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'Cruz Caucus' Talks Leadership Elections in Both Chambers

Cruz met again Tuesday with House conservatives. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ted Cruz held another closed-door meeting with House conservatives Tuesday night, sitting down with insurgents over pizza in his office for a free-flowing discussion about immigration, leadership elections, the IRS and recent changes at the Republican Study Committee.  

Over the course of about an hour and a half, 14 of the most conservative members of the House piled into Cruz's Dirksen office for what was described in an email as an off-the-record gathering of "discussion and fellowship."  

The attendees were, in the order in which they arrived: Doug Lamborn of Colorado, Trent Franks of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, John Fleming of Louisiana, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Matt Salmon of Arizona, Steve Stockman of Texas, Paul Broun of Georgia, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, Ted Yoho of Florida, Steve Pearce of New Mexico and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. (Lamborn was facing a primary back home .)  

This isn't the first time Cruz has met quietly with House conservatives. He met in the basement of Tortilla Coast with 15 to 20 House Republicans during the government shutdown in October. He also met with a similar group of House Republicans in his office in April .  

The topics of conversation at these meetings have been the subject of vivid speculation.  

But Tuesday night, Cruz looked to downplay the whole affair as he entered the meeting at 7:09 p.m.  

"You guys have made a mountain out of a molehill," the Texas Republican told CQ Roll Call. He noted that he had met with conservatives "periodically," and he implied such gatherings aren't a big deal. But according to members leaving the meeting, the discussion was not of the molehill variety.  

While the main conversation seemed to be regarding immigration and the recent influx of children coming to the border , the most salacious topic seemed to be upcoming leadership elections, "both on the House side and the Senate side," according to Brooks.  

Brooks said there was a question whether Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would continue in his post. "Or is there going to be someone else who is going to challenge him?" Brooks said.  

That scenario might be a bit far-fetched, but it's significant that the topic even came up.  

On the House side, the conversation, according to Brooks, was "whether there were the votes for the current leadership and the speaker in the House, if we're going to retain the current leadership, or if there were going to be others who are going to rise to the challenge of putting their names up for election."  

Brooks noted that he asked for and received a list of potential challengers — but wouldn't name names.  

"Other people gave answers," Brooks said. "I'm not going to comment on their answers."  

Cruz recently made a trip down to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where a number of the immigrant children who've flooded the border are being kept. Members said they were struck by the conversation that involved the horrific details of exploitation and torture.  

In a five-minute interview after the meeting, Cruz recounted what he told the group.  

"One of the stories that [Texas] Attorney General Greg Abbott, Congressman Michael Burgess and I were told by the senior officials at Lackland was that a number of the drug cartels that are smuggling these kids in illegally are holding the children hostage and extorting additional ransom from the families," Cruz said. "And to do so, if the families refuse to send additional money, they send body parts of the children back to the families.  

"And what they do to carry out that extortion is they force children to cut off fingers and ears of other children, and they threaten that they will be shot if they don't do so," he said. Cruz said the situation is "the direct consequence of President Obama's lawlessness."  

Cruz and other Republicans contend the Obama administration's moves to relax deportation policies for some young illegals has helped fuel the surge in children streaming across the border.  

Cruz said the conversation covered legislative priorities for the remainder of the year and for next year, and he said one area of particular concern was the alleged targeting of political groups from the IRS.  

"Nobody's been indicted, many of the victims of the wrongful targeting have not even been interviewed, and the Department of Justice has entrusted the investigation to a major Obama donor, who gave over $6,000 to President Obama and the Democrats," Cruz said. "That is wrong, it is irresponsible, and it is contemptuous of the law and contemptuous of justice."  

Another topic, according to members, was the breaking news that the Republican Study Committee would appoint Rob Woodall of Georgia to be the interim chairman of the RSC until the November elections after current chairman Steve Scalise of Louisiana steps down at the end of July to be majority whip.  

"I was hoping that we would have a vote of the RSC," Brooks said Tuesday night. "And I like Rob Woodall personally, he might be the guy that I would vote for, but I'd still prefer that there be a vote of the RSC membership and an open and honest election."  

Overall, members described the gathering as a "friendly meeting."  

"We just talked about anything anybody wanted to talk about, wasn't any real agenda," Gohmert told CQ Roll Call.  

Members trickled in during the first half hour of the meeting and they trickled out from around 8 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. Cruz's office ordered up five pies from We, The Pizza, and members ate candy and drank soda, mostly Dr. Pepper — a staple of Texas Senate offices.  

"It's unfortunate this doesn't happen more often," Cruz said. "I mean, that we don't have more members of Congress in both houses talking to each other, working together on legislative priorities."