Cruz girds for McConnell showdown

 

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCongress can stop the war on science O'Rourke blogs from road trip: 'Have been stuck lately. In and out of a funk' Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall MORE has found a way to seize the spotlight at a time his campaign for president is losing the battle for buzz.

The Texas Republican on Sunday will attempt an unusual procedural move to overturn Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOcasio-Cortez rips Trump in first House floor speech: 'It is not normal to shut down the government when we don’t get what we want' Overnight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal Supporters leave notes on plaque outside Ocasio-Cortez's office MORE’s (R-Ky.) blocking of his amendment on the Iran nuclear deal.

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McConnell, seeking to move a federal highway funding bill through the Senate fast, has cut off most amendments to the measure — though he is allowing a vote on reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.

That decision has infuriated Cruz, who took to the floor on Friday to accuse his leader of lying to him.

On Sunday, Cruz needs a majority of the Senate to back his objection to McConnell — a tall order that is unlikely to be achieved.

Either way, it could be good news for Cruz, who wants to cast himself as a fighter struggling against the Washington establishment.

Republican strategists say the floor battle gives Cruz a vital shot of publicity at a time his campaign is being overshadowed by celebrity business mogul Donald Trump, who has soared to the top of GOP polls as Cruz has lost support.

A recent Washington Post/ABC news poll showed Trump leading the GOP presidential field nationwide with 24 percent support. It showed Cruz in eighth place with 4 percent.

“For someone trying to run for a president as a populist outsider and Trump sucking all the oxygen out of the room, this couldn’t come at a better time,” Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked on Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign.

“It’s something where Cruz can get air time and reassert himself in the 2016 debate,” he added. “Donald Trump is taking away his supporters. They are both running in the same lane right now. If Trump blows up, Cruz is the most likely to be the biggest beneficiary.”

Indeed, Cruz — unlike most Republicans in the 16-candidate GOP filed, has made a point of complimenting Trump. If Trump backs out of the race, Cruz is clearly hoping the businessman’s supporters will shift to his campaign. 

Cruz was supposed to be in San Diego Friday to deliver remarks at the annual conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization of state legislators who advocate for conservative policy. He cancelled the trip to focus on the Senate floor fight. An advisor said his Saturday schedule remains up in the air.

Cruz wants McConnell to allow an amendment that would keep sanctions on Iran until Tehran recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and frees four American hostages.

“The chair ruled it out of order because the majority leader had filled the tree. And what I’ve done is I’ve appealed the ruling of the chair,” he said on Friday.

“I assume leadership is going to whip against that amendment but I’ll tell you what. I don’t know of a whole lot of Republicans or even a whole lot of Democrats who want to vote against that proposition,” he added.

Senate aides say Cruz may attempt to force similar procedural votes on other amendments to extend his protest but it would not last for more than a couple hours. 

McConnell told colleagues Friday that he had little choice but to ensure a vote on the bank because its supporters threatened to block votes on other amendments. 

“Supporters of the Ex-Im Bank are demanding a vote to reauthorize it, and they’ve made clear they’re ready to stop all other amendments if denied that opportunity," he said. “They’ve already proven they have the votes to back up the threat too."

But Cruz ripped McConnell’s tactics, and conservatives applauded his salvo.

“Senator Ted Cruz's speech today is evidence of the rage that conservatives have toward Senator Mitch McConnell,” one conservative strategist told The Hill. “In essence, Sen. Cruz made a strong case that McConnell's whole agenda is a lie to the conservative movement.”

Cruz and McConnell have had a rocky relationship since the freshman conservative came to the upper chamber in 2013.

They clashed most fiercely that year over the best strategy to oppose the implementation of ObamaCare. Cruz pushed Republicans to oppose any government funding resolution that allowed the law to take effect. McConnell believed the 16-day government shutdown that resulted from a standoff over spending hurt the GOP’s brand.

Cruz and McConnell clashed again in December and earlier this year over a Department of Homeland Security funding bill. Cruz insisted it include language stopping President Obama’s executive order shielding up to five million illegal immigrants form deportation.

McConnell eventually moved a clean funding bill after Senate Democrats repeatedly filibustered language targeting the executive action on immigration.

The fight on Friday centered on whether McConnell had made a deal with Democrats to allow a vote on the Export-Import Bank.

Cruz said McConnell had told him he had made no such deal.

“Well, we now know that when the majority leader looks us in the eyes and makes an explicit commitment that he is willing to say things that he knows are false,” he said on the Senate floor.

“That has consequences for how this body operates,” he added. “If you or I cannot trust what the majority leader tells us, that will have consequences on other legislation, as well as on how this institution operates.”