Monday, October 05, 2015
Regardless of 2016 outcome, Cruz faces hurdles with Senate
WASHINGTON — It’s hard to believe that four years ago, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul endorsed a largely unknown Texas candidate named Ted Cruz, writing that “we need Ted in the Senate.”
On Tuesday, Paul said that Cruz is “pretty much done for” in the Senate, a place where personal relationships are key to daily life. Granted, the two men are rivals in a heated race for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. But Paul’s comments echoed what other Senate colleagues have been saying privately since Cruz called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar in July.
When the 2016 election is over, Cruz will either return to the Senate as a rank-and-file member or, if elected president, he will have to negotiate with his former colleagues. Political opponents and analysts have questioned whether he could do either effectively because of the increasingly poisonous relationships he has with many Senate colleagues.
“Ted has chosen to make this really personal and chosen to call people dishonest in leadership and call them names, which really goes against the decorum and also against the rules of the Senate, and as a consequence he can’t get anything done legislatively,” Paul said this week on Fox News Radio.
Cruz and his allies argue that his criticism of colleagues is not personal in nature. And his larger point is that so much of Washington is corrupt and that his disposition is a matter of keeping his campaign promises, like repealing the 2010 health care law.
Back home, Cruz is methodically adding to his support among fellow Republicans. He's betting big on its presidential primary and has picked up the endorsements of 41 state lawmakers; six members of the state’s congressional delegation have endorsed him.
"I Would Say the Jury Is Out"
But some Texans remain concerned about Cruz’s ability to help enact legislation.
After years of playing down questions about their relationship, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, is beginning to show signs of frustration.
On a Wednesday conference call, Texas' senior senator compared Cruz to a football player who sacks his own quarterback. “I would say the jury is out,” Cornyn answered when asked whether Cruz could still effectively represent Texas in the Senate.
Others have been more emphatic.
“Texas has been short a senator since the day Cruz was elected," said Jenifer Sarver, an Austin-based GOP consultant and former staffer for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Cruz’s predecessor.
"As someone who worked for Senator Hutchison, who was an absolute and constant champion for Texas, it’s disappointing to see his lack of regard for how his political posturing could impact Texans.”
A Cruz spokeswoman countered that taking on the establishment is no easy task.
"Sen. Cruz has been the most effective senator in stopping the agenda of the Washington Cartel and promoting conservative priorities," Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier responded in an email. "Because of his leadership, he helped put the brakes on amnesty, stop the Democrats’ gun control legislation, stop reauthorization of the ExIm bank, and he has exposed the truth about how the Washington Cartel fails to take a stand on issues they were elected to defend."
There are three keys to twisting arms and getting things done in the Senate: seniority, an ability to pivot from adversary to ally with colleagues on various issues and committee assignments.
Cruz, who took office in 2013, is 41st in seniority among Senate Republicans, according to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.
For now, he sits on prime committees, including the Judiciary and Armed Services committees. Committee assignments are where serious power is delegated, and committee chairs wield enormous influence. For instance, the Senate Judiciary Committee chair takes a central role in U.S. Supreme Court nomination hearings, an issue Cruz speaks of often.
But after each election, “a committee on committees” forms to consider each senator’s skill-set and legislative preferences in setting committee assignments. The committee then sends its recommendations to the Republican leader, who makes the final decision.
If Cruz remains in the Senate after the 2016 election, his committee assignments would be subject to the approval of McConnell, the man whom Cruz called a liar.
And if elected president, Cruz would need the support of 60 senators to move on almost any of his agenda items. The current president has had a rocky relationship at times with members of his own party, and paid a price for it.
"If he is elected President, Republicans in Congress will have no more excuses for failing to fight — no excuse to not pass legislation that finally repeals Obamacare, that promotes jobs and growth, that cuts spending, that repeals stifling regulations, that upholds our Constitutional liberties," Frazier said.
If Cruz remained in the Senate, there could also be unique obstacles in the basic tasks of legislating.
For instance, one of any federal legislator’s biggest fears is that the U.S Department of Defense will close a military base in his or her home state. The consequences of a closing are swift and the job losses ripple throughout the community.
Much has been done to take the politics out of the base closing process. But more than any other moment, that is the time a senator leverages the chits he or she built up over the years.
But many Senate staffers shrug off the concerns about Cruz's effectiveness in legislating for one reason: the strength of the Texas delegation.
Cornyn is as popular in the Senate as Cruz is not, and he serves as the second-ranking Republican member of the chamber.
And the delegation is hitting new heights of power on the House side: six Republicans serve as committee chairmen. One of those members, U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, is currently running for House majority whip, the third-ranking slot in House GOP leadership.
And, it's not like day-to-day legislation was on Cruz's agenda in the first place, notes Norm Ornstein, a political analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.
"Even if Cruz were Cruz but not running for president, if he hadn't taken those additional steps that had basically alienated his colleagues, it's not like he would be devoting his time and attention to things that would have a dramatic impact on Texan's daily lives," he added. "His interest are in broader in national policy and getting government out of our lives."
It’s not altogether new to be a Senate black sheep among Republicans.
“That’s who I was,” said former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire, a co-chair of “Vets for Ted,” a coalition focused on outreach to military veterans. “I was exactly the same way.”
Smith said he shared Cruz’s frustrations with “people who are not sticking to the principles and values” they campaigned on as Senate candidates.
His history with fellow Republicans is equally stormy.
Smith ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 1999, but quickly left the party to mount a third-party run for the White House. He then rejoined the GOP, but when he ran for re-election in 2002, he faced a scion of a local political dynasty, John E. Sununu, in his primary.
“People weren’t happy with me,” he said. “They punished me as best as they could and I wound ended up losing my primary, and I wasn’t supported by the party.
But Smith added that, given his experiences, he still thought Cruz’s posturing and tactics were worth it.
“Yes, you can be marginalized. Yes, it can be very difficult to be effective,” he said. “But on the other hand, what does effective mean?”
Patrick Svitek contributed to this report. This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.