As Texas Sen. Ted Cruz emerged from a closed-door GOP caucus meeting last Thursday afternoon, the tea party Republican was in no mood to chat.
With his head down and face frozen in a less-than-jolly expression, he waved off a couple reporters milling about, and then twice waved off your Intercepts correspondent. There were whispers later that Cruz had a bad cold. He also had a rough week, taking critical fire from Senate Democrats and Republicans, as well as a clubbing in the media.
As I reported last week, it all stemmed from comments Cruz made during last Tuesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee meeting to vote on Chuck Hagel’s nomination to become defense secretary:
The meeting’s most dramatic moments came when freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party Republican from Texas, alleged Hagel has taken funds from extremist groups and U.S. foes like North Korea. Cruz also questioned whether Hagel might have taken funds from weapons manufacturers.
All of those, if true, could create conflicts of interest that could spell trouble for Hagel’s nomination. Importantly, Cruz admitted he possesses no evidence that Hagel obtained funds from any foreign sources, especially ones from North Korea.
In a civil but tense response, typically docile Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told Cruz he had “gone over the line” and “impugned” Hagel’s patriotism and character. Nelson criticized Cruz for alleging the nominee is guilty of “cozying up to Iran.” (Oddly, Cruz also said a Defense Secretary Hagel would make war with Iran more likely, despite any alleged cozying.)
SASC Ranking Member James Inhofe, R-Okla., came to Cruz’s defense, repeating a GOP line about a senior Iranian official recently welcoming Hagel’s nomination.
“You can’t get any cozier than that,” Inhofe said.
In the meeting’s lone bipartisan moment, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a longtime Hagel friend despite his “no” vote, crossed the aisle to defend Hagel. McCain called him an honorable man, saying “no one should impugn” Hagel’s patriotism.
Few, however, besides Inhofe rode to the Texan’s defense. Until today, that is, when the political action arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank rallied to the tea party darling’s side. Here’s what Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham had to say:
“Sen. Ted Cruz came to Washington to advance conservative policies, not play by the same old rules that have relegated conservatives, and their ideas, to the backbench. It should come as absolutely no surprise the Washington Establishment – be it the liberal media, entrenched special interests or even wayward Republicans – are now attacking him in the press for following through on his promises.
“Although many come to Washington for the right reasons, they are quickly co-opted. Rather than fixing the problem, they become part of the problem. Heritage Action will continue to stand side by side with Ted Cruz, and any other lawmaker, who is committed to fighting for freedom.”
All of this comes weeks after Cruz’s memorable performance during the SASC’s now-infamous Jan. 31 Hagel confirmation hearing. Following that hearing, I asked panel Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., if he was frustrated with Cruz, who had not only roughed up a former senator but also defied Levin’s request against using video clips the panel had not pre-screened.
“I’m not frustrated with any of my colleagues,” Levin deadpanned, looking coldly straight ahead just as he had done about an hour later when expressing his frustration with Cruz. Defense wonks and Texans should remember all of this when it comes time for the committee to craft its 2014 defense authorization bill. Will the panel’s elder statesmen teach the freshman senator a valuable lesson by blocking things he wants to deliver for his home-state constituents?