By Alexander Bolton - 10/07/15 08:30 PM EDT
Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzMeet the billionaire donor behind Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Party chairs see reversal of fortune McConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ MORE held a strategy session with about two-dozen House conservatives on Wednesday to discuss his presidential bid and the looming fights over the debt ceiling and government funding.
Cruz’s attendance at a breakfast organized by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) signals he intends to have an influence with House conservatives during the fall fiscal debate, even as he seeks the White House.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), who attended the meeting, said Cruz focused mainly on his strategy for winning the Republican nomination.
“It was a very enlightening discussion about his path to victory,” he said.
The Texas senator claimed to have more traction than his rivals with the party’s conservative base, according to Huelskamp, because of his showdowns with party leaders in Washington.
“He pretty well secured up the conservative base,” Huelskamp said. “He’s the only one who’s actually done anything. All the rest have talked about it. It was compelling. He knew his numbers so well.
“It was very impressive,” he added.
The fiscal fights approaching on the legislative calendar were also part of the discussion.
King said the intense focus on the House GOP leadership race has made it difficult for conservatives to formulate a strategy. But they know they need to come up with a plan, or risking being railroaded into a budget deal or a clean extension of borrowing authority by leadership.
“The [continuing resolution] came at us with a drop-dead time of Wednesday the 30th of September. Of course that was staged and set as far back as July,” King said, sketching out what he described as an orchestrated plan by party leaders to pass a clean funding stopgap through both chambers.
“They knew that they were going to get to a showdown on the last day of September, especially because the pope was going to be here the week before. That was the sequence of the strategy,” he said. “We took that vote on the CR on Wednesday the 30th. The following day the message comes out the drop-dead deadline to increase the debt ceiling is Nov. 5.
“We’re always operating toward deadlines and the deadlines are manufactured deadlines so they can stampede people into voting for the bill that they write the night before,” King said.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says Congress must raise the debt limit early next month, while the stopgap government funding measure expires on Dec. 11.
Cruz argues conservatives need to push for a debate on legislation well before the deadlines so that they don’t get jammed.
“We need to push and move these bills much earlier and have our committees functioning the way they’re supposed to and be able to just face the debate,” King said, summarizing the discussion with Cruz.
He added that “there was discussion about the debt limit” but declined to go into details.
Cruz has criticized GOP leadership in both chambers for giving up leverage by pledging ahead of negotiations that they would not allow another government shutdown or national default. Conservatives grumble this has given President Obama and congressional Democrats little incentive to make concessions.
“The most important theme out of that is how the Congress — and he focused more on the dysfunctionality of the Senate — capitulates before the battle’s even begun. Once they announce they’re going to capitulate, then it’s going through the motions,” King said.
Cruz called on fellow Republicans in a statement after the meeting to unify behind a strong negotiating stance.
“We discussed the pressing challenges facing our nation and the frustration that the American people feel that Republican leadership has not been honoring the commitments we made to the men and women who elected us — and the need for all of us to demonstrate strong leadership and honor the promises we made to the American people,” he said of the session with House lawmakers.
Cruz played a leading role in the debate that preceded a 16-day government shutdown in the fall of 2013. He rallied House conservatives to oppose government funding measures that allowed ObamaCare to move forward.
Many Republican colleagues, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), thought the strategy backfired, pointing to polls such as a Gallup survey showing the party’s favorability rating had sunk to 28 percent during the shutdown.
But conservatives around the country applauded Cruz’s maneuver. His standing in presidential polls jumped to 12.3 percent, according to an average compiled by RealClearPolitics, the highest it’s ever reached.
The coming weeks present Cruz with an opportunity to step into the spotlight once again; conservatives say there is a leadership vacuum ahead of the year-end spending and debt-ceiling talks.
Lawmakers say they have done little to prepare for the negotiations between Obama and McConnell and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), because the leadership races have sucked up much of the oxygen in the House.
“I think everybody is aware of the perfect financial storm that is coming against conservatives with regard to the debt ceiling, budget caps, etc., yet a strategy about what you do about it has not been formulated, because we’re caught up in the leadership races,” said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.).
Cruz has repeatedly bashed GOP leaders for not using Congress’s power of the purse to block Obama’s executive action on immigration enforcement, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and federal funding of Planned Parenthood.
“The core of this capitulation comes from Republican leadership’s promise that ‘There will be no government shutdown.’ On its face, the promise sounds reasonable. Except in practice it means that Republicans never stand for anything,” Cruz wrote in a Politico op-ed last month.