Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is not exactly eating humble pie.
Just a few days after an extraordinary public scolding by three Republican Party leaders on the Senate floor, including fellow Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Cruz is continuing his aggressive anti-Washington campaign.
On Wednesday, he seized the spotlight at a Senate Armed Services Committee and sharply questioned Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz on the nuclear agreement with Iran.
In the afternoon, Cruz chaired a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee hearing and railed at IRS Commissioner John Koskinen over his agency’s targeting of conservative groups over their tax-exempt status.
But he is not limiting his firebrand tactics to Democrats.
The presidential candidate, who is polling just about in the middle of the pack of the 16 Republicans who are running, seems unrepentant for having called Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a liar.
On Friday, Cruz accused McConnell of having lied about making a legislative deal that would allow a vote on the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
The breach of protocol stunned lawmakers and prompted a tongue-lashing Sunday from Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who as the longest serving Senate Republican has the honorific title, president pro tempore, and is third in line to the presidency.
“In recent times the Senate floor has too often become a forum for partisan messaging and ideological grandstanding rather than a setting for serious debate,” said Hatch. “It has been misused as a tool to advance personal ambitions, a venue to promote political campaigns, and even a vehicle to enhance fundraising efforts.”
I would note that it is entirely consistent with decorum and with the nature of this body traditionally as the world’s greatest deliberative body to speak the truth.
Sen. Ted Cruz
Cornyn, the Senate majority whip, spoke out as well, saying that “there was no misrepresentation made by the majority leader on the Ex-Im Bank” and that a proposed rule change by Cruz would result in “chaos.”
It was a rare moment for Cornyn to speak out against his fellow Texan, who has irritated GOP leaders since arriving in the Senate. Cruz, elected with tea party support in 2012, refused to back Cornyn during his 2014 primary campaign.
Last week’s lack of comity caught up with Cruz, and the Senate punished the outspoken Texan by embarrassing him. First, Senate colleagues by a voice vote defeated his appeal for reconsideration of his Iran nuclear deal amendment. But then, when he called for a roll-call vote – a usually routine motion – only three or four hands went up. Cruz needed 11 senators to require a roll-call vote to put members on record.
Cruz’s response to the dressing down was in keeping with his anti-Washington rhetoric on the campaign trail.
“The American people elected a Republican majority believing that a Republican majority would be somehow different from a Democratic majority in the United States Senate. Unfortunately, the way the current Senate operates, there is one party, the Washington party,” said Cruz in a statement.
And the unheard of lack of a “sufficient second” of a roll-call vote clearly grated on him. “Denying it is extraordinary, and it is done as a consequence of the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell being afraid for his members to be on record on this issue,” said Cruz.
Cruz was already winning the Senate unpopularity contest – on both sides of the aisle – for his activities, especially for his role in triggering the partial government shutdown of 2013 over funding of the Affordable Care Act. However, he is unlikely to be stripped of a chairmanship, said Senate aides, although he may run into a legislative slowdown on his bills.
“Cruz is running for president and everything he says and does should be analyzed from that perspective. If he loses, he'll have decisions to make about how he approaches the rest of his time in the Senate,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “The more unpopular he becomes in the Senate and with the Washington establishment, the more Cruz strengthens his position with his base.”
Cruz, in his recently released book, “A Time for Truth,” talked about how he had rubbed people the wrong way when he was working in the George W. Bush campaign in 2000 and did not get a job in the White House.
“I was far too cocky for my own good,” he wrote, and “I burned a fair number of bridges.” That led to introspection, said Cruz, which led him “to treat others with greater respect and humility.”
“I needed to get my teeth kicked in,” he said.
This week, many of his Senate colleagues agreed.