What Ted Cruz Won't Do to Crush Obama's Immigration Policy

House conservatives are demanding even more than Ted Cruz.

on February 12, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla

On Thursday afternoon, flanked by House Republicans, Texas Senator Ted Cruz gave the umpteenth iteration of his St. Crispin's Day speech on immigration. It was up to his fellow Republicans to end the president's immigration orders in the must-pass DHS funding bill.

"We should use every constitutional check and balance we have,” said Cruz. “There are a host of constitutional checks and balances, including confirmation power, that we should be using."

Yet there was one power Cruz was uncomfortable talking about. In the hours before the presser, some fed-up Republican congressmen started asking why the Republican-controlled Senate didn't simply change its rules and allow the DHS bill to be passed with 51 votes. Why was an appropriations bill subject to cloture? Why were defeated Democrats, reduced to 46 seats in the Senate, allowed to hold it up?

"Let's look at Harry Reid, when he was Senate majority leader and the power that he wielded," said Alabama Representative Mo Brooks in a Wednesday floor speech. "He said, 'I'm not going to let the filibuster stop me from achieving my political goals.' Well, if Harry Reid and the Democrats can do that, if they can stand up for their beliefs however wrong those beliefs may be, then where is our Republican Senate leadership? And why aren't they doing the same thing?"

Brooks's idea caught on. "Mitch McConnell can change the rules of the Senate," said Idaho Representative Raul Labrador at Thursday's presser. "This is important enough for Mitch McConnell to change the rules of the Senate."

Kansas Representative Tim Huelskamp agreed. "I don't think Mitch McConnell should let the Senate rules trump the Constitution," he said. Another Republican Congressman, speaking on background to reporters Thursday morning, said that the idea of filibustering must-pass appropriations bills was reprehensible; it was just obvious that it should have been undone.

This put Cruz in the unfamiliar position of siding with the GOP's leader over the hard right wing of the House. McConnell is adamant about the Senate rules. He's so adamant that he did not open the new Senate by reversing recent rules changes by which Democrats ended filibusters on executive branch nominees (and anyone nominated for a judicial job lower than the Supreme Court). To do so, as McConnell used to put it, would mean "changing the rules to break the rules," and would not consider it.

"He’s not for changing the rules," said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart, "but even that would require 67 votes."

And he's got Cruz on his side, but he might be losing more Republicans. Last week, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and Utah Senator Mike Lee put forward a proposal to end all cloture vote requirements on nominees, instead "approving presidential nominations of Cabinet members and judges by a simple majority vote, which existed from the time Thomas Jefferson wrote the rules in 1789 until 2003." In conversations with reporters, Alexander has pushed this as a way to reform the Senate without any particular partisan animus—it would be done with 67 votes, in a bipartisan coalition.

The ad hoc Brooks/Labrador reform group does not have anything to offer Democrats. It's not asking for a bipartisan reform; it wants McConnell to crack the whip as hard as Harry Reid did. It even has Speaker of the House John Boehner, who in 2014 praised "Leader McConnell’s efforts to protect minority rights," carping about the "undemocratic" Democratic effort to filibuster the DHS bill.

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