As we discussed a month ago, Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) career on Capitol Hill is off to a difficult start. The Atlantic noted “a remarkable number of both Republicans and Democrats” have already come forward “to say that they think Cruz is kind of a jerk.” The New York Times added that “even some Republican colleagues are growing publicly frustrated” with the right-wing freshman.
It can, however, get worse. In fact, Cruz seems to be going out of his way to make enemies and alienate people.
Just a few days ago, Cruz made an unannounced appearance at the FreedomWorks Texas Summit, where he openly mocked his Senate Republican colleagues, calling them “squishes” who don’t like to be held accountable.
“Here was their argument,” Cruz said of Senate Republican. “They said: ‘Listen, before you did this, the politics of it were great. The Democrats were the bad guys. The Republicans were the good guys. Now we all look like a bunch of squishes.’ “Well, there is an alternative: you could just not be a bunch of squishes.”
It’s worth pausing to appreciate the irony: Cruz was the one afraid of a debate on reducing gun violence, and it was his GOP colleagues who were kowtowed into ignoring common sense and popular will.
But even putting that aside, it’s unclear who the senator thinks he’s impressing by taking cheap shots at his ostensible allies. It’s reached the point at which even Jennifer Rubin wants the Texas Republican to stop “being a jerk.”
Wait, it gets worse.
In Cruz’s version of events, he’s the hero of his own morality play, killing gun reforms singlehandedly, eking out a surprise victory at the last minute, thanks to his awesome awesomeness.
Dave Weigel rained on Cruz’s parade.
But Cruz blurs the timeline. In his version of events, Democrats were convinced up to the last minute that they could break 60 votes on Manchin-Toomey (“the look of shock from the senior Democrats!”) and Republicans shamed Cruz for his … well, for his ballsiness, in this telling. Fellow Republicans, says Cruz, were “yelling at us at the top of their lungs! Look, why did you do this! As a result of what you did, I gotta go home and my constituents are yelling at me that I’ve got to stand on principle!”
Back on Earth, Democrats basically knew that they wouldn’t break 60 on the night before the series of gun votes; Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted his disappointment. Cruz was in those rooms with GOP senators, and I wasn’t, but if they were angry at him on the week of April 8, it wasn’t because they disagreed with his gun stance, or lacked principle. It was because they considered it astrategic.
Reporters who live in D.C. and spend too many daylight hours talking to politicians, we get that. This was a pretty simple story of ideological preferences and interest group pressure. But Cruz wants a voter back home, a Republican activist, to learn something else — a Jimmy Stewart tale, in which the rest of the GOP was ready to sell you out until one man stood up and thundered “nay.”
All of this dishonest grandstanding may make right-wing activists swoon, but it should also cause Cruz some trouble on Capitol Hill. Senators have traditionally forged relationships with their colleagues in order to build coalitions and be more effective in passing legislation. Cruz is going out of his way to do the opposite — scolding his veteran colleagues, lecturing them on his wisdom, and creating conditions in which just about everyone who knows him dislikes him.
This should make it all but impossible for Cruz to play a constructive role in the chamber, though that may not matter to him, since he doesn’t seem especially interested in governing anyway.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 30, 2013
How stupid does the Senate background-check vote look now, I ask the pundits and others who thought it was dumb politics for Obama and the Democrats to push for a vote that they obviously knew they were going to lose. I’d say not very stupid at all. The nosedive taken in the polls by a number of senators who voted against the bill, most of them in red states, makes public sentiment here crystal clear. And now, for the first time since arguably right after the Reagan assassination attempt—a damn long time, in other words—legislators in Washington are feeling political heat on guns that isn’t coming from the NRA. This bill will come back to the Senate, maybe before the August recess, and it already seems possible and maybe even likely to have 60 votes next time.
