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Saturday Session a Preview of What's to Come

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

At the end of a rare Saturday session, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was direct when asked if Democrats, led by outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had gotten the better of Republicans.  

"I think most Republicans think that Christmas came early for Democrats,” Graham said "I haven't seen Harry smile this much in years, and I didn't particularly like it."  

His comments came after Democrats set the groundwork on as many as 24 nominations, many which Republicans opposed, before clearing the massive $1.013 trillion spending package, ending the threat of a government shutdown. Many Republicans blamed Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, for the number of Democratic nominations. Cruz contested that version of events, saying Reid would've held the Senate in either way. Before adjourning Saturday night, Reid set up votes on nominations next week, starting Monday evening, with more scheduled throughout the day Tuesday.  

Lee on Friday objected to a deal to push the vote on the spending package, also known as the "cromnibus," to Monday, which would have delayed the nominations issue until later next week and perhaps limited the time Democrats would have had to ram them through.  

The Cruz scenario could be a taste of what Senate Republicans have to look forward to in the majority next year after differences over how to best respond to President Obama's executive action on immigration tripped up the GOP lame-duck strategy.  

"Sen. Cruz has got to figure out who he is and what he wants to be,” Graham said.  

The disdain for Cruz's strategy, which entailed offering a point of order to the bill that questioned its constitutionality, was reflected in the fact that only 22 Republicans voted with Cruz. "I value the oath I took to support and defend the Constitution too much to exploit it for political expediency," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. "The Constitution gives Congress the power to fund the government so to assert that the House-passed spending bill is unconstitutional is not only inaccurate but irresponsible."  

Among the 22 siding with Cruz was Kansas Republican Jerry Moran, an appropriator who will be on the ballot in 2016.  

"I think this is an issue certainly that Kansans, and many Americans, but many Kansans care about, and there's just a strong belief out there, including my own belief, that what the president is doing with his executive orders exceeds his constitutional authority," Moran told CQ Roll Call. "We don't have the option to do the things that would be more effective, and this is the one chance to to express my belief that the president exceeded his constitutional authorities."  

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who will be the majority whip in next Congress, agreed that Republicans will act next year to address the executive order.  

"There was nothing unconstitutional about the appropriation bill, and so people like me voted no even though we're as outraged as any about the president's executive action. I just think there are other opportunities that'll be more effective," Cornyn said. "So, this is a beginning not the end."  

For his part Cruz said he intends to hold Republican leaders to that promise.  

"Next year we will have the opportunity to take Republican leaders at their word," Cruz said. "The leadership in both the House and the Senate have committed that the purpose of this so-called cromnibus is to fund the federal government and then to set up a limited spending restriction on the funding for the Department of Homeland Security…in February of next year to stop the president's illegal amnesty."  

Cruz said for now there is just "a procedural division" between him and Republican leaders.  

The man who will be majority leader next year, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, didn't respond when asked directly by a reporter if the maneuvering by Cruz and Lee let Reid get more nominees through, but he did say he thought the outcome of the Saturday night session was a positive.  

"I'm glad we passed the cromni , and that we are heading toward completing the session," said McConnell.  

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