By Alexander Bolton - 10/18/15 06:00 AM EDT
Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzHot air balloon crash kills 16 in Texas 100 days to go in volatile race Voting Trump because of the Supreme Court isn't enough MORE’s presidential campaign is gaining steam, but his influence with House conservatives is diminished compared to two years ago, when he played a central role in the lead-up to a government shutdown.
As congressional leaders head into a high-stakes round of negotiations over a year-end spending deal and raising the debt limit, the Texas Republican is less of a factor in calculating what can pass the House.
Stewart stood with Cruz two years ago, voting against re-opening the government after Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMuslim DNC speaker challenges GOP leaders to call Trump out Peter Thiel does not make the GOP pro-gay Reid: Trump is a 'hateful con man' MORE (R-Ky.) cut a deal with Democrats. Earlier this year, Stewart voted against a Department of Homeland Security funding bill that was stripped of language halting President Obama’s executive action on immigration.
In the fall of 2013, Cruz met regularly with House conservatives to rally them against a government funding bill that allowed the administration to implement ObamaCare.
The result was the shuttering of federal agencies for 16 days — something Cruz and his conservative allies blamed on Obama but the public largely blamed on the GOP, according to polls at the time.
Some Republicans now say they don’t think Cruz will be a driving force with House conservatives as this year’s talks intensify.
“He’s a good friend and he’s a very strong conservative. I think his influence was always exaggerated. We just happen to agree with him on a lot of things. I’ve had no discussions with him about the budget this time,” said Rep. John FlemingJohn FlemingIRS chief blasts impeachment push in Chaffetz's home state David Duke will bank on racial tensions in Louisiana Senate bid Former KKK leader David Duke running for Senate MORE (R-La.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
In recent weeks, Cruz has stepped up his criticism of Republican leaders, accusing them of capitulation for not taking harder stands against Obama’s executive actions on immigration, the funding of Planned Parenthood or raising the nation’s debt ceiling without major concessions.
“Republican leadership responds to every challenge by surrendering at the outset,” Cruz wrote in a recent op-ed for Politico.
But his war cries are starting to grate on some conservatives, even though they agree with him on the issues.
Some Tea Party-aligned lawmakers think Cruz is not being honest with the party base by firing them up with unreasonable expectations.
Efforts to defund Planned Parenthood or halt Obama’s immigration orders have no chance of success in the Senate, they argue, because the Senate’s filibuster rule forces 60 votes to pass controversial legislation. With Democrats controlling 46 seats in the upper chamber, Cruz’s proposals simply aren’t feasible, they say.
“There are so many things I agree with Ted Cruz on but his failure — his habit of speaking as if the filibuster does not exist is disingenuous, and it speaks of duplicity on his part,” said Rep. Trent FranksTrent FranksRyan treads carefully with Trump When Newt and Pence were on opposite sides House GOP defense policy bill conferees named MORE, an outspoken conservative from Arizona.
Franks says Cruz has glossed over just how much the filibuster rule limits the power of GOP leaders.
“He says the leadership is weak because that ostensibly makes him look strong, but the fact is that he has not articulated the effect of this filibuster,” he said. “He has almost been part of the process to keep [knowledge of] it suppressed in order to further his own political ambition, and from my perspective, I’m disappointed in that.”
Franks voted against reopening the government in 2013 and opposed the clean Department of Homeland Security funding bill earlier this year.
Some Republicans think Cruz’s reputation for divisiveness has limited his influence on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulGreen party candidate: People have 'real questions' about vaccines What to watch for on Day 2 at the GOP convention Cyber squatters sitting on valuable VP web addresses MORE (Ky.), a rival for the Republican nomination, told "Kilmeade & Friends," a Fox News radio program, that Cruz “is pretty much done for and stifled” because of a “lack of personal relationships.”
But Cruz is proving much more popular than Paul with Republican primary voters. His campaign collected $12.2 million in the last fundraising quarter. Only retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who is vying for the lead with Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: Muslim soldier was a hero but his father 'has no right' to criticize me Mother of soldier killed in Iraq: I was too 'in pain' to speak at convention Top Koch network adviser rejects Trump's talk of law and order MORE in national polls, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush raised more during that period.
A recent Fox News national poll showed Cruz in third place with 10 percent support, ahead of Bush and Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioFlorida: 'High likelihood' of first Zika transmission in the US Overnight Healthcare: Rubio presses Obama to spend Zika money | FDA moves ahead with trans fat ban The Trail 2016: Her big night MORE (R-Fla.), putting him in a prime position in the early voting states of Iowa and South Carolina.
National popularity has its price, however.
House conservatives say they don’t see much of Cruz these days because he spends much of his time on the campaign trail.
“I haven’t talked to Ted Cruz in 18 months,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a leading member of the House Freedom Caucus.
Conservatives are preoccupied with the battle over who will become the next Speaker.
“We just don’t seem him nearly as much since he’s now running for president. We just have a thousand things on our plate right now with all the upheaval in the House that we’re doing our own thing,” said Rep. Matt SalmonMatt SalmonLGBT fight dooms spending bill on House floor A hearing brought to tears over Right to Try legislation Time for national Right to Try legislation MORE (R-Ariz.), another member of the House Freedom Caucus.
In July, Cruz and Salmon introduced Kate’s Law, which would impose a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for deported illegal immigrants who reenter the country illegally.
A spokesman for Cruz, who declined to be named, said his boss still works closely with many House conservatives, including Franks, with whom he introduced the Sanction Iran, Safeguard America Act in March.
“It’s certainly fair to say he’s not having nightly confabs at Tortilla Coast anymore. Still, he has regular huddles with House members to talk about how to advance conservative principles. While he is traveling regularly now, there is still an extensive dialogue with members on a lot of substantive legislation,” the aide said.
Some conservatives, including Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), said they don’t think Cruz’s power in the House has waned.
“He has an uncanny ability, forget the politics, to put together the A, B and C of how this works and how you explain it,” he said.
Cruz met with about two dozen House Republican lawmakers for a breakfast sponsored by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a prominent conservative and powerbroker in the Iowa presidential caucus, before the Columbus Day recess.
But several prominent conservatives skipped the meeting, including Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Scott GarrettScott GarrettThe Trail 2016: Candidate tug-of-war Dem group slams NJ Republican for 'hateful agenda' Divided GOP to powwow on budget MORE (R-N.J.), Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), Franks, Salmon and Fleming.
Last week, Cruz joined more than two dozen House Republicans in writing a letter to the National Portrait Gallery demanding the removal of a bust of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, from its “Struggle for Justice” exhibit.
Franks and Salmon were among the signers.
Cruz is also working with conservative Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Bill FloresBill FloresMoulitsas: Stuck with Trump Top conservative calls for 'less trash talk' from Trump GOP fears next Trump blowup MORE (R-Texas) to stop the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.
Last month, he joined House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteCongress leaving for seven-week recess Bipartisan House group to work on police issues House conservatives 'committed' to impeaching IRS chief MORE (R-Va.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking if the Obama administration’s plan to internationalize the job of protecting the Internet violates the Constitution.
Cruz and Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) in July introduced legislation to eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a core reform of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.
Rep. Brian Babin (R) of Texas said he recently talked to Cruz about co-sponsoring a bill that would stop the United States from taking in 70,000 people a year who are designated by the United Nations as refugees.
“My bill will put a halt to that until we can ascertain the national security risks, which are not being vetted properly,” he said. “Cruz said he’s certainly looking at that.”