly backed Cruz's strategy. Another Republican senator running for president, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, says the shutdown strategy isn't viable.

“I don't want to shut the government down over this issue,” Graham told Bloomberg. “One kick of a mule usually does it for me,” he said, referring to the 2013 shutdown over defunding Obamacare, which failed. “It's an emotional topic. I want to fight, I want to fight smart. The goal is to defund Planned Parenthood. It's also to win in 2016.”

Cruz's presidential strategy focuses heavily on Iowa, the first nominating contest, where fighters for social conservative causes won the Republican caucuses in 2008 and 2012. Evangelical ire toward Planned Parenthood, which provides women's health services including abortion, intensified this summer after undercover videos of group officials discussing cost of fetal tissue for medical research. The organization has been targeted for investigation but says it acted legally in seeking reimbursements.

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