With Speaker John Boehner embracing the push to defund Obamacare in the House bill to fund the government, the battle will soon be moving to the Senate, which is controlled by Democratic majority leader Harry Reid.
It’s hostile territory for the effort, and since the initial calls to push for defunding Obamacare came from Senate Republicans, there’s added pressure on the strategy’s architects to make it a major fight.
Senator Mike Lee is organizing a messaging push to pressure Reid to hold an “up or down” vote. Lee and other Senate Republicans who devised the strategy will “fight like hell” to push it through the Senate, Lee’s spokesman Brian Phillips says.
Heritage Action, I’m told, is looking at a “major” paid-media campaign to put the spotlight on Reid.
Senator Ted Cruz, meanwhile, is in hot water with a good number of House GOP leadership types for a statement he issued about Boehner’s decision to include defunding Obamacare in the continuing resolution (CR) bill.
In the statement, Cruz called the decision “terrific news” and offered his praise for House leadership. But, he said, Reid will quickly move to defeat the bill in the Senate, at which point the House Republicans will need to stay firm.
“Harry Reid will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution, and right now he likely has the votes to do so. At that point, House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground, and continue to listen to the American people,” Cruz said in the statement.
Putting pressure on the House not to back down on the day of the announcement they would be embracing the defund Obamacare strategy and before the bill had even passed the House struck all the wrong notes and quickly enraged certain House Republicans.
“For weeks, House Republicans have said the prospects of passing a defund bill in the Senate are grim, and Senators Lee, Cruz and Rubio have responded by saying nothing is impossible if we fight hard enough. Now they are getting exactly what they asked for, and they issue a press release conceding defeat and refusing to join the fight they demanded in every TV appearance. It’s time they put their money where their mouths are, and do something other than talk,” said a House GOP leadership aide.
I received several unprompted e-mails about this, and across Twitter, other reporters have been posting similar quotes, indicating this was, if not a coordinated strike, a conspicuously timed outpouring.
“We didn’t have a meeting, but I think we’re all surprised and pissed – they’re preemptively giving up, and we haven’t even passed the damned bill yet!” a second House leadership aide says.
In conversations with Senate Republican aides, it’s clear the idea they’re ready to give in to Reid on the issue is a caricature.
According to one source, Reid can move to table the bill with only a 51-vote majority, but that will play into the campaign to give it an “up or down” vote and appear somewhat weak. If he tries to bring the bill to the floor and strip out the defund Obamacare language, it will force a series of politically inconvenient votes that will put vulnerable Democrats in a bind. Either way, Republicans are licking their chops.
On the other hand, it’s fair to say Cruz’s statement was tone-deaf, and he has not articulated a sophisticated strategy for getting Reid and Obama to buckle and repeal the president’s signature legislative achievement.
In a radio interview with Andrea Tantaros earlier today, for example, Cruz aimed most of his barbs at the GOP, despite House Republicans’ decision only hours earlier to embrace his plan on the CR.
“Right now, I can tell you, the people who are fighting the hardest against our efforts to defund Obamacare are not Democrats, it’s Republicans. It’s Republicans who have been leading the onslaught, trying to stop this. Because they’re afraid of the political risk. They’re afraid of being blamed politically,” he said.
Cruz also touted a petition website run by the Senate Conservatives Fund, dontfundit.com, and said for the plan to be enacted into law, “we need to see a grassroots tsunami continue.”
At his worst, the Texas Republican veered into what can only be described as happy talk. “Good policy makes good politics. We ought to stand up and do the right thing. And if we do that, the politics will take care of itself,” he said.
But he also sketched out what can be a politically potent argument to put to Democrats: “We gotta say, ‘no, we don’t want to shut the government down. We have voted to continue the government running. President Obama has granted waivers from Obamacare to big corporations and to members of Congress. Why is President Obama threatening to shut the government down to deny those some waivers to hard-working American familiies?’ Their position is indefensible.”
With Boehner on board, the battle is coming to the Senate. There’s plenty of room for a politically productive battle in the upper chamber on what is a very unpopular law; House Republicans are watching to see if Cruz can take up that mantle.
Update: A Cruz spokeswoman clarifies about his statement: “The point Senator Cruz was trying to make is that Harry Reid will have the votes if Senate Republicans don’t stand up and fight.”