After championing the Affordable Care Act defunding strategy that led to the government shutdown in October, Sen. Ted Cruz continues to do Speaker John A. Boehner no favors — and some of Boehner’s allies think the tea party Texan should mind his own business.
Cruz in recent weeks has undermined Boehner’s approach on both immigration and the debt limit — the two biggest issues the Ohio Republican has been trying to navigate through his conference.
As Boehner unveiled his leadership team’s immigration principles at the House GOP’s retreat two weeks ago, Cruz and his staff simultaneously torched the push for an immigration overhaul this year on Twitter and in interviews, immediately playing the “amnesty” card.
“Anyone pushing that right now should go ahead and put a Harry Reid for majority leader bumper sticker on the back of their car,” Cruz told reporters early last week. It’s a line he’s used with some frequency in recent days, and the implicit target is Boehner, with whom Cruz has frequently sparred indirectly, if not directly, on the party’s strategy.
A few days later, amid fierce pushback in his conference, Boehner was downplaying the idea that the House would act this year on leadership’s immigration principles, which would offer a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants. (Boehner blamed a lack of trust in President Barack Obama to carry out the law.)
Cruz has also pushed repeatedly for another round of debt limit brinkmanship, even as the speaker looks to defuse the potential for another shutdown showdown ahead of the elections.
After speaking at a Heritage Action for America policy conference Monday, Cruz said the debt limit should not be raised without controlling spending.
“We’ll have to wait and see the details,” Cruz said of the House’s plans. “But if you ask anybody outside of Washington, D.C., should we raise the debt ceiling yet again, while doing nothing to address the out-of-control spending in Washington, the virtually unanimous answer from Republicans, Democrats, independents, libertarians — from everybody out of Washington, D.C. — is of course not.
“ . . . Our national debt has gone from $10 trillion to over $17 trillion in five short years and yet President Obama is asking Congress to give him a blank check; to allow him to keep maxing out the credit card without doing anything to fix the problem. I think that’s irresponsible. I hope the House doesn’t go down that road.”
Cruz made similar comments a week ago, prompting several Boehner allies to dismiss his criticism of and advice for House leadership.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said it’s ironic Cruz is giving advice to House Republicans now, given his ill-fated push to defund the Affordable Care Act.
“Listening to him about leadership is folly,” Simpson said.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said Cruz should play a more constructive role rather than taking on other Republicans.
“In terms of the debt limit, we have to be realistic that we don’t want to default on our debt,” Kinzinger said. “We also don’t have the Senate.
“Maybe Ted Cruz should spend a little time trying to win the Senate instead of attacking his fellow Republicans,” he said. “I thought that Ted Cruz was past [that], but maybe he isn’t.”
Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., said Cruz has an easier job serving in the minority. “But the majority comes with it the responsibility to govern and that’s what we are trying to do in the House,” he said.
Boehner has generally declined to attack Cruz directly — talking recently with late night host Jay Leno about the Texas firebrand.
“Ted Cruz used to be my attorney a long time ago. A good guy. I don’t always agree with him, but he’s a good guy,” Boehner told Leno, while describing the shutdown as a “predictable disaster.”
Cruz, who told Bloomberg recently that he doesn’t “really know” Boehner, suggests immigration should be taken up in 2015, when Republicans could control the Senate.
He also believes that passage of an immigration overhaul would demoralize Republican voters.
Many Republicans have called for passing an immigration bill in order to appeal to the fast-growing Latino population. Supporters also argue that it makes sense for Republicans to take up the issue, given that there are millions of American-born children of illegal immigrants who will grow up to be voters.
But Cruz said he finds that establishment Republican argument condescending.
“The self-proclaimed D.C. gray beards who say, ‘It’s all about winning, baby’ as they are so fond of saying, [as if to say] ‘You grass-roots ruffians don’t understand our sophistication,’” Cruz said. “And sadly it’s with every bit of that dripping condescension that the D.C. establishment looks down at the American people.”
Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action, one of the outside groups that Boehner railed against for provoking the shutdown, said conservatives see Cruz and like-minded Republicans as champions of their cause willing to shake up the Republican orthodoxy of years past.
“The problem is not just Reid is blocking them, they have their own Republican leadership blocking them and that’s a real problem,” Holler said.
Holler said conservatives are looking for House Republicans to seek some kind of concession on the debt ceiling, hopefully along the lines of the dollar-for-dollar cuts achieved in 2011. But they don’t have high hopes.
“They have done everything in their power to downplay it and basically give away every bit of leverage that they ever had on it by telegraphing ... that there is absolutely no way we are going to win. ... We’ll have a fake fight and then we’ll cave. That’s not the way you’re going to win elections.”
He said conservatives feel like they have had somewhat of a victory on their fight against an immigration overhaul given reservations voiced by Boehner about the prospects this year.
“We are somewhat cautious,” Holler said, adding that the fact that Republicans put out principles “was alarming.”
“Until they are willing to rebuke their own principles ... I don’t think anyone in the conservative movement is going to rest easy,” Holler said.