You’ve seen the poll results showing at least five senators who voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill losing significant support. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire is the only one of the five from a blue state, so it’s probably not surprising that she lost the most, 15 points. But Lisa Murkowski in Alaska lost about as much in net terms. Alaska’s other senator, Democrat Mark Begich, lost about half that. Republicans Rob Portman of Ohio and Jeff Flake of Arizona also tumbled.
Egad. Could it possibly be that those pre-vote polls of all these states by Mayor Bloomberg’s group were … right? All the clever people pooh-poohed them, because, well, they were done by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and because it just seemed impossible that 70 percent of people from a red state could support the bill. But the polls were evidently right, or at least a lot closer to right than the brilliant minds who laughed at Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey and Harry Reid.
Something remarkable is happening here. Now, the pressure is on the other side. It’s on the NRA—gathering this Friday and Saturday, incidentally, for its annual convention, its first annual convention since Newtown. I think you’ll agree with me that the group has put a tremendous amount of thought into how to change its image, do a little outreach, present a picture of itself that will confound its critics. Or not: Sarah Palin will open the meeting, and Glenn Beck will close it. The list of eight political speakers—current and former elected officials plus John Bolton—features not a single Democrat. They’re really battening down the hatches.
And they are going to lose. I talked with a couple of knowledgeable sources about what’s going on now. Five Republicans, I’m told, have expressed some degree of interest in the bill: Ayotte, who would appear be a near-certainty to switch her vote; Flake, also a likely; Murkowski; Dean Heller of Nevada; and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Tennessee seems like a tough state to be from when casting such a vote as a Republican, but Corker is someone who at least tries once in a while to have conversations with Democrats.
On the Democratic side, as you’ll recall, four Democrats voted against Manchin-Toomey: Begich, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Max Baucus of Montana. I’m told that Begich would like to switch, just needs to figure out how he can get there. Heitkamp is a bigger question mark. Pryor is probably lost.
That leaves Baucus. Shortly after the last vote, he announced he was retiring. That ought to mean that he should feel free enough to vote for the bill this time. It’s hard to know what Baucus actually believes—if that matters. He has a solid NRA career rating, but he’s cast enough votes the other way (supporting the assault weapons ban and the Brady waiting period) to make the other side suspicious. Before he announced he was quitting, the NRA was running ads against him.
What he believes may matter less than how he wants to spend his Senate afterlife. If he wants to stay in Washington and make money, he’ll be more likely to vote for Manchin-Toomey, because he’ll be dependent to some extent on Democratic money networks that were furious with him after the vote. If he just wants to move back to Montana, who knows.
That’s eight potential switches, where six are needed. One of those six, remember, is sure to be Harry Reid. He cast a procedural no vote because only senators who vote against a bill can bring it to the floor again, but obviously, if it is going to pass, he’ll vote for it. Even so getting to 60 will still be a heavy lift. And then there’s the House. So certain matters remain unclear.
But some things are quite clear. Manchin and Toomey deserve great credit for sticking with this. Democrat Kay Hagan of North Carolina, also up for reelection next year but a supporter of the bill, is every bit as at risk as Pryor and Begich are, and she makes them look like cowards. And clearest of all is the fact that, far from that vote being some kind of devastating blow to Obama or the Democratic Party, it accomplished a lot. It pulled a few bricks loose from the wall. Next time, that wall just might crumble.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 2, 2013
As the Boston area was gripped by the manhunt that followed the Marathon bombings late last week, the opinion pages of the Concord Monitor just up the road in New Hampshire were consumed with another subject: Senator Kelly Ayotte’s vote against legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases. The paper’s lead editorial Sunday decried Ayotte’s rationale for opposing the bill as “utter nonsense” and an “abomination.” The letters to the editor section is riddled with anti-Ayotte broadsides, the tenor of which are conveyed by their headlines: “Ayotte’s vote should propel her out of office.” “Beyond disappointed.” “Ayotte did not represent her New Hampshire constituents.” “Enabler of murderers.” “Ayotte’s ‘courage.’” “Craven pandering.” “Reckless vote.” “Illogical vote.”
