Led by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), Senate conservatives sought to have a showdown in the upper chamber this weekend over President Barack Obama’s unilateral extension of legal status to millions of illegal immigrants. They got one.
The Senate passed the $1.1 trillion “Cromnibus” budget bill on Saturday, which effectively takes the threat of a government shutdown off the table and pushes the debate over Obama’s executive action off to the GOP-dominated 114th Congress when funding for the Department of Homeland Security expires in late February. It wasn’t, however, the Senate’s plan to pass the resolution this weekend.
Leadership had planned to vote on the “Cromnibus” bill on Monday and Senators, including Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), were already out the door and on their way home when Sens. Cruz and Lee made them get back to work. They two conservative senators spiked a plan that would ensure smooth passage of “Cromnibus” next week and, instead, forced a prolonged and acrimonious debate over this and other issues over the weekend.
The first result of the conservative senators’ strategy was to infuriate their colleagues. “The move forced members of both parties to abruptly cancel holiday and retirement festivities back home,” The Washington Post reported. “Some senators slogged through the Capitol hallways with their young children in tow. Several skipped the Army-Navy football game in Baltimore. Staffers forced to work entertained out-of-town guests by giving them rare weekend access to the Capitol.”
And while this plan did not result in the derailing of the hybrid budget resolution, which passed the Senate by a vote of 56 to 40, it also provided Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) time to open up debate on a variety of stalled White House nominees including that of Vivek Murthy to serve as surgeon general.
Cruz and Lee’s Republican colleagues in the Senate placed the blame for the likely confirmation of these stalled nominees squarely on the two conservatives’ shoulders.
“This reminds me very much of the shutdown last year, where the strategy made absolutely no sense,” [Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)] said, adding that until Saturday, liberals were being faulted for holding up the spending bill. “Now, I guess the blame will be shared,” she said.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Democrats whom he spoke with on the Senate floor were pleased with the ultimate outcome, despite the weekend session. “The White House is going to end up with far more nominations confirmed than they ever would have,” he said.
“And actually, as I talk to Democrats on the floor, even though this is an usual process, most of them are pretty happy about the outcome,” Corker later added.
Cruz’s communications director, Amanda Carpenter, raised a strong point in her boss’s defense. “Did anyone seriously believe Reid was going to let noms die when there was working time on the clock left?” she asked.
It’s true that there was not much preventing Reid from forcing through the stalled White House nominees before he surrenders his role as majority leader, but both he and McConnell are also working on a package of tax breaks and may still take up a House bill reauthorizing a federal terrorism insurance program. Those are a lot of sticky issues to litigate before the Senate plans to adjourn for the year.
Carpenter added that reporters were failing their readers by giving the “false nomination narrative” more attention than a vote which Cruz forced this weekend after he raised a constitutional point of order against the “Cromnibus” bill.
“If you believe President Obama’s executive order was unconstitutional, vote yes,” Cruz told his colleagues prior to the vote over his objection to the budget resolution because it dedicates funds to the implementation of Obama’s immigration action. “If you think the president’s executive order is constitutional, vote no.”
Only 22 senators voted with Cruz. Another 74 senators voted against him, many of whom were Republicans who rejected his characterization of that vote on “Cromnibus” as one that would legitimize Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
In spite of the ineffectuality of Cruz and Lee’s attempt to derail the “Cromnibus,” the accelerated debate on the approval of Obama’s stalled nominees, and significant new bitterness between these two conservatives and their GOP colleagues – or perhaps because of that – grassroots conservatives are expressing their gratitude, according to The Los Angeles Times.
But among party conservatives, Cruz was cheered as a hero who was standing up to Obama’s plan to defer deportations for up to 5 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
“Thank you,” tweeted Erick Erickson, the conservative editor at Redstate.com, who suggested the hardball tactics not only helped the party win the Senate majority in the 2014 midterm election, but would boost the party’s political currency heading into 2016.
It is debatable as to whether or not this strategy backfired, but the fact that it did not accomplish its stated objectives and resulted in Cruz and Lee’s further isolation in the Senate is beyond dispute. Given those conditions, it is hard to see what’s worth celebrating.