Since taking office in January, Senator Ted Cruz has earned a reputation for being one of the most unapologetically outspoken lawmakers on Capitol Hill. So much so, perhaps, that when it comes to the Gang of Eight’s immigration-reform bill, of which Cruz has been one of the strongest Republican critics, it might seem like he’s been taking it easy.
The Daily Caller’s Mickey Kaus, a staunch opponent of the Gang of Eight plan, observed last week: “By the way, where’s [Ted Cruz]? Should be [a] strong voice against Schumer-Rubio, seems to be doing minimum. Not exactly Reaganesque.”
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which strongly opposes the Gang’s bill, says Cruz seems reluctant to play a leading role in the immigration debate. “My sense is Cruz is kind of ambivalent,” Krikorian tells National Review Online. “Not ambivalent necessarily on amnesty — he’s pretty convinced that’s a bad idea — but he doesn’t seem to want to be the face of immigration hawkishness.”
Cruz “has been important in giving voice to the [Gang of Eight] opposition,” says Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican consultant, though he “hasn’t demonstrated the same level of aggressive national leadership on this as he has on a couple other things” — such as his opposition to gun-control legislation and the Obama administration’s drone policy.
One Republican aide suggests, “He’s been as strongly opposed as any member. But whenever you see someone like Ted Cruz not going full throttle, it makes you wonder why.”
In part, this is probably because immigration reform is a tricky and politically sensitive issue, particularly now, when many Republicans think giving legal status to unlawful immigrants is a necessary step in the party’s return to power. One GOP aide who opposes the bill says, “The impression they don’t want to leave is that they’re anti-reform.” Republicans are wary of coming out against the bill when the party establishment seems to favor it generally, he says, and “nobody wants to be the tip of the spear.”
And opponents fear being cast as a lot worse than “anti-reform.” “The Democrats have been wildly successful in making the debate as emotional as possible, and quite frankly it has scared a lot of Republicans,” says Rosemary Jenks, director of government affairs for NumbersUSA, a group that opposes the Gang of Eight’s bill and wants to reduce immigration levels. “It’s basically come down to . . . if you oppose the pathway to citizenship, then you oppose Hispanics. Unfortunately, Republicans have not been good at fighting back on this.”
That is why Cruz and other Gang of Eight opponents have sought to emphasize their support for the idea of immigration reform and for legal immigration. “I’m trying to improve the bill so it fixes the problem,” Cruz told ABC News last week. He offered a number of amendments during the bill’s markup in the Senate Judiciary Committee, including one that would have increased the number of temporary visas high-skilled workers by 500 percent; Democrats defeated all of them with the help of GOP Gang members Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.). Cruz also proposed amendments that would have dramatically strengthened the border-security provisions in the bill, which he said were essential to the bill’s chances of passing both chambers, and ultimately being signed into law.
A Cruz aide tells NRO the senator continues to have “deep concerns” with the Gang’s legislation, particularly with respect to border security and the pathway to citizenship — a measure he opposes — and is likely to continue introducing amendments similar to those he offered in committee. “He will be playing an important role in working to improve the bill as it goes to the floor,” the aide says, noting that the immigration debate is basically on hold at the moment until Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell can agree on how to conduct the amendment process.
Jenks thinks Cruz has “been building up to a full-on opposition” and is likely to be “much more active in the next week and a half or so.” The Judiciary Committee’s failure to accept any meaningful strengthening on border security probably made him realize that a “rational debate” was unlikely. “I don’t think he takes well to that kind of stifling,” she says.
The conservative aide agrees, and notes that Cruz’s staff has been incredibly active and helpful behind the scenes. For example, his office spearheaded a letter to Republican colleagues that included a detailed list of objections to the Gang’s bill. “I don’t think anyone questions where Senator Cruz is on this bill,” the aide says. “I think he’s been out there as much as anyone, and I think you’re going to see a lot more of that.”
On Monday, Cruz announced that he would offer an amendment to the immigration bill that would allow states to make proof of citizenship a federal requirement for voter registration, which is sure to please the conservative base.
Still, some think Cruz may be wary of leading the opposition to an effort led by Senator Marco Rubio. “He really has wanted to avoid just turning the debate into a Cruz versus Rubio Hispanic rumble in the GOP,” Krikorian says. Indeed, Cruz has directed most of his criticism at Senate Democrats and President Obama, whom he called “the biggest obstacle to passing commonsense immigration reform.” If Cruz is trying to steer clear of the contrast with Rubio, it’s been successful. The press corps would typically salivate over such a conflict, but it has not received much attention, although USA Today did publish (in May) an article titled “Rubio vs. Cruz: Hispanic Conservatives Battle for GOP’s Soul.”
Either way, a number of GOP aides think it’s unfair to accuse Cruz of holding back. In the immigration debate, he has certainly shown flashes of the unconventional politician who has invigorated conservatives and irked the New York Times and MSNBC hosts.
During the committee markup, after Senator Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) suggested that Cruz’s objections to the bill’s border-security provisions were a fig leaf for his opposition to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, the freshman pushed back at the wily veteran. “I would like to point out the border security in the state of Texas is not some abstract concept,” Cruz said wryly, before inviting Schumer and his other colleagues to come visit and see for themselves.
That’s the Ted Cruz conservative opponents of the Gang of Eight’s bill are hoping to see more of in the coming weeks.
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.