If gun control advocates are going to have any chance of resurrecting reforms after last week’s crushing defeat, much is going to depend on the depth of the initial backlash against the Democratic or swing-state Republican senators who opted to vote with the gun lobby. In a piece the day after the vote, I lamented that some leading liberals and mainstream media types were so willing to chalk the vote up to the predictable dynamics of the gun control issue, thereby essentially letting the senators who cast the crucial votes against the legislation off the hook for their decisions. One major columnist avoided holding accountable the senators who took the actual votes by wishing that President Barack Obama had acted more like a president in a movie.
But there are signs that the reaction against the vote will be stronger than what has followed prior setbacks for the cause. First, of course, there was the angry cri de coeur from Gabby Giffords. On Friday came spontaneous protests around the country at district offices of senators who voted no. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has set up a number for people to text so they can be patched through to the office of a senator who went the other way. “In years past when we lost on a vote, we had to generate [reaction], we had to push people,” says Brian Malte, the group’s director of mobilization. “This time it’s just directing it to the right place. It’s ‘I’m so angry, what should I do?’”
Perhaps the most surprising outburst came from Bill Daley, the former Clinton commerce secretary, JP Morgan Chase executive and Obama chief of staff. Daley, son and brother of the Chicago mayors of the same name, is no one’s idea of a conscience liberal—in fact, he was a leading voice during the past two decades for making the Democratic Party more welcoming to centrist types, be they pro-business moderates like himself or red-state working-class voters who, yes, cling to their guns. But there he was in Sunday’s Washington Post excoriating the four Senate Democrats who voted against the background-check legislation, particularly Heidi Heitkamp, the newly elected North Dakotan who does not face voters again for another five years:
I want my money back. Last October, I gave $2,500 to support Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign to become North Dakota’s junior senator. A few weeks later, she won a surprise victory. But this week, Heitkamp betrayed those hopes. She voted to block legislation to make gun background checks more comprehensive. Her vote — along with those of 41 Republicans and three other Democrats — was a key reason the measure fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage.
Polling has shown that nine in 10 Americans and eight in 10 gun owners support a law to require every buyer to go through a background check on every gun sale. In North Dakota, the support was even higher: 94 percent. Yet in explaining her vote, Heitkamp had the gall to say that she “heard overwhelmingly from the people of North Dakota” and had to listen to them and vote no. It seems more likely that she heard from the gun lobby and chose to listen to it instead.
Daley is just one person, but this seems pretty significant to me, as a sort of signal to establishment Democrats nationwide. For so long, party poo-bahs have cosseted Democrats from red or purple districts on issues such as gun control—heck, Daley’s fellow Chicagoan Rahm Emanuel deliberately picked pro-gun candidates to run for the House in 2006. Some liberals still seem inclined to cut the Gang of Feckless Four a lot of slack. But here is Daley turning the frame on its head—instead of making excuses for Heitkamp et al, he praised the Democrats running for reelection in tough states who did for the legislation, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan. They, not Heitkamp and the other three no’s (Max Baucus, Mark Begich and Mark Pryor) will be getting his money from now on, he said.
On the Republican side, the accountability will be left up to the voters in swing states like New Hampshire or Ohio, where Rob Portman also voted against the legislation (after letting it be known that he couldn’t cross party lines on guns after having already done so on gay marriage). It is not at all hard to envision a Democrat running against Kelly Ayotte on a law-and-order-line—here she was, a former attorney general, voting to leave a huge loophole in our system for making sure that felons are unable to purchase guns.
