It finally happened. Since being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012, Sen. Ted Cruz has done everything short of burning President Barack Obama in effigy on the Senate floor to make a name for himself. He achieved political fame and became a Tea Party darling by railing against everything and everyone he could, even the decisions made by his own party's leadership. But apparently Cruz took things too far last week and the GOP leadership has responded in kind.
During a rare Sunday session of the Senate — called to work on passing a crucial federal highway funding bill — Cruz finally riled up his fellow Republicans to the point that they gave him a public political spanking right there on the Senate floor.
It all started on Friday after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made two amendments to the bipartisan highway bill – a token gesture to repeal Obamacare and another that would bring back the Export-Import Bank — the top priority. Cruz decried the move on the Export-Import Bank, a bank that guarantees overseas loans for smaller U.S. companies. That in itself isn't unusual – Cruz is almost always fussing about something – but then he really stepped in it by calling McConnell a “flat-out” liar on the Senate Floor.
Now, senators can say whatever they like about their fellow senators when they aren't in the Senate, but there are actual senate rules that say you can't talk smack about each other while on that particular carpet. And then on Sunday came the political consequences.
Cruz rolled in for the Sunday session chomping at the bit to force the addition of an amendment to the Iran nuclear deal. He needed 11 senators to vote with him to make it a roll-call vote – the kind where the way each senator votes is recorded – but when he raised the issue on the Senate floor, only three senators voted with him, according to Politico. Cruz looked visibly stunned. McConnell turned around and stared at him. At that point, the reality of the situation must have begun to seep in. Something bad was about to happen. Indeed, it had already begun. GOP leadership said what came next wasn't planned in advance. It happened spontaneously right there on the Senate floor, Politico reports.
One of Cruz's few allies, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, tried to attach an amendment that would de-fund Planned Parenthood, but that move failed as well.
The rest – a very polite but thorough smackdown of Cruz, who is viewed by many as a guy who has parlayed political grandstanding and his frequent squabbles with members of his own party into a run for the GOP presidential nomination – happened fast. “You learn that in kindergarten. You learn to work well together and play by the rules,” Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, said according to Politico. “Another thing you learn in kindergarten is to respect one another.”
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch also had some choice words on the proper way to conduct oneself in the Senate, invoking Senate Rule 19. “Squabbling and sanctimony may be tolerated in other venues and perhaps on the campaign trail, but they have no place among colleagues in the United States Senate,” Hatch said.
“Regrettably, in recent times, the Senate floor has too often become a forum for partisan messaging,” Hatch said, in a masterful bit of understatement – he didn't even namecheck Cruz, but he didn't have to. “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, all at the expense of the proper functioning of this body.”
Cruz agreed with Hatch when he took the floor before quoting George Orwell implying this is a time of “universal deceit.” So yeah, he agreed and then basically called everyone not named Cruz a liar. Meanwhile, the Cruz-for-president campaign has sent out plenty of fundraising requests, as Salon noted.
But that wasn't the end of this incredibly public political comeuppance – and even though everyone spoke politely and most never even mentioned Cruz by name, that's what this was – because Sen. John Cornyn stepped up and said Cruz was “mistaken” about McConnell making any promises about the Export-Import Bank. “I suspect you would find other voices joining that of the junior senator,” Cornyn said. (That had to be a fun moment. During the last round of elections Cruz conspicuously failed to support the senior Texas senator's bid for re-election, something we're betting Cornyn will not be forgetting.)
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The thing is, Cruz has been alienating friends and making enemies since he first set foot on the Senate floor. His antics may have played well with the far right, but every time he decided to hold a fake filibuster and read the great works of Dr. Seuss, every time he puffed a senatorial squabble into headlines and press coverage, he was losing political support, the kind that's needed once you'r done making yourself famous and trying to form coalitions and actually, you know, govern. For the longest time, his party went along with it and didn't call him out, so maybe Cruz thought he could stick to his familiar routine.
The thing is, the Cruz of today isn't the powerhouse he once was. Sure, he's still got Tea Party support, but his presidential campaign is being described as "faltering" and he's even been trying to turn a "friendship" with fellow presidential contender Donald Trump into a sign of life for his own campaign. When Cruz attacked McConnell on Friday, he'd finally trotted over the line, as far as the GOP establishment was concerned. And then he found out why it's important to at least get along with members of your own party.
The Senate voted 67-26 to attach the bank charter amendment to the highway bill while the amendment to get rid of Obamacare failed in a vote that neatly split along party lines. Afterward, Cruz decamped to just beyond the Senate Floor to decry not being able to do any of the things he was trying to do during the Sunday session.
In typical Cruz fashion, he blamed McConnell and the GOP leadership and pretty much everyone short of the family dog for his failure. Everyone, that is, except himself.