Remember the old Ted Cruz? The one who was hated by his colleagues?
After making nice during his 2018 re-election campaign, the nasty reputation of the junior Republican senator from Texas has returned. On January 24, when Cruz spoke on the Senate floor addressing the longest government shutdown in history, he got under the skin of the usually mild-mannered Senator Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, who exploded over Cruz’s “crocodile tears” about the shutdown.
Cruz was rebuking the Democrats for blocking a bill sponsored by GOP colleagues to pay the Coast Guard during the partial government shutdown, arguing that it was the only military branch that wasn’t being paid. Democrats blocked the bill after Republicans refused to open the other federal agencies and pay the 800,000 other federal workers affected by the shutdown.
When Cruz finished, Bennet let loose—for 25 minutes. “I seldom rise on this floor to contradict somebody on the other side,” said the senator, who is considering a presidential bid, according to several people close to him. “I have worked very hard over the years to work in a bipartisan way with the presiding officer with my Republican colleagues, but these crocodile tears that the senator from Texas is crying for first responders are too hard for me to take.”
“When the senator from Texas shut this government down in 2013, my state was flooded. It was under water,” shouted Bennet. “People were killed. People’s houses were destroyed. Their small businesses were ruined forever. And because of the senator from Texas, this government was shut down, for politics that he surfed to a second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.”
Bennet was referring to severe flooding in his state that killed eight people in September 2013. Cruz led the effort that forced a federal shutdown in 2013 over funding the Affordable Care Act, which lasted sixteen days, delaying federal assistance for the Colorado flooding. Cruz went on to win the Iowa caucuses in 2016.
The Bennet tirade was so unusual that Cruz came back on the floor to respond.
“There’s an old saying among Texas trial lawyers—if you have the facts, you bang the facts. If you have the law, you bang the law. If you don’t have either one, you bang the table,” said Cruz, a Texas lawyer. “We’ve seen a whole lot of table-banging right here on this floor. The senator from Colorado spent a great deal of time yelling, spent a great deal of time attacking me personally. I will say in all of my time in the Senate, I don’t believe I have ever bellowed or yelled at a colleague on the Senate floor and I hope I never do that.”
Cruz may have forgotten when he famously breached decorum and accused Senate Majority Leader McConnell, R-Kentucky, of telling “a flat-out lie” on the Senate floor in July 2015, after a legislative maneuver that the Texan claimed went against the leader’s promise. Cruz was rebuked by GOP leaders, including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas. When Cruz tried to get his colleagues to agree to a normally routine show of hands for a roll call vote, he couldn’t get enough support.
Cruz has tried to distance himself from his role as the face of the 2013 shutdown. “It takes some degree of chutzpah to stand up after filibustering funding for the government, as the Democrats did, and to blame the shutdown on the opposing party,” he said on Thursday, concluding his response to Bennet.