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Koch-backed group makes moves to help Cruz ahead of expensive Senate race

Ted Cruz’s solutions for reforming veterans’ health care

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz answers a question about how Congress can fix health care for veterans at an event in Waco, Texas, July 3, 2018.
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Texas Sen. Ted Cruz answers a question about how Congress can fix health care for veterans at an event in Waco, Texas, July 3, 2018.

Last month leaders of a network of groups funded by the billionaire Koch brothers vowed to take a tougher stance against Republicans who disagree with them — even cutting off a major GOP candidate who they said didn’t meet their standards.

On Wednesday, however, the Koch-backed group Concerned Veterans for America plans to rally in San Angelo with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — an active opponent of some of the network’s top policy goals in the past two years.

That arm of the Koch network is already telling Texans that Cruz is a valuable partner to the network in Washington, and it has big plans to bring veterans to the polls in 2018.

“[Sen. Cruz] has been one of our policy champions in D.C.,” said Dan Caldwell, executive director for Concerned Veterans for America, which has five full-time staff members working in Texas this year.

“We will be doing what we’ve done in past cycles, primarily focusing on educating veterans on important issues and turning them out to vote,” Caldwell told the Star-Telegram Tuesday.

Caldwell’s comments come as the business-friendly Koch network — one of the top financiers of conservative causes nationwide — is vowing to raise its standards for electoral support in 2018. It has pledged to spend as much as $400 million on politics and policy this election cycle.

Cruz, who has been outraised by his opponent, Democrat Beto O’Rourke, has a mixed record on the network’s issues.

Cruz was an original co-sponsor of a sentencing reform plan the network liked and still wants, but withdrew his support from the bill during the 2015 GOP presidential primary.

Cruz was also the only senator from either party to vote against ending discussion on a set of immigration plans earlier this year that sought to give DACA recipients legal status to remain in the country — drawing disapproving mail ads from the Kochs’ Latino-focused LIBRE Initiative, which is pushing for such a plan.

“In terms of getting our electoral support, [candidates] have to, on balance, be a champion on the issues,” Koch network spokesman James Davis told the Star-Telegram Tuesday.

“We disagreed with him on immigration, but we’ve agreed with him on support for principled justices, we’ve agreed with him on the work he’s done supporting veterans … we’ve agreed with support for more fiscal responsibility,” added Davis. “Where we’ve disagreed with Sen. Cruz, I think we’ve made that case pretty strong.”

Democrat Beto O’Rourke describes a bill he crafted with Republican Rep. Mike Coffman that extended health care to service members with a dishonorable discharge in Kerrville, Texas, Aug. 5, 2018.

Despite LIBRE’s disagreements with the senator, Concerned Veterans of America leaders have already held three town halls and dispatched volunteer activists to thank Cruz for his help. All of the groups use a sophisticated data system to contact potential voters they want to turn out in 2018 — one the network has credited for big Republican victories in the past.

“Not all of us engage on everyone else’s issues all the time,” Caldwell said of that dynamic. “But we are one network and we’re all working toward the same goals.”

Koch groups didn’t participate in Cruz’s 2012 Senate race. He has since attended some of their swanky retreats, which allow lawmakers to mingle with the network’s donors.

Cruz was not at the most recent donor retreat in Colorado last month, where the Charles Koch took big shots at President Donald Trump, and renewed a pledge to work with members of either party to advance the group’s policy goals.

Veterans’ issues draw rare political unity on Capitol Hill, and both Cruz and O’Rourke serve on their armed services chambers’ committees.

Both supported a recent bill aimed at improving veterans’ access to health care that CVA ran ads thanking Cruz for, but not O’Rourke.

Caldwell said Tuesday he’d met with O’Rourke’s office on veterans’ issues and appreciated his support for that legislation. He added that he was disappointed by the Democrat’s vote against a 2015 bill aimed at increasing accountability at the VA, something O’Rourke’s office noted that he supported when an improved version came up two years later.

Caldwell also pointed to Cruz’s work on some of his group’s top priorities that are less popular across party lines.

In particular, he pointed out a bill Cruz introduced this year that would crack down on the use of Veterans Affairs employees’ time for union activity, which Democrats view as an attack on organized labor.

Andrea Drusch is the Washington Correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She can be reached at; @andreadrusch

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