Conservative Republicans are on the verge of triggering a government shutdown in nine days. This time, Sen. Ted Cruz isn’t involved.
Ten years after Cruz famously instigated a government shutdown in a failed effort to defund the Affordable Care Act, the Texas Republican has largely steered clear of a new push by far-right GOP lawmakers to force a lapse in funding unless Democrats accede to spending cuts and other concessions.
Last week, when House conservatives held a press conference outside the Capitol to lay out their demands, they were joined by Sens. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and Mike Lee, R-Utah. Cruz, notably, was not there. One of the leaders of the current effort is Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, who was Cruz’s chief of staff in 2013 and helped coordinate the ACA battle.
Asked by NBC News on Thursday if he supports their tactics, Cruz spoke broadly: “I support any efforts to rein in out-of-control spending, and I think every responsible member of Congress should do the same.”
He added: “I think the odds of a shutdown are very high.”
The relatively cautious approach comes as Cruz is running for re-election in a race that will be closely watched next year. In his last election, in 2018, Cruz won by fewer than 3 points over Democrat Beto O’Rourke in Texas, a longtime Republican stronghold. Exit polls showed Texas independents preferred O’Rourke.
The funding fight is driven by a small group of far-right rebels in the House who wield outsize power in the narrow Republican majority. They’re pushing for spending cuts and policy changes like tougher immigration enforcement through bills that are struggling to pass the GOP-run House and have no chance in the Democratic-led Senate.
Cruz, now the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, has instead co-authored a bill with Democratic Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to ensure that Coast Guard personnel would be paid in the event of a shutdown.
Asked if he thinks Cruz has learned his lesson, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said: “I think we’ve learned from experience that [shutdowns] never really solve any problems. They end up being actually more expensive. They don’t save any money. And the same problems that caused you to shut down the government are still there when you re-open.”
Still, Cruz is arguing now, like he did during his first year in the Senate in 2013, that a shutdown would be the fault of Democrats and their “profligate spending,” and he said Democrats believe it’d benefit them politically. Cruz lamented: “So I think we are headed almost unavoidably towards a shutdown.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who was also a freshman in 2013, chuckled when asked if he’s surprised that Cruz isn’t involved in the current battle over a funding lapse.
“Yeah, it is interesting,” he said.