Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, both trailing in the presidential primary polls, are tapping into conservative anger at Washington, D.C., by attacking and defying Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — signaling that GOP congressional leaders may become an issue in the campaign.
Since Republicans took control of Congress after the 2014 elections, grassroots conservatives have found themselves frustrated by congressional leaders they see as co-opted by the Washington establishment, where too many expense-account lunches have caused them to forget conservative principles.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his team are reviled by many conservatives and frequently find themselves battling conservative lawmakers.
Both Paul and Cruz took aim last week at McConnell, long viewed by conservatives as an emblem of Washington deal-making and pretend-conservatism.
McConnell, who like Rand Paul is from Kentucky, is under fire from the right this time for a reported deal with Democrats to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. It’s an FDR-era program many conservatives view as a kind of courier for payoffs from Washington politicians to their cronies in the business community.
Cruz took to the Senate floor Friday and crashed through taboos of the clubby chamber, explicitly saying his own majority leader had lied and also revealing comments made in one of the super-secret, weekly luncheons to which each party treats itself.
Cruz charged that McConnell had assured him and other Republicans that he had not made a deal with Democrats in May to stage a vote on the Ex-Im Bank in order to secure their backing for fast-track trade negotiation authority. But McConnell last week decided to put Ex-Im reauthorization to a vote as an amendment to a must-pass highway bill containing billions for roads.
The Senate voted 67-26 Sunday to end debate on the reauthorization, guaranteeing its eventual passage.
“The majority leader looked me in the eye, and looked 54 Republicans in the eye. I cannot believe he would tell a flat-out lie,” Cruz said. “And I voted based on those assurances that he made to each and every single one of us.”
“The majority leader looked me in the eye, and looked 54 Republicans in the eye. I cannot believe he would tell a flat-out lie,” Cruz said. “And I voted based on those assurances that he made to each and every single one of us.” Several establishment Republican senators then rebutted Cruz’s comments and lamented what they felt was his lack of decorum, among them Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.
The Hill reported in May that McConnell indeed made such a pledge during a desperate Senate floor huddle with a small group of Democrats as voting on fast track was gaveled to a close. But McConnell claimed last week he had no choice to allow a vote on Ex-Im because supporters were holding hostage other amendments to the highway bill.
McConnell said Sunday there was nothing wrong with holding a vote.
“I don’t see a reason why they shouldn’t be allowed a debate and then a vote,” he said from the Senate floor. “When there is some overwhelming bipartisan support for an idea, even if I oppose it, it doesn’t require some special deal to see a vote occur on that measure.”
Paul, meanwhile, joined the fray, defying McConnell after the majority leader blocked Paul’s amendment to defund Planned Parenthood in the wake of videos showing a senior Planned Parenthood official callously musing on the procurement and sale of fetal organs.
“I’m prepared to use every Senate rule at my disposal to force my colleagues on record whether they like it or not,” Paul wrote on Facebook on Friday.
“I’m prepared to use every Senate rule at my disposal to force my colleagues on record whether they like it or not,” Sen. Paul wrote on Facebook on Friday. Paul was seeking to round up support for a petition that would allow him to end-run McConnell with an amendment, but he suggested Sunday he would pursue separate legislation.
McConnell has promised to move quickly on a vote to defund the organization.
Cruz’s focus on the Ex-Im Bank is perfectly tailored for a conservative electorate fed up with Washington insiders who have given them $18 trillion in debt, slow-to-middling economic growth, an unpopular revamp of the health care system, and two inconclusive wars, and who have spent all their entitlement savings.
Broadsides by GOP candidates against McConnell and other GOP leaders may only be beginning.
Republicans running for president and McConnell are particularly operating at cross purposes, given the possibility Republicans could lose the Senate majority. The candidates are hoping to appeal to conservative primary voters by showcasing Washington corruption and incompetence, while McConnell needs to pass legislation to prove to his caucus that he can lead them — and demonstrate to the larger electorate that Republicans can run the Senate.
This article first appeared today on radio talk show host Laura Ingraham’s new website LifeZette.