Ted Cruz, R-Texas (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Ted Cruz has figured out how to get the America he wants: he wants to impose minority rule.
No, not majority rule, minority rule.
The senator from Texas hatched a “plan” to “defund Obamacare” by threatening to shut down the federal government. He got a lot of true-believer conservatives—especially in the Republican-controlled US House—to buy into the scheme. But the Texan never rounded up significant support for his approach in the upper chamber.
The whole defunding scheme—which was never grounded in budgetary reality—has begun to look more and more like the sort of mess that costs political parties seats.
So the senator who made the mess is now on Cruz control.
He's trying whatever comes into his head — like an all-nighter talkathon (a "fake-buster") that saw him reading Dr. Seuss and Ayn Rand as Tuesday gave way to Wednesday. At best for Cruz, it's a delaying tactic. At worst for Cruz, it slows action just long enougfh to assure that "crisis" votes will have to be taken by House Republicans on the eve of a government shutdown.
Above all, the exercise highlights the Texan's isolation from his own party, which for the most part is not backing his strategy. And from the process of governing as it has been understood across American history.
Senator Christopher Murphy, D-Connecticut, who drank Red Bull as he presided over the Midnight session referred to the Cruz performance as "this pointless fairy tale non-filibuster."
More precisely, Murphy said early Wednesday morning: “There’s no point to this other than advancing the career of one or two senators."
Actually, only one senator: Ted Cruz.
Critics of Cruz — some Democrats, lots of Republicans — suggest that this fight has always been about the senator's political ambition.
After Cruz waged a national campaign to get the House to follow his strategy, and after they did indeed vote as he said they must, the Texan acknowledged that Senate Democrats could simply strip the House’s defunding language from the continuing resolution, pass a measure that would avert a shutdown and call the House’s bluff.
Even as Cruz was abdicating responsibility his own strategy, he was telling House Republicans to “stand firm.”
Congressman Sean Duffy, a Wisconsin Republican who voted for the House version of the plan, said on The Laura Ingraham Show, “I think the strategy that Ted Cruz has been advocating for—it’s really hard to win when you can’t get the Senate on board and he’s proving that by the very nature of his surrender.”
But Duffy wasn’t finished.
“You can’t talk to the American people, you can’t talk to our bases on this strategy, and then completely roll over,” he said of Cruz. “Thank God he wasn’t there fighting at the Alamo!”
That’s not the kind of talk that Canada’s not-so-favorite son in the 2016 Republican presidential race likes to hear.
So Cruz has been winging it.
He's talking and talking and talking.
And he's proposing a new strategy to get what he wants: End majority rule.
We’re not talking the back-door strategy of faux filibuster gamesmanship. Cruz wants Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to save him from the slings and arrows of his fellow partisans.
Reid plans to have the Senate vote Wednesday on removing the Obamacare language from the continuing resolution. The proposal will be rejected, handily and with a clear majority.
But Cruz is asking Reid set a sixty-vote threshold for the vote addressing the defunding issue.
“The Senate, generally on controversial votes, we work out an agreement for it to be subject to a sixty-vote threshold,” Cruz declared on Fox News Sunday. Otherwise, “the majority is going to run the minority over with a train.”
Cruz is wrong on principle: the majority should rule.
And he is wrong on the facts of how the Senate operates when dealing with controversial legislation, amendments and nominations.
During the gun-safety debate that played out earlier this year with regard to the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013, a stack of amendments passed or failed on votes of 52-48, 54-46, 57-43 and 58-42. And the history of the Senate is filled with instances where major legislation advanced by relatively narrow majorities.
Justice Samuel Alito sits on the US Supreme Court based on a 58-42 vote.
Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed by a 52-48 vote.
Senate Democrats (and at least a few Republicans) might have been quite pleased to operate under Cruz’s sixty-vote threshold for those controversial confirmations. But no such standard applied in 2006, when Alito was up for confirmation; nor did it apply in 1991, when the Thomas nomination was being considered.
The Cruz model for minority rule exists in the head of Ted Cruz.
But it cannot be found in the Senate rules.
Reid says he plans to follow “basic Senate procedure” when it comes to the continuing resolution.
The majority leader does not appear to be getting substantial pushback on that position from Senate Republicans. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Senate Republican whip John Cornyn, the senior senator from Cruz’s homestate of Texas, have distanced themselves from Cruz’s latest gambit. And one of the most serious conservatives in the Senate, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn, says Cruz is “not realistic” and of the Texan’s overall strategy, “It’s not a tactic that we can actually carry out and be successful.”
A high-ranking Democratic aide says of Cruz, “No one is taking him seriously on this.”
No one should.
The Senate ought to be a deliberative body.
It ought to have thoughtful debates, extended debates.
But, ultimately, the Senate is a legislative chamber in the federal government.
It must legislate and govern.
And it cannot be the plaything of petty partisans who seek to rewrite the rules in order to avoid accountability within their own party caucuses.
This is not about Democrats and Republicans. This is not about liberals and conservatives. It is not even about Obamacare.
It’s about Cruz.
And a plutocratic fantasy that says the United States should be governed not by the majority of citizens or senators but by a minority. Perhaps even a minority of one Tea Party cowboy from Calgary.
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