Ted Cruz: 'I Had More Legislation Pass the Senate Than All But a Handful of Republicans'

A temporary answer to the experience question.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, March 24, 2015.

Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

In his second day of interviews about 2016, Texas Senator Ted Cruz finally got asked about his experience. He was ready with a spiel: Unlike the other first-time senator who won the presidency recently, he was a leader of men.

"When Barack Obama was in the Senate, he was basically a back-bencher," Cruz said in an interview with the Texas Tribune's Jay Root. "He did not take a leadership role on really any issues of significance. In my time in the Senate, it's been about a little over two years, you can accuse me of a lot of faults but being a back-bencher is not one of them."

Cruz just completely rejected the small-ball strategy that led Obama run in 2007 with a few accomplishments behind him, and did so in a way that minimized Obama. Later, in a sit-down with Fox News's Megyn Kelly, Cruz repeated almost the exact same answer to the same question about Obama. "In his time in the Senate, he was basically a back bencher," said Cruz. "He did not lead on any issues of real significance. In my time in the Senate, there are a lot of faults I have but nobody would accuse me of being a back-bencher."

That's the line, going forward. The problem, which Kelly teased out more than Root, is that Cruz's evidence of leadership is a series of causes that got blocked by the Senate. "What I tried to do was lead on the great challenges of the day whether it's stopping ObamaCare or stopping the out-of-control debt or stopping executive amnesty or defending our constitutional rights or standing with Israel or stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons," he told Kelly. Leaving aside that Republicans like Tennessee Senator Bob Corker and Illinois Senator Mark Kirk might prefer the credit for "stopping Iran," Cruz is reeling off fights that got coverage but led to no legislation.

"This is what some of your critics point to," said Kelly. "They say, yes, you've led the fight on certain issues, but what have you actually accomplished?"

Cruz reached into his bag of ready answers and insisted that gun safety legislation would have passed after Sandy Hook, if not for him. "Much of Washington was consigned," he insisted. "I did everything I could to energize and mobilize the grassroots, to stand up and protect the Second Amendment, and every single proposal of Barack Obama would undermine the Second Amendment, was voted down on the Senate floor."

Kelly was not satisfied. "When you're the president, you have to bring coalitions together to get things through," she said. "You just can't be somebody who stops things, you actually have to be somebody who gets things through."

Cruz had one example: His legislation to bar Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran's preferred ambassador to the United States, from entering the country. "Harry Reid, the Democrats, basically shut the Senate down," said Cruz. "But as a freshman senator, I had more legislation pass the Senate than all but a handful of republicans."

The language is key here. Cruz did not say he had more legislation pass into law than any Republican. The Aboutalebi bill was the only one. As Meredith Shiner demonstrated at Yahoo! News, Cruz actually fell before a rival 2016er, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, when it came to finding vehicles to get ideas thrown into bills.

In his first two years in Congress, Paul sponsored 176 amendments — and he has pushed a total of 292 amendments in his just-over-four-year Senate career, according to statistics kept by the Library of Congress. Sixty-nine of those amendments were acted on by the Senate, meaning they either came up for votes or were adopted by consent. Cruz, for his part, has sponsored 107 amendments — 103 of them in his first two years. But only 13 of those amendments were acted upon by the Senate.

Cruz is smarter than almost all of his critics. The voters who will queue up to see his campaign stops in Iowa and New Hampshire this month will not care that this-or-that "fight" resulted in no bill. The home truth that Harry Reid ran the Senate, and stymied any conservative bill he could, gets Cruz over.

The problem only comes when Cruz starts competing with the bevy of governors running against him. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker may get nettlesome questions about whether he's credible on foreign policy. But he'll happily stack up the ways he demolished labor unions in Wisconsin, or kept the state out of ACA exchanges and Medicaid expansion, to Cruz's record in the Senate.

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