After a respite, Cruz again questioning McConnell’s strategies

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGroup aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video Howard Dean looking for a 'younger, newer' Democratic nominee in 2020 Congress can stop the war on science MORE (R-Texas), who has been more of a team player since losing the 2016 GOP presidential primary to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump claims media 'smeared' students involved in encounter with Native American man Al Sharpton criticizes Trump’s ‘secret’ visit to MLK monument Gillibrand cites spirituality in 2020 fight against Trump’s ‘dark’ values MORE, is reemerging as an agitator in the GOP conference.

Cruz is questioning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Senate GOP eyes 'nuclear option' for Trump nominees next week Taiwan’s President Tsai should be invited to address Congress MORE’s (R-Ky.) strategy on the GOP's 2018 agenda, which is to steer clear of partisan bills that don’t have Democratic support.

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Cruz, who is up for reelection this year and faces a spirited challenger in Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D), is leading a group of restive conservatives who want to vote on a budget resolution that would set up a special process — known as reconciliation — to allow the GOP to pass ambitious legislation, such as an ObamaCare repeal, with a simple majority.

“We have 254 days until Jan. 3, 2019. I believe we need to do everything humanly possible to deliver on the promises we made to voters and to score major substantive victories for the American people while we have majorities in both houses and a Republican president,” Cruz said last week.

“If we do that, we maximize the chances of keeping majorities in both houses because we’re enacting policies that make a real and positive difference in people’s lives,” he added.

Cruz worries the time for passing lasting legislative reforms might be limited given the widespread perception that Democrats have a good chance of winning back the House next year. Those concerns are shared by many conservatives in the House, who communicate regularly with Cruz. 

Cruz gave a presentation to the GOP conference last week in an attempt to rally colleagues behind the idea of passing a budget with reconciliation instructions. 

Without reconciliation, it takes 60 votes to pass controversial legislation through the Senate.

McConnell, however, shot the idea down, according to two senators.

“Mitch pushed back. He said, ‘I agree with where you want to go, but we have a math problem,’” one source said. 

It was the first time in a while that Cruz second-guessed McConnell’s leadership in front of the entire GOP conference, although colleagues said he did it respectfully.

“We need to keep going,” he said. “We need to finish the job at ObamaCare. We need to keep simplifying the tax code and lowering taxes. We need to keep lifting regulation so we see more jobs at higher wages for working men and women.”

It’s possible Cruz’s efforts to tout an ambitious 2018 agenda is intended to spur on conservatives he’ll need to come to the polls this fall.

Cruz is favored to win reelection in November, but Democrats have high hopes of taking him out and have a fundraising magnet in O’Rourke, who raised a staggering $6.7 million in the first quarter of 2018. 

If Cruz is in a tight race this fall, he might need additional funds from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is run by GOP leadership.

A senior Republican aide said Cruz’s ambitious strategy is unrealistic because it would require the entire GOP conference to vote for the same budget resolution and then to agree on a plan to repeal ObamaCare or other major reforms.

It would be a heavy lift given the ideological differences between conservatives such as Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCivil rights group marks MLK Day with call for 'Trump card' national ID Pressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal House Republicans call for moving State of the Union to Senate chamber MORE (R-Ky.) and moderates such as Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World Overnight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal MORE (R-Maine), the staffer argued.  

“If Sen. Cruz has a plan that can get 50 votes, he should show it to us,” the source said.

A spokesman for McConnell declined to comment on the meeting.

Republicans control 51 seats, but with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGrassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices Listen, learn and lead: Congressional newcomers should leave the extremist tactics at home Overnight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal MORE (R-Ariz.) away from the Senate indefinitely while he undergoes treatment for brain cancer, they have an effective majority of 50. 

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World Kaine to force Senate to hold rare Saturday session amid shutdown MORE (Alaska), one of three Republicans who voted last year to kill the so-called skinny repeal of ObamaCare, says she doesn’t want to plunge back into the health-care debate.

“I am not enthusiastic about that at all. Not at all,” she said. “It would be one thing if somebody had the plan. What’s the proposal? Are we just going to go through an exercise with no plan? We did that and it didn’t work too well.”

But Cruz argues the biggest legislative accomplishments during Trump’s first 15 months of office have come by circumventing Democratic filibusters.

They include confirming Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, the passage of tax reform, the opening up of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to drilling and the repeal of more than a dozen Obama-era regulations under the Congressional Review Act.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Cruz argued passionately for what he sees as a big opportunity by showing colleagues a graphic that listed a variety of bills sponsored by different members of the GOP conference that he thinks could pass under reconciliation, according to a senator who attended the meeting.

“I think there’s a great deal we can do that would command 50 votes,” he told The Hill.

McConnell and Cruz have had a history of clashing in recent years.

Their highest profile standoff came in the fall of 2013, when Cruz mobilized a group of conservative House members to vote down any spending bill that didn’t block the implementation of ObamaCare.

McConnell wasn’t a fan of the strategy, which resulted in a 16-day government shutdown, and vowed it wouldn’t happen again, proclaiming, “There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.”

Their relationship hit a low point in 2015, when Cruz accused McConnell on the floor of lying about what he believed was a secret deal with Democrats to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.

A group of Senate Republicans agree with Cruz that leadership needs to get more aggressive.

“A lot of us are pushing it, in particular on the block grant to the states on health care,” said Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonCongress sends bill renewing anti-terrorism program to Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Hillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval MORE (R-Wis.).

He referred to a proposal he has sponsored along with Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Barr’s first task as AG: Look at former FBI leaders’ conduct Debate builds over making Mueller report public MORE (R-S.C.), Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyMnuchin meets with Senate GOP to shore up ranks on Russia sanctions vote Trump on declaring national emergency: 'Not going to do it so fast' Acosta mocked for border reporting: 'Exactly – walls work!' MORE (R-La.) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Progressive strategist says changing demographics will help Dems MORE (R-Nev.) that would dismantle ObamaCare and convert its funding to health block grants to states.

“I’ve been pushing for a budget and budget reconciliation procedures forever,” Johnson added.

Republicans who favor this approach acknowledge there isn’t yet consensus within their conference on how to proceed on ObamaCare.