Prolonged applause greeted Ted Cruz when he entered his Russell building office for the first time since returning from his ill-fated run for the White House.
But the GOP senator from Texas knows full well that’s not the reception he’s going to get from Washington at large, or even some of his Senate colleagues.
“It is great to be back in the welcoming embrace of Washington,” Cruz joked to a gaggle of media before entering his office. By the time he showed up a bit after 4 p.m., a dozen still cameras and no fewer than seven video crews had joined a score or more of print journalists, a press corps ensemble that included Capitol Hill regulars campaign stalwarts.
In interviews, his Senate Republican colleagues seem to be taking a trust but verify approach to their returning colleague, with several senators saying they need to figure out if Cruz intends to get down to the business of being a lawmaker.
Before he left for the campaign trail, Cruz had a reputation as an obstructionist. He led fellow Republicans into a government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act and blocked other legislation. His months on the campaign trail bashing the Washington establishment reinforce that reputation.
“I hope that he just wants to roll up his sleeves and go to work and get things done in the Senate, and we want to work with him on that,” Republican Conference Chairman John Thune said. “He’s a smart guy. He’s a talented guy, and it’d be nice to see him plug in here and help us get some things done.”
“If when he gets back here he decides he wants to carve out a role in the Senate and do things legislatively, then we welcome that and look forward to partnering with him,” said Thune, a South Dakota Republican who is chairman of the Commerce Committee, which Cruz sits on.
The early indication is that Cruz plans to promote the agenda of the conservatives who supported him on the journey from Iowa to Indiana and all points in between.
“The conservative movement I believe will only continue to get stronger. I recognize a lot of folks in the media… are eager to write the epitaph for the conservative movement,” Cruz said. “I look forward to pressing in the United States Senate for the very same things that I was pressing for on the campaign trail: jobs, and freedom, and security.”
Cruz also has the opportunity to plow right back in to his legislative portfolio, with the markup of the annual defense authorization legislation at the Armed Services Committee, where Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., serves as chairman. That work takes place largely behind closed doors this week.
[Related: Back in D.C., Cruz Won’t Extinguish Presidential Hopes]
“Get back to work, and work as hard as you can. That’s the only cure,” McCain said Tuesday of his prescription for Cruz. “The best medicine is to get back to work.”
The Arizona Republican won his party’s nomination in 2008, but found himself back in the Senate chamber after losing the general election to the current president, Barack Obama.
In addition to McCain, Republicans Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina from the 2016 cycle, the Senate is littered with former presidential candidates, from Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander to Orrin G. Hatch of Utah.
But the transition may not be smooth.
[Related: Welcome Back to the Senate, Ted Cruz!]
Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said earlier in the day, “I don’t think he has been humbled by his experience running for president.”
Cruz wasn’t surprised at the criticism from across the aisle.
“I suspect that’s not going to go away,” Cruz said. “This has been an amazing journey. I have to tell ya, I am so privileged and so humbled to have had the opportunity to do this, to have the opportunity to run for president, to travel to virtually every state in the union, to visit with thousands and tens of thousands of men across this country.”
As Cruz digs back in to the work of legislating, he will find at least one willing partner on the other side of the aisle, perhaps particularly when it comes to space issues.
“If you’re finding that others don’t get along with him, I get along with him,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said in an interview. “And that goes back, my wife and I took him to dinner at the time of the shutdown, when all of the Republicans were sort of jumping at his throat because it was hurting Republicans, the shutdown.”
Cruz’s strident opposition to funding Obamacare was a key factor in the 2013 government shutdown standoff that put the Texan on the outs with many of his fellow Republicans in the Senate who opposed his strategy.
Graham, who has denounced presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, said that while Cruz is not likely to change his positions on policy, he has a chance to use the added clout to lead a movement in the Republican party.
“He ran a high profile campaign for the president, did a lot better than I did,” Graham said. “He was one of the last guys standing so he should be proud.”
[Related: Graham on Cruz v. Trump: Like Being ‘Shot or Poisoned]
“The process did elevate Ted,” Graham said. “How he uses that will be up to him.”
Rema Rahman and David Hawkings contributed.
Contact Lesniewski at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @nielslesniewski.
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