Cruz, McConnell vie for influence

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWith religious liberty memo, Trump made America free to be faithful again Interstate compacts aren't the right way to fix occupational licensing laws Texas Dem: ‘I don’t know what to believe’ about what Trump wants for wall MORE (R-Texas) are competing for influence among the Senate’s 12 Republican freshmen, with the outcome potentially shaping the agenda for 2015 and beyond.

Cruz has reached out to freshman Republicans, whom he helped in last year’s elections, in hopes they will join his effort to pressure Republican leaders to pursue what he calls a “bold agenda.”

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“We should follow through on our commitment to provide big, bold positive ideas responding to the very real economic hardship that so many millions of Americans are feeling,” he said.

Cruz said he has targeted that message to the new freshman class, which comprises more than a fifth of the GOP’s 54-member majority.

“What I have encouraged everyone of them to do is to urge all of us to honor our commitments. What I’ve urged everyone of them to do is answer questions in January the same way you would have answered them in October on the campaign trail,” he said.

Outside groups, such as the Senate Conservatives Fund have pushed a similar message. They want Senate Republicans to follow through on their rhetoric from the campaign trail by making forceful pushes to repeal ObamaCare and defund the president’s executive order stopping deportations of illegal immigrants.

McConnell, for his part, has consistently told colleagues — freshmen and more seasoned members alike — that the only way they can have an impact is by getting legislation to President Obama’s desk. That means pushing proposals on jobs and the economy that can win Democratic support.

“In every meeting, whether it’s with freshmen or others, McConnell’s message has been consistent. The only way we’re going to be relevant is by getting legislation to the president’s desk. That’s the best card we have,” said a GOP senator, who requested anonymity to discuss private meetings.

McConnell met with freshman Republicans shortly after Election Day, when he posed with them for a photo-op in his stately Capitol suite.

He might face the same challenges that Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE (R-Ohio) has had during his four years leading the House GOP majority. BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE has faced down several conservative rebellions, most recently on Tuesday, when 25 Republicans voted to oust him as Speaker.

A senior Republican leadership aide argued that there is no difference in vision between Cruz and McConnell, noting that the GOP leader has repeatedly promised a vote to repeal ObamaCare. McConnell also supports stopping Obama’s executive order on deportations.

Cruz has also voiced support for getting economic bills designed to promote jobs growth to Obama’s desk.

“I hope we take up and pass one piece of pro-growth legislation after another, after another, after another and we put them on the president’s desk,” he said Tuesday.

But while McConnell and Cruz might share the same policy goals, they differ on tactics. Cruz is much more willing to use dramatic measures to achieve his aims, as he did in 2013, when he provoked a 16-day government shutdown in an attempt to stop the implementation of ObamaCare.

Many conservative activists, who form the core of Cruz’s national support, won’t be satisfied with just one Senate vote to repeal the healthcare law, which is certain to fail because of a Democratic filibuster. They want congressional leaders to use every tool at their disposal, including a special budgetary procedure known as reconciliation, which allows the Senate to pass legislation with a simple majority vote.

Last month, Cruz questioned whether the Republican leadership was fully committed to stopping Obama’s immigration order.

“When our leaders say as a commitment we will fight and we will stop President Obama’s illegal amnesty, I take them at their word,” he said on the Senate floor. “The American people may not be quite so trusting as I am, because they’ve seen far too many members of Congress say one thing and do another.

“We will learn soon enough if those statements are genuine and sincere,” he said, sending a shot across the leadership’s bow.

One Republican senator, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about his colleagues, said he did not think Cruz would gain much traction among the freshmen.

“I look at the freshmen, and I don’t see a lot of Ted Cruzes,” the lawmaker said, adding that Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst (R) is a potential “wild card.”

The differences between Cruz and McConnell over how aggressively to use their leverage could come to the fore next month, when a short-term law funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expires.

Cruz suggested Wednesday that if the department shuts down because the president vetoed a funding bill that included language halting his executive order, Obama would bear responsibility.

“I think we should fund DHS, but at the same time we should exercise the constitutional checks and balances and the power of the purse to rein in the president’s abuse of power,” he said.

When asked if it would be worth shutting down the Homeland Security Department in response to a veto, Cruz said, “that is an excellent question for you to ask the president.”

“He should not veto funding for DHS, particularly if he has those concerns.”

Other Republican senators have sought out freshmen to press their pet agendas.

Incoming Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (R-Ariz.), for example, has urged them to support ending the mandated defense spending cuts known as sequestration.

“Given our slim margin, they’re going to be extremely important,” Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House Flake's anti-Trump speech will make a lot of noise, but not much sense MORE (R-Ariz.) said of the freshmen. “They wield a lot of power.”