Over the weekend Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) went to battle with Democrats, but his gambit backfired and ironically gave Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and President Barack Obama an unexpected Christmas gift.
It began on Friday evening, when Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were close to securing an agreement to quickly vote on the $1.1 trillion “CRomnibus” spending bill to avert a government shutdown. Cruz, along with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), blindsided Republican leaders by objecting and dragging out the process as they demanded a vote to defund Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
What Cruz didn’t count on was Reid instead seizing on the occasion — which forced the Senate to stay in session for procedural votes — to move forward with starting the confirmation vote clock on a whopping 24 Obama nominations that otherwise might have been jettisoned. The Texan’s tactic angered numerous Republican colleagues.
“I think most Republicans think that Christmas came early for Democrats,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, according to Roll Call, blaming Cruz. “I haven’t seen Harry smile this much in years, and I didn’t particularly like it.”
Twelve of the nominations are for federal districts courts, an unusually high number to confirm in a lame duck session and a big boost to Obama’s judicial legacy. At least two prominent executive branch nominees face GOP opposition: Vivek Murthy for surgeon general (whom the National Rifle Association has been working to block) and Tony Blinken for deputy secretary of state. The confirmation votes will start Monday.
On Saturday night, Cruz dropped his objections and allowed a vote on the funding bill, which passed 56-40 just hours ahead of a potential government shutdown — after Reid had already pushed forward with the nominations. Cruz raised a “constitutional point of order” order against the spending bill over Obama’s immigration actions, which all Democrats and 22 Republicans — including McConnell — voted down.
“Senator Cruz’s stunt got two fewer votes than the twenty-four Obama nominees he helped Senate Democrats advance tonight,” Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson mocked.
Cruz’s supporters dismiss GOP attacks on his tactics, arguing that he ceded nothing because Reid would have called back the Senate anyway to vote on nominations. That’s possible — Democratic leaders had wanted to move nominations in the lame duck — but if the spending bill had finished early, they would have had a hard time persuading members to cut short their holidays and stay in Washington to vote on nominations.
So they gleefully pinned it on Cruz.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) December 13, 2014
Unless some of Democrats’ 55 caucusing members defect, Republicans have no power to block the nominations in the lame duck session — they require just 51 votes. What irked Republicans is that nominations could have been subject to a GOP-led Senate come January, and provided the party with substantial leverage over Obama.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who is poised to chair the Judiciary Committee next year, objected to Reid bringing up the 12 judicial nominations before the new Congress convenes. “That reason is simple: so our newly elected senators have their voices heard,” he said.
Cruz’s gambit is a preview of the next Congress if he continues to pursue long-shot conservative fights which bolster his standing with the GOP base but marginalize him in the Senate.
Sealing the nominations is shaping up to be the final move in Reid’s eight-year reign as majority leader before he cedes control of the Senate to McConnell next month.