Politics & Policy

The Knives Come Out for Senators Cruz and Lee

Senator Mike Lee (Getty)
Republican leaders don’t want them to derail Obama’s amnesty.

Last weekend, Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee forced every senator to vote, on the public record, regarding the constitutionality of President Obama’s unilateral decree of effective amnesty for millions of illegal aliens. The resulting Republican establishment hissy fit further confirmed something I’ve been arguing here for some time: Republican leaders in Washington endorse President Obama’s amnesty policy.

Their stated opposition to the imperial manner of the policy’s imposition is poseur stuff. When push comes to shove, when the time comes to do something about presidential lawlessness, what do we get? Childish tantrums over being forced to work on a mid-December weekend — the poor dears having spent a whopping 135 days in session this year . . . and, by last Saturday, facing the crushing burden of another two or three days’ waltzing between the Hill and the nearest studio before their next three-week vacation.

We get party leaders who, despite having decried Obama’s lawlessness during the recent midterm-election campaign, actually whipped against a legislative rebuke of executive lawlessness. We get 20 mindboggling Republican votes in favor of the president’s usurpation of Congress’s legislative authority . . . even as GOP leaders look voters in the eye and promise to persuade the courts that the president has overstepped his constitutional bounds. (I don’t know how many of these guys have ever appeared before a federal judge. “Your Honor, I rise today to urge that this court condemn the president of the United States for taking actions I have voted to endorse and pay for with public funds.” Good luck with that.)

As long as we’re talking about epic insults to our intelligence, special recognition should go to the GOP establishment claim that, by forcing elected legislators to take an accountable vote, Cruz and Lee enabled Democrats to secure confirmation of objectionable Obama nominees.

The story goes like this: By orchestrating a “point of order” vote to question the constitutionality of Obama’s decree, Cruz and Lee broke what Fox News gently called an “informal agreement” that our esteemed senators could take the weekend off. Already you’re getting the picture, right? According to GOP leaders, Congress should not only refrain from taking action on an outrageous abuse of presidential power that drove millions of Americans to support Republicans in the midterm elections, but should do so based on an unenforceable wink-wink deal with that paragon of probity, Harry Reid.

But it gets better: The miffed senators huff that, because Cruz and Lee unexpectedly gave the majority leader weekend time to fill, Reid used it to move forward with a number of controversial Obama nominees to the federal bench and high executive-branch posts — nominees Republicans claim they had shrewdly planned to stall. You’re to believe these nominees got confirmed later in the week because Cruz and Lee, former Supreme Court clerks and highly accomplished lawyers, got outfoxed on parliamentary procedures.


First, a little history: It is because of senior Republicans that President Obama has had so many judicial slots to fill. During the Bush administration, when Democrats made unprecedented use of the filibuster to block conservative judicial nominees, there was a move to do away with the tactic. Beltway Republicans, however, saved the day for Democrats with the infamous “Gang of 14” deal. It not only decisively undermined the nominations of several worthy Bush nominees; ultimately, Democrats were also able to keep some key slots open until they were back in control of the Senate and the White House. Naturally, Reid then did exactly what these GOP leaders had stopped Republicans from doing: He ended the filibuster so that Democrats could slam Obama’s controversial nominees through with a bare 51-vote majority.

And that’s not all. In 2011, Republican leadership also joined with Democrats to eliminate the confirmation process entirely for some 400 high-level agency positions. That is, Republicans gave Obama carte blanche to fill fully one-third of the federal bureaucracy’s top tier without any vetting at all by the Senate.

So now the same guys who have spent the last decade giving away the confirmation store — the same guys who, in recent weeks, have blithely allowed Obama nominees complicit in the Benghazi debacle to sail to confirmation by voice vote — want you to believe they suddenly had a strategy, this week, to run out the clock and thus stop Obama from installing more progressive ideologues. You know, because after going to the trouble of eliminating the filibuster precisely so he could get Obama nominees confirmed, of course Senator Reid was going to stand idly by while Republicans stalled nominees during his few remaining days in control.

You don’t have to rely on common sense to know Republican leaders are snowing you. Reid’s office made the obvious explicit: He always intended to confirm a slew of Obama nominees before allowing the Senate to adjourn.

