Cruz extends olive branch to GOP senators
By: Manu Raju
October 30, 2013 05:13 PM EDT
Extending an olive branch to GOP senators, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is privately making it clear he won’t engage in the Senate Conservatives Fund’s hardball tactics to defeat his colleagues in their primary races.
At a closed-door lunch meeting of Senate Republicans Wednesday, the freshman conservative told his colleagues that he would not intervene in their 2014 primary fights or fundraise for the controversial outside group. Cruz added that the SCF’s decision to try to defeat sitting GOP senators in their primaries was its alone, according to several people familiar with the session.
According to one source familiar with the meeting in the Senate’s Mansfield Room, Cruz noted that Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky wouldn’t fundraise for the group and promised that his image would be removed from its materials. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Cruz that Paul took such an action six months ago, but he thanked the Texas conservative for doing so. Other GOP senators also thanked Cruz, sources say.
The comments illustrate the challenges facing Cruz as he builds his national profile as a conservative firebrand unafraid to take on his party — but who is also forced to work, lunch and gather with his fellow GOP senators during weeks when Congress is in session. Cruz, a prospective 2016 presidential candidate, became a pariah with his GOP Senate colleagues during the 16-day government shutdown when he aligned himself closely with the SCF and slammed his GOP colleagues as timid Washington insiders afraid to defund Obamacare.
One source said Cruz made clear to his colleagues at the Wednesday meeting that he would not associate himself with the group any longer. But a Cruz spokeswoman said the senator would still be involved with the group’s effort in “promoting conservative causes.”
The spokeswoman, Catherine Frazier, said Cruz reiterated to the GOP senators his previous statements that he wouldn’t get involved in their primary fights. At the meeting, Cruz pointed to a statement the SCF recently issued that neither him, Paul nor Lee was involved in its endorsement decisions, Frazier said.
“He’ll continue working with them to promote common conservative policies but not get involved in their endorsement or fundraising decisions,” Frazier said. “SCF’s organization is not just about primary politics but promoting conservative causes that Republicans across the spectrum can support.”
The SCF, which used to be run by former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), vigorously attacked Republican senators for not backing the Cruz-led tactics of demanding that Obamacare be defunded as a condition for opening the government. And an SCF spokesman downplayed Cruz’s statements, noting it was an “independent, grass-roots” group.
Cruz, as well as Lee, previously appeared in the group’s ads calling for the law to be defunded as part of any bill to keep the government running, a tactic most GOP senators scoffed at.
GOP senators, angry that the Cruz tactics would fail, were particularly miffed that the two men continued to associate themselves with a group that was actively trying to defeat them in primaries. At an Oct. 2 Senate GOP lunch meeting, Cruz was asked point-blank by GOP senators if he would renounce the group and its tactics.
“I will not,” Cruz said, an attendee reported at the time.
But Cruz’s comments Wednesday appear aimed at easing the tension that has been lingering between Cruz and his colleagues, as the 2014 midterm election picks up full steam and the defund Obamacare fight has now been delayed at least until January.
After his election last November, Cruz took a spot as the vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a group designed to protect GOP incumbents. But he has grown increasingly distant from the NRSC as he’s aligned himself more with the anti-incumbent SCF.
After announcing it would back McConnell’s primary opponent, Matt Bevin, the SCF’s affiliated super PAC unveiled a $330,000 ad Tuesday attacking the GOP leader over Obamacare.
“Conservatives asked Mitch McConnell to lead the fight against Obamacare. He didn’t listen,” the group’s new 30-second ad said. “Instead, McConnell helped Barack Obama and Harry Reid fund Obamacare.”
The group is also targeting other GOP incumbents, including long-serving Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, endorsing his primary challenger in that race. Ahead of the Oct. 1 shutdown, the group dropped $340,000 in an ad buy in Kentucky in which it said McConnell “refuses to lead” the fight against Obamacare, and also lashed Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee across the airwaves.
Brian Phillips, a Lee spokesman, said the Utah Republican would continue to work with the SCF when their interests align on certain issues. But, the spokesman said, Lee would not be following the group’s path in endorsing candidates against GOP senators.
In an interview last month, Lee signaled his unease with the group’s tactics attacking his colleagues.
“It’s not my style, it’s not something I do,” Lee said. “Sometimes groups choose to do that — I don’t think that’s the most effective way for me as a senator to conduct myself, so that’s not what I choose to do.”
Matt Hoskins, SCF executive director, said Wednesday that the group is an “independent, grass-roots organization, and we make our own decisions.”
Hoskins pointed to a previous statement his group issued saying it would not ask its conservative allies, including Cruz and Lee, to back its favored candidates.
“These are our endorsements, not theirs, and it’s time for Americans to take the lead and use the political process to change Washington,” the statement said.