Of course, it won’t be easy. Ayotte, for one, is not even up for reelection until 2016, allowing plenty of time for the memory of her vote to recede in voters’ minds. As political scientists note, the unique circumstances of the gun debate still plays to the advantage of the NRA. But as my colleague Nate Cohn argues, the NRA’s sway has been overstated for some time now—the fact is, not a few senators have managed to survive in purple or red states despite consistently voting against the gun lobby. Last week’s setback was a sign that some senators were not yet willing to embrace that reality, and by doing so, they of course further enshrined facile assumptions of NRA prowess.
But their votes do seem to have produced a visceral reaction unlike any we’ve seen for some time on this front. And rightly so. It would take a jaded soul indeed to feel nothing on reading, say, of the scene Wednesday night in the Oval Office when some of the families who lost children in the Newtown massacre learned that 45 senators had not seen it in them to vote for even the most measured, limited reform: “Mr. Obama hugged the brother of one victim, Daniel Barden, who was 7, and told him to take care of his mother, who was sobbing quietly.”
By: Alec MacGillis, The New Republic, April 23, 2013
Is there nobody who can tell Ted Cruz to shut up?
The young senator from Texas has been on the job for about 100 days, but he has already turned the Senate’s ancient seniority system upside down and is dominating his senior Republican colleagues. He’s speaking for them on immigration, guns and any other topic that tickles his fancy; Republican leaders are seething at being outshone yet are terrified of challenging him.
Consider his news conference this week to promote the Republican alternative to gun control. With Cruz on the stage in the Senate TV studio: the bill’s primary author, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a 32-year Senate veteran and longtime chairman or ranking member of the finance and judiciary committees; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (10 years in the Senate and eight in the House); and Dan Coats of Indiana (12 years in the Senate and eight in the House).
But Cruz took over the lectern and refused to relinquish it. He spoke 2,924 words for the cameras, more than Grassley (904), Graham (1,376) and Coats (360) — combined. Factoring in his dramatic pauses to convey sincerity and deep thought, Cruz’s dominance was even more lopsided. The others shifted uncomfortably and looked awkwardly around the room. At one point, Graham requested a chance to speak. “Can I?” he asked Cruz.
Cruz is 42, the same age Joe McCarthy was when he amassed power in the Senate with his allegations of communist infiltration. Tail-gunner Ted debuted in the Senate this year with the insinuation that Chuck Hagel, now the defense secretary, may have been on the payroll of the North Koreans. Cruz also wrote in Politico that “Hagel’s nomination has been publicly celebrated by the Iranian government.” He later alleged that Democrats had told the Catholic Church to “change your religious beliefs or we’ll use our power in the federal government to shut down your charities and your hospitals.”
Now Cruz is turning his incendiary allegations against fellow Republicans. On immigration, he has described as amnesty the compromise that Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and three other Republicans negotiated with Democrats. Cruz said such a plan would make “a chump” of legal immigrants. On guns, he said the background checks Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) negotiated in a bipartisan compromise would lead to a national gun registry — an outcome the doomed proposal explicitly prohibited.
Democrats see a potential bogeyman in Cruz because of his outrageous pronouncements, and reporters love his inflammatory quotes. Republican leaders, however, don’t know how to control this monster they created.
GOP lawmakers encouraged the rise of the tea party, which now dominates Republican primaries and threatens the same leaders who nurtured it. Cruz’s fellow Texan, John Cornyn, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, could face a primary challenge next year and therefore can’t afford to cross Cruz, who beat an establishment Republican in the 2012 primary. Likewise, the Senate GOP leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is up for reelection and has to keep on the good side of tea party favorites such as Sen. Rand Paul, also of Kentucky, and Cruz.
I’ve argued before that Cruz is more cunning than ideological. He’s Ivy League-educated and a skilled debater who has perfected a look of faux earnestness that suggests his every pronouncement is the most important oration since Gettysburg. Cruz has correctly calculated that the way to power among Senate Republicans is through attention-grabbing accusations.
On immigration, his Latino credentials have helped him undermine Rubio’s bipartisanship. When Rubio made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows April 14, he was confronted with Cruz’s criticism by both NBC’s David Gregory and ABC’s Jon Karl.
