Senator Ted Cruz is quite frequently a liar. He pushed the lie that supporters of President Joe Biden stole the election from Donald Trump, helping foment the deadly Capitol insurrection. (His hometown Houston Chronicle demanded that he resign: “Your lies cost lives,” the paper wrote.) He falsely blamed his unconscionable trip to Cancún during a Texas weather, power, and water crisis on his young daughters. Most recently, he claimed Covid relief checks would go to undocumented immigrants; Senator Dick Durbin quickly set the record straight.
But Cruz told an essential truth last week, on a conference call with Republican state legislators sponsored by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, which develops and promotes model conservative legislation. He was talking about HR 1, one of the voting rights bills passed by House Democrats, and of course he started with some lies, insisting it would give voting rights to “illegal aliens” and “child molesters,” and that it “says America would be better off if more murderers were voting, America would be better off if more rapists and child molesters were voting.” Needless to say, it says none of those things.
But Cruz did sound one truthful alarm: If Democrats achieve their goal of easier voter access with HR 1, “they will win and maintain control of the House of Representatives and the Senate and of the state legislatures for the next century.” Cruz is exaggerating, but his claims is premised on fact: Republicans do worse when voting access expands, and better when they can suppress it. That’s why GOP lawmakers have proposed, according to the Brennan Center, 250 voter-restriction bills in 43 states since Trump’s defeat. Is there any room for compromise with Democrats, someone asked Cruz on the ALEC call. “No,” he said.
Cruz had an enthusiastic audience on the call, which was recorded by someone present who then leaked it to the Associated Press. (The story got much less coverage than it deserved.) “For a powerful network of conservatives, voting restrictions are now viewed as a political life-or-death debate, and the fight has all-but eclipsed traditional Republican issues like abortion, gun rights and tax cuts as an organizing tool,” the AP wrote.
Indeed, groups like the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony Fund and anti-tax Freedom Works have made restricting ballot access—they call it “election integrity”—a new priority. “It kind of feels like an all-hands-on-deck moment for the conservative movement,” the Heritage Foundation’s executive director, Jessica Anderson, said. Heritage Action is spending $700,000 on ads backing Republican efforts to narrow voting rights in Georgia, proposed in the wake of Democrats’ winning two Senate seats in the January runoff.
The proposed Georgia voter restrictions are marginally less awful than they were last week; voting rights advocates have had some success in making that happen: It looks like the bills most likely to pass will lack two of the worst proposed limits: a measure to eliminate or reduce the Sunday voting so popular in Black churches, as well as no-excuse absentee balloting, which ironically had been a GOP reform that once helped its older, rural base. Once it began helping Black and Latino voters, Republicans tried to get rid of it. So far, it looks like those elements of the Georgia GOP’s assault on voting are gone, but new voter ID requirements for absentee ballot requests as well as a cutback on the number of drop boxes that can accept those ballots are still pending—as are other restrictions.
“The recent changes are nothing more than putting a little makeup and cologne on Jim Crow,” Cliff Albright, the cofounder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, told CNN. On Monday, Republicans amended the main vehicle for the assault on voting, Senate Bill 202, to tweak some of the positive changes: The bill eliminates Sunday voting again, during runoffs (not that Democrats have demonstrated their prowess there). It also lets the GOP state legislature remove and replace entire county boards of election—which might well have overturned Biden’s legitimate victory last November.
Having gotten several hateful provisions removed from the final round of legislation, advocates are hopeful they can do more, especially by getting Georgia’s business sector—Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and Delta are all headquartered there—to oppose the new laws. But time is running out, and every time advocates sigh with a little relief, the Georgia GOP renews its efforts. Follow Fair Fight to get the latest.
Cruz has told the political truth at least once before. Trying to block enactment of Affordable Care Act subsidies in 2013, Cruz made his case this way: “President Obama wants to get as many Americans addicted to the subsidies because he knows that in modern times, no major entitlement has ever been implemented and then unwound,” he said. If the ACA went into effect, he predicted, Americans would become “addicted to the sugar” (could he be more condescending?)—and the GOP would be unable to roll it back. Cruz turned out to be prescient; even under Trump, with Republican majorities in the House and Senate, health care advocates foiled the GOP’s ACA repeal.
Republicans intend to fight even harder to block HR 1, and the Democrats’ entire voting rights agenda. If it passes—it’s still got a tough road through the Senate because of filibuster rules—Americans will become addicted to free and fair voting, and Republicans will be as endangered as their repeal-ACA crusade. Existential threats to the GOP, if nothing else, apparently scare Cruz into telling the truth.