WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is an increasingly isolated figure in the Senate as the government shutdown that Democrats blame him for continues.
But the Senate newcomer is as defiant as ever, even in the face of public rebukes by some in his own party.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., called Cruz “a fraud” on CNN this week. On Friday, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., spoke out on the Senate floor against Cruz’s “ill-conceived strategy” tying federal government funding to eviscerating the Affordable Care Act, a connection that has made a deal between Republicans and Democrats impossible.
“It was ill-conceived because, again, we knew that with the president in the White House and the Senate Democrats in charge, that they were not going to defund their signature piece of legislation, as much as I support repealing that legislation,” said Ayotte.
Her very public smackdown of Cruz – “It’s time for a reality check” – deftly did not cite him by name but left little doubt that he was her target.
Ayotte’s comments followed a private lunch Wednesday of Senate Republicans, where Ayotte and others, including Sen. Dan Coates of Indiana, reportedly had a showdown with Cruz over a political action committee sympathetic to him that has targeted the 25 GOP senators who joined Democrats on a procedural vote last week to fund the government.
Cruz spoke out against such a legislative move during his recent a 21-hour floor speech about the shutdown. His refusal to disavow the actions of the group, the Senate Conservatives Fund, has as enraged some fellow Republicans, including Ayotte and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Cruz tried Friday without success to bring up bills passed by the House of Representatives that fund selected agencies, with no support from his fellow Republican senators. Democrats blocked his every move, but Cruz said he would stick to his guns.
Cruz acknowledged that he has become a polarizing figure: “Democrats have invoked my name as the root of all evil in the world.”
Cruz told McClatchy on Thursday that he would not engage in personal attacks, especially “anonymous quotes” that have started to dog him from fellow Republicans.
“My focus is on stopping the Harry Reid shutdown,” Cruz said, referring to the Senate majority leader, a Democrat from Nevada.
When he accused Reid and President Barack Obama of believing that a shutdown was “in their partisan interest,” Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, a member of the Senate Democratic leadership, warned him about Senate rules against impugning a member’s motives.
But Cruz is influential with the tea party House members – he got enough of them to stand up to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and demand the defunding of Obamacare – and it is in the GOP-controlled House where the vote must come that will break the logjam over the shutdown.
While there are signs of volatility, Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, said that most Republicans were standing firm, even as some more mainstream Republicans in the House and the Senate appear to be tiring of the standoff and its impact on their party.
“I think we’re heading toward the endgame,” Carter said in an interview. “We’re not sure what it is.”
Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action for America, a conservative advocacy group affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, is admiring of Cruz’s determination.
“What happened during August, when members heard from constituents at town meetings, was a pretty awesome thing,” he said. “That really changed the debate inside Washington.”
Cruz, who is scheduled to appear on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, predicted that “it’s likely this shutdown will continue for some time.”