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Leaders gain from Cruz gambit

Sens. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo MORE (R-Ky.) and Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidManchin flexes muscle in 50-50 Senate Las Vegas airport to be renamed after former Sen. Harry Reid Sanders replacing top staffers with campaign aides MORE (D-Nev.) are both using Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Shelby endorses Shalanda Young for OMB director should Biden pull Tanden's nomination MORE (R-Texas) to cement control of their respective conferences as the 113th Senate grinds to a close.

 Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, scored a coup by using Cruz’s determination to block President Obama’s executive actions on immigration against him.

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Confronted with procedural hurdles, Reid turned lemons into lemonade by using the extra time to confirm a host of Obama’s controversial nominees in the last days of the Democratic majority.

“We ended the year in the best possible way,” said a Senate Democratic leadership aide, who added Reid would have had to settle for confirming fewer nominees had Cruz not kept the chamber in over the weekend. “I could not imagine ending on such a high point five days ago.”

McConnell watched Republican senators rain down abuse on Cruz after he got caught in the Reid trap.

“Unfortunate,” said Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Overnight Health Care: Johnson & Johnson vaccine safe, effective in FDA analysis | 3-4 million doses coming next week | White House to send out 25 million masks Biden's picks face peril in 50-50 Senate MORE (R-Maine). 

“Counterproductive,” said Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Tanden's path to confirmation looks increasingly untenable On The Money: What's next for Neera Tanden's nomination MORE (R-Ariz.), who argued that without Cruz’s move, Vivek Murthy, whose nomination was opposed by the National Rifle Association, would not have won confirmation as surgeon general.

GOP Sens. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteOvernight Defense: NATO expanding troops in Iraq Overnight Defense: New START extended for five years | Austin orders 'stand down' to tackle extremism | Panel recommends Biden delay Afghanistan withdrawal Study group recommends Biden delay Afghanistan withdrawal MORE (N.H.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMurkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Trump backs former campaign adviser for Ohio Republican Party chair MORE (Ohio), who had left Washington to attend his uncle’s funeral, both had to fly back to the capital, and Portman missed some of Saturday’s procedural votes.

“I think we all saw that this place is a lot more complicated and for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction,” said Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynPassage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Democrats look to improve outreach to Asian and Latino communities MORE (Texas), adding that he hoped his colleagues would learn that creating divisions in the conference hurts the party’s objectives.

“Obviously we’re more effective the more unified we are and we kind of lost sight of that,” he said.

For Reid, the story of another errant Cruz missile is ending the lame-duck session on a high note.

After a disastrous midterm election that saw his caucus lose nine seats, Reid had some Democratic senators vote against him for leader. More criticism came his way when the end-of-year session began with a vote on the Keystone oil pipeline intended to help Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCassidy wins reelection in Louisiana Bottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth MORE (D-La.) in a December special election. Landrieu and Keystone lost by one vote as liberals voted against her, and the Louisiana Democrat was crushed in her Dec. 6 runoff.

Democratic division continued over the spending bill last week, but Reid’s colleagues were cheered by what they saw as a deft procedural move that is allowing them to stack the administration with allies as Democrats cede power.

“Last week all the talk was about Democratic divisions and now we’re going into the next year talking about Republican divisions,” one Democratic aide said.

Cruz’s misstep could strengthen McConnell’s hand as he seeks to keep his majority unified in the next Congress, when he will switch jobs with Reid and become the majority leader.

In fact, there were a few observers on Capitol Hill who wondered if McConnell, recognized as a master in Senate procedure and tactics, had allowed Cruz to walk into a trap.

McConnell told Republican colleagues Friday afternoon there was likely to be a deal sparing them from having to stay in Washington over the weekend.

The normally tight-lipped leader even told reporters “see ya Monday” as he walked out of the Capitol Friday evening.

But McConnell never checked with Cruz and his ally, Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Key vote for Haaland's confirmation | Update on oil and gas leasing | SEC update on climate-related risk disclosure requirements Haaland on drilling lease moratorium: 'It's not going to be a permanent thing' Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March MORE (R-Utah), beforehand to see whether one of them might object to the deal, according to aides.

That McConnell would not check with the Tea Party favorites seems surprising, because the two have repeatedly worked to slow must-pass legislation in both the House and the Senate.

“They never asked us. They need to check with people to find out if we’re going to object or not and they never asked us,” said Brian Phillips, a spokesman for Lee.

A senior Senate Republican aide said Cruz and Lee gave McConnell no indication that they planned to object to the request to skip weekend work and vote on the omnibus Monday before they came to the floor Friday evening to knock down Reid’s proposal.

The aide said McConnell never suspected that Cruz and Lee would object to the unanimous consent request because Reid’s staff informed both senators unequivocally that the Democratic leader planned to use the weekend time to churn through more than 20 nominees, setting up votes on them starting Monday. 

A senior Democratic aide confirmed “it is absolutely true that we were 100 percent clear with Republicans about what we intended to do.”

The result of the maneuvering, regardless of whether McConnell guessed what might happen, is that a host of Obama’s nominations have moved toward confirmation while fingers point at Cruz and Lee.

The whole episode has done nothing to hurt Cruz with the grass roots, but he’s taken another hit in the eyes of his colleagues.

And it appears to have stung.

Phillips said leaders have unfairly blamed his boss and Cruz for the confirmation of 23 nominees that Reid was fully committed to confirming no matter how the lame-duck session played out.

He noted that Reid’s spokesman made those intentions crystal clear when he tweeted on Friday: “Sen. McConnell knows full well that Sen. Reid intends to do noms before we adjourn.”

But Adam Jentleson, Reid’s spokesman, insists that Reid would have had to curtail the list of nominees receiving final votes had Cruz and Lee not kept colleagues in town over the weekend by objecting to the proposal to hold votes on the omnibus Monday afternoon.

Jentleson also tweeted Saturday that it was “amazing” that McConnell had acknowledged being blindsided by Cruz and Lee.

A Republican senator said he believed McConnell “was caught completely off guard” by Cruz’s move.

And a Democratic senator said he doubted it was a masterstroke to further isolate Cruz and Lee in the conference.

“I’ve never been much for conspiracy theories. I go with the stupidity theory first,” he said.