WASHINGTON – A new show has opened on Capitol Hill, and, with any luck, it will have a long run.
It’s called “The Taming of the Cruz.”
Grenade-launching Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas took a familiar position of obstruction last week: He called on conservatives to fight any bill that funds President Barack Obama’s immigration actions – even if this provokes a standoff that leads to a government shutdown.
“Just about every Republican candidate in the country campaigned saying, ‘If you elect us, we will stop President Obama’s amnesty,’” he said at a rally at the Capitol with tea party activists last week. “What I’m here urging my fellow Republicans to do is very, very simple: Do what you said you would do.”
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Cruz, who also met with House conservatives to stoke opposition, opposed the “meaningless show vote” lawmakers were considering as an alternative to a confrontation. He declared “a full-fledged constitutional crisis.”
But something extraordinary happened in response to Cruz’s hyperventilation: absolutely nothing. The House went ahead with its show vote last week, and all indications are that a bill funding Obama’s immigration policy will sail through the House with bipartisan support and then face similarly smooth Senate passage. House Speaker John Boehner boasted on Wednesday that he was “proud” that the House acted “without a threat of a government shutdown.”
This time, Cruz didn’t frighten fellow conservatives. Only a couple of the usual immigration hard-liners, such as Reps. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Steve King, R-Iowa, showed up for his tea party rally. Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., told CNN last week that “Senator Cruz needs to stay in the Senate. I think Senator Cruz wants to fan the flames here, but I think everyone here has become more savvy to his ways.”
When Cruz launched a similar effort last year to fight the funding of Obamacare, he got broad support among House conservatives, forcing leadership to dig in, earning the moniker “Speaker Cruz” and setting up the shutdown. But Cruz appears to have jumped the shark. His backers in the House have thinned, and leadership is paying them little mind. Even if Cruz raises procedural objections to the spending bill in the Senate, the most he can do is slow passage by a day or two because he lacks sufficient support from fellow Republicans.
Senate Republicans have also been cool to Cruz’s demands that they block confirmation of most nominations in order to force Obama to retract his immigration changes. Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been noncommittal, and John Barrasso of Wyoming (Wyo.) head of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, told The Wall Street Journal’s Janet Hook that he would “make sure the government is open and functioning.”
Cruz has been conspicuously quiet this week. He didn’t mention the matter in a 75-minute foreign-policy speech at the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday afternoon. I asked him after the event whether he was concerned that conservatives aren’t listening to him and whether he planned to use parliamentary tactics to slow the spending bill. He merely said that all Republicans should “honor our word” and “stop President Obama’s amnesty.”
This certainly doesn’t mean Cruz has abandoned his efforts to trip up the federal government. But I’ve long argued that Cruz is more of an opportunist than an ideologue, and now he gets to have it both ways: His defiant statements boost his 2016 presidential prospects with conservative activists while he quietly goes along with his colleagues.
In a Sept. 10 letter, Cruz and a fellow conservative, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, pledged to use procedural tactics to block any “substantial” legislation during this lame-duck session. But, as The Hill newspaper’s Alexander Bolton noted, Cruz so far hasn’t shown much interest in blocking pending votes on the $1 trillion spending bill, Pentagon funding legislation or an extension of tax breaks. Even if he does, the protest would likely have little effect but antagonizing his colleagues.
Rep. Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican who has allied himself with Cruz on immigration, told Bloomberg News’ Dave Weigel outside a meeting of House Republicans on Wednesday that “House leadership has surrendered to President Obama on the illegal-alien issue.”
So would Brooks risk a shutdown, as Cruz would? “I’m not saying to the point of a shutdown, no,” the legislator replied.
If Cruz has lost Mo Brooks, he has lost his mojo.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.