On guns, Cruz’s high profile required Grassley to give the upstart a premium chunk of floor time for his trademark falsehoods. Cruz claimed that his bill was the “result of multiple hearings in the Judiciary Committee.” (It was never brought before the panel.) He claimed the opposing legislation would extend “background checks to private transactions between private individuals.” (The bill applied to only advertised sales.) Off the floor, he made the patently false claim that the “so-called ‘gun show loophole’ ” doesn’t exist.
If Republicans are willing to look the other way when Cruz assaults the facts, they may find it increasingly grating to endure his assaults on their dignity. At their news conference on guns, Grassley was made to stand silently for half an hour while Cruz gave an eight-minute opening statement (more than twice the length of Grassley’s) and fielded six questions before yielding to his senior colleague. “I’m just going to say one thing,” Grassley said, “and then I’m going to have to go.”
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 19, 2013
I’ve been shaking my Boggle box to come up with some colorful adjectives to add to the din of words criticizing the Senate for its failure pass the universal background check amendment in the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013.
I didn’t get any words as good as egregious or atrocious. Boggle’s 16 cube tray didn’t give me enough letters to produce words as bumptious as those. But I did get the word Fed, and that reminded me of James Madison’s Federalist 10, a paper he wrote in 1787 to argue that “one of the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union is its tendency to break and control the violence of factions.”
Madison defined factions as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse …adverse to the rights of other citizens or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” He argued that majority rule would “secure the public good from the danger of factions and preserve the spirit and the form of popular government.”
Sadly, the outcome of this vote is just another example how the filibuster has eroded any and all ability of the Senate to secure the public good. The 46 Senators who voted against cloture put their self-interest ahead of public safety, regardless of the fact that the bill closed all the loopholes in the background check process, a process that today lets 40 percent of guns purchased go unchecked.
The filibuster came into being in 1815. Between 1815 and 1975, Senators were required to stand in the chamber and speak until a 2/3′s vote invoked cloture. It was exercised infrequently because the costs of using it were higher. Two-thirds of Senators had to be present and voting in the chamber, and 3/5′s sworn. In short, they had to sit and listen to the speech until they fell asleep, wore out, or simply couldn’t take it anymore.
In 1975, the Democratic controlled senate strengthened the filibuster. Senators didn’t have to be present to use it or engage in endless debate in the chamber. To invoke cloture, the number of required votes was reduced to 3/5s, or 60 out of 100.
Why did Democrats make these changes? They wanted to make sure that if they lost control of the chamber in some future election, they’d have a reliable way to way to block the Republican party.
The Democrats made a bad move. Since 1975, both parties have abused the filibuster to such an extent that today the Senate shows little productivity, and it’s a rare occurrence that bills do pass. Under majority rule, S.649 passed 54-46, but that doesn’t count because every bill now requires a 60-vote supermajority to pass, a requirement that flies in the face of majority rule.
Just the threat of a filibuster stops legislation in its tracks, and special interests work this to their advantage. The gun lobby compelled those 46 Senators to filibuster the bill by threatening to pull support from their 2014 reelection campaigns.
However, it’s not just the gun lobby influencing senators to filibuster bills. Over the past several years, many powerful liberal and conservative interest groups have helped orchestrate filibusters of multiple good and broadly beneficial legislative proposals.
The filibuster slaps popular government in the face. It has to go. It does nothing but obstruct the democratic process, and it isn’t needed to give the minority party a stronger voice in the chamber. Even if we got rid of it, each Senator still has plenty of rules and procedures at his or her disposal to slow debate.
How we get rid of it, however, is a discussion I’ll reserve for a future column, because we can’t expect the very people who benefit from the filibuster to support eliminating it. One thing’s for sure: If the status quo persists, we won’t see any reasonable gun control laws in this geological age.
By: Jamie Chandler, U. S. News and World Report, April 19, 2013