On December 1, long before last weekend’s immigration debate, The Hill reported Reid’s admonition that he might keep the Senate in session through the week of December 15 in order to, among other things, get Obama nominees confirmed. Moreover, Reid’s communications director Adam Jentleson repeatedly tweeted that Reid had every intention of moving ahead with the nominations before the Senate adjourned. For example, there were these two tweets before last weekend’s amnesty tumult (here and here):


Then, on Saturday, another Jentleson tweet:

Reid had a plan from the start. Once Republican leaders in the House were done colluding with President Obama and the Democrats to pass the “cromnibus” spending bill — the one that forfeits Congress’s power to block funding for Obamacare and other noxious Obama initiatives for the next year — Reid would team up with GOP Senate leaders equally anxious to get the cromnibus enacted. The majority leader, however, would keep in his back pocket the “tax-extenders” legislation — a grab-bag of Washington special-interest tax breaks — knowing Beltway Republicans, like Democrats, would want to make sure their sponsors were taken care of. By holding the tax extenders until the very end, Reid could rest assured that senators looking to flee the capital for the holidays would make no trouble while Democrats used the new no-filibuster procedure to blow through the stack of Obama nominees.

The fact of the matter is: The Cruz/Lee point of order on the unconstitutionality of Obama’s amnesty had nothing to do with getting Obama’s nominees confirmed. There was nothing Reid did in moving the nominations forward last weekend that he could not and would not have done to achieve the same objective starting Monday — nothing other than giving his GOP partners in the amnesty project a few strands to weave into a yarn blaming Cruz and Lee for confirming Obama’s nominees, a useful distraction of public attention from the Republican capitulation to Obama’s lawlessness.

If Republicans were serious about stopping the president’s nominees and his systematic non-enforcement of the immigration laws, there would be an easy way to show it. A month ago, Senator Cruz called on Senator McConnell to announce that the Senate will not confirm Obama’s nominees “unless and until the president ends this lawless amnesty.” The soon-to-be majority leader’s response? Crickets.

If, as they claimed, Beltway Republicans really wanted to stop Reid’s rubber-stamping of Obama nominees this week, McConnell could have dramatically one-upped Cruz’s proposal. He could have publicly warned that if the majority leader steamrolled the minority this way, Democrats should expect to get nothing for the next two years — no nominees and none of the accommodations the majority typically accords the minority in the many uncontroversial matters lawmakers deal with. You negotiate by exploiting your leverage, not by relying on the good graces of Harry Reid. Republicans, instead, accommodate Democrats, saving their hardball tactics for use against conservatives who try to force fights GOP leaders have no interest in waging.

If Republicans were serious, they’d use the power of the purse to stop Obama’s lawlessness, and they’d drop the preemptive-surrender declaration that there will be no government shutdowns. Again, that just forfeits their leverage. As we’ve seen, there are no government shutdowns. Even when Leviathan “runs out of money,” more than three-quarters of government operations (including so-called entitlement payments and national-security functions) roll merrily along. And even the temporary cessation of “non-essential” operations is overblown: furloughed “public servants” always end up getting back-pay for the time off — sort of like the vacations the Senate takes.

As the Examiner’s Byron York noted this week, Congress puts numerous riders in spending bills, forbidding the executive branch to expend public funds on all kinds of things — e.g., proscriptions against closing Guantanamo Bay and transferring terrorist detainees to the U.S. In essence, each of these riders dares the president to veto the bill and “shut down the government”; presidents routinely grumble, but they sign the bills — sensibly reasoning that a veto that causes a “shutdown” just to further an unpopular policy would be politically damaging.

Are Republicans really too incompetent to (a) attach a rider denying public funds for lawless, unpopular initiatives like the amnesty decree; (b) explain to the public that they are otherwise lavishly funding the government, and that these sorts of riders are so routine that presidents — including Obama — accept them all the time; and (c) persuade Americans that it would be ridiculous for the president to threaten a government shutdown over such a rider — especially since the government never really shuts down anyway?

I don’t think they’re too incompetent. I think they support amnesty for millions of illegal aliens.

On amnesty, senior Republicans agree with Obama’s ends and they are not much opposed to his means. They inveigh against the illegality of Obama’s amnesty decree but studiously avoid taking real action against it, which keeps the base at bay while the amnesty becomes a fait accompli.

Over the coming months, as Obama’s decree is implemented, the public will gradually become resigned to the unpopular policy. Beltway Republicans anticipate that this will create a more favorable climate for their coveted “comprehensive immigration reform” proposals. Along with their many supporters on Wall Street and in right-of-center media, GOP leaders will try to mollify the base with a storyline: Only by bravely enacting proper legislation can Republicans correct the worst excesses of Obama’s lawless order. Meanwhile, they will finally accomplish the mission: mass amnesty solidified in statutory law. About this, they will duly brag to Hispanic audiences . . . who will duly vote in droves for whomever the Democrats nominate in 2016.

Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are mounting opposition to the plan. That’s why the long knives are out.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.


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