Here we go again: Cruz vs. McConnell and Boehner

Sen. Ted Cruz is gearing up for another showdown with Republican leaders in Congress.

The presidential candidate, a conservative Republican from Texas, is deploying arguments similar to those he used two years ago in rallying Tea Party lawmakers to block a government funding measure. Back then, the focus was on
ObamaCare. Now, it’s on Planned Parenthood.

{mosads}Cruz has invited House conservatives to meet in his Dirksen Building office while ratcheting up criticism of GOP leaders in recent days.

Cruz’s message is simple and a repeat of 2013’s: President Obama and the Democrats will deserve blame for a shutdown, not Republicans.

“President Obama’s position is that if Congress funds 100 percent government that he will nonetheless veto funding for the government, unless Congress also gives $500 million to Planned Parenthood,” Cruz told reporters, noting the group is not part of the government and under investigation. “That is a radical and extreme proposition.”

On Tuesday he accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) of capitulation after news broke they planned to move a spending bill stripped of language that would defund the family planning group, which has been engulfed in controversy since the release of undercover videos detailing its fetal tissue program.

“Republican leadership’s position has been, in effect, to surrender across the board,” he said in a fiery floor speech.

He is urging colleagues to use the expiration of government funding as leverage.

Cruz said Congress should pass a continuing resolution that funds the government but “does not give taxpayer funds to a private organization, Planned Parenthood, that is under multiple criminal investigations.”

He published an op-ed in Politico on Wednesday calling on leaders to pass piecemeal bills funding parts of the federal government but not Planned Parenthood, similar to a strategy the GOP tried in 2013.

Cruz has a potential ally in Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), a fellow Republican White House hopeful whom McConnell has endorsed. Paul told reporters on Tuesday that he wants to defund Planned Parenthood and will oppose a stopgap funding measure.  

“Why wouldn’t we put all 12 appropriations bills up? They’ve passed the committees. Just put them up one at a time, have a separate vote on Planned Parenthood,” he said. “Those things that don’t get 60 votes, guess what, we don’t spend any money on.”

McConnell and Boehner are working to ensure the government stays open. Many Republicans in Washington believe another shutdown would play into Democrats’ hands and vastly increase the chances they take back the Senate next year.

Cruz’s power on Capitol Hill rests largely with House conservatives, as it did two years ago, because few Senate colleagues are willing to join him in challenging McConnell.

If enough Republicans in the lower chamber side with Cruz, it could pressure Boehner not to schedule a vote on a clean Senate-passed stopgap out of fear that it may cost him his gavel.

McConnell has warned Senate Republicans that their party will get the blame in case of a shutdown, and he is mobilizing a plan to move a clean stopgap funding measure ahead of next week’s deadline.

But some on the right are siding with Cruz in the brewing fight.

Heritage Action for America on Wednesday urged lawmakers to block a short-term government funding measure that funds Planned Parenthood and announced it would count the vote on its legislative scorecard.

“The federal government should not be in the business of funding organizations that harvest and sell baby parts from aborted children,” the group wrote.

Moderate House Republicans are pushing back against the conservative Texas senator, fearing a reprise of 2013.

Eleven House freshmen, including members of the centrist Main Street Partnership, wrote a letter to colleagues Tuesday warning them to “avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.”

“The sixteen-day government shutdown in 2013 cost our economy an estimated $24 billion and stalled the creation of over 100,000 private sector jobs,” they wrote.

Cruz’s allies, however, argue that GOP leaders need to pay more attention to the party’s sinking popularity among its own base — which could be revived with a high-stakes battle over Planned Parenthood funding.

Survey data released by the Pew Research Center over the summer showed that positive views of the GOP among Republicans declined by an astonishing 18 percentage points since January.

Overall, the party’s favorability rating dropped by 9 points since it took over the Senate in January, according to the Pew poll, published in July.

“If you juxtapose these numbers with the period before and after the 2013 shutdown, our numbers are now much worse,” said a Senate Republican aide. “The only thing we can see now is people are not happy with what we’re doing. Whatever we’re doing is not working. For all intents and purposes, we’re on a sinking ship.”

While a shutdown is generally unpopular, it’s much more acceptable with GOP primary voters, who strongly dislike Planned Parenthood, than with independents and Democrats.

A nationwide CNN/ORC Poll released last week showed Republicans evenly split on the question of whether it’s more important for Congress to approve a budget agreement that avoids a shutdown or eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.

Forty-eight percent of Republicans said avoiding a shutdown should be the top priority, while 44 percent said it should be defunding Planned Parenthood. Overall, 71 percent of respondents said avoiding a shutdown is more important.

Republicans had a 68 percent favorable impression of their own party on Oct. 22, 2013, shortly after a 16-day government shutdown, the same rating as in this month’s CNN/ORC Poll.

Cruz’s standing in national presidential polls hit an all-time high of 12.2 percent after the 2013 shutdown, according to tracking data compiled by RealClearPolitics.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) last week accused Cruz of trying to bolster his standing in the Republican presidential primary.

“We’ve seen that movie — Ted Cruz in the starring role — just a couple of years ago,” Durbin said. “The wannabe presidential candidates and those people in the Republican caucus are looking for another government shutdown over another reason.” 

Cristina Marcos contributed.

Tags Boehner Dick Durbin John Boehner Mitch McConnell Rand Paul Ted Cruz
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