On a Thursday conference call, a group of House conservatives consulted with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas about how to respond to the leadership’s fiscal strategy. Sources who were on the call say Cruz strongly advised them to oppose it, and hours later, Speaker John Boehner’s plan fizzled.
It’s the latest example of Cruz leading the House’s right flank.
The private call came together after Boehner unveiled his strategy at a Republican conference meeting earlier this week. Boehner’s plan — to focus on a debt-limit package, rather than a drawn-out CR battle — made many conservatives uneasy. As they mulled a response, they reached out to Cruz.
On the call, Cruz told them that Boehner was making a mistake, and urged his friends to fight until the end on the CR. The group agreed, and they complained that Boehner’s shift to the debt limit was a diversion. Senator Mike Lee of Utah joined Cruz on the call, and both senators said they’d stand with House conservatives as they opposed the leadership.
By the call’s end, there was a consensus: until the CR talks are complete, Republicans should whip “no” on Boehner’s debt-limit plan, as a way of preventing the leadership from directing the strategy. And that’s exactly what happened late Thursday afternoon: GOP whip Kevin McCarthy worked the floor, but couldn’t find the votes for Boehner’s debt-limit plan. After McCarthy reported back about the Cruz-inspired uprising, the leadership shelved it.
Later Thursday, Cruz met again with House conservatives at a venue near the Capitol. According to one House member, the bicameral bloc talked deep into the night about the CR and pressuring Boehner. At the top of the agenda: making a one-year delay of Obamacare a requirement for government funding, and to accept nothing less, should the defunding effort unravel. They fear Boehner is resistant to making that an ultimatum, and they discussed ways to force his hand.
Leadership sources, for their part, are startled by Cruz’s attempt to shape House strategy and work against the speaker. They knew he’d oppose Boehner’s playbook, but they didn’t expect him to huddle with conservatives and ask them to ignore it. So, Cruz’s meetings have made him a key House player, but they’ve worsened his already-fraught relationship with the leadership.