That Ted-I-Am, that Ted-I-Am, he did not like Green Eggs and Ham. Senator Ted Cruz read aloud the Dr. Seuss book as part of 21 hours of extended remarks leading up to the government shutdown of 2013. He liked the book and said he was simply reading it as a bedtime story for his young daughters. But his reading, and the shutdown that followed, propelled the freshman senator to the front ranks of presidential contenders with the support of anti-government tea party activists who backed Cruz’s attempt to use a budget fight to kill Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
But here we are in the government shutdown of 2018. We can’t find that Ted-I-Am here. We can’t find him there. We can’t find him just about anywhere. Other than showing up in the Senate to give the leadership his vote to extend federal government spending until mid-February, Cruz was staying out of the news in the current budget battle. The old Ted Cruz seems to be missing in action.
In a profile of Cruz for our January issue, I noted that after his failed presidential bid, he started pushing the idea of Ted Cruz 2.0, a new senator determined to get along with Republican leadership instead of calling it part of the “Washington cartel.” He told me that the idea of the bomb-throwing Cruz was something of a myth. Cruz needed to find a way to operate without alienating a Republican constituency that saw him as an uncompromising senator of conservative principles.
During the lead up to the current shutdown, Cruz attended rallies against abortion and in favor of private school vouchers. He wrote a tough-talking op-ed against North Korea. But I could find no news items, tweets, or news releases in which Cruz talked about the government shutdown, even twelve hours after it began. Photographs from Capitol Hill on Friday showed Cruz holding a Diet Dr Pepper as he talked to reporters, but I couldn’t find a story that quoted him. The shutdown might end quickly and Cruz might break his silence before you read this, but for the short term, Cruz is ducking the shutdown debate.
This shutdown, however, is just about everything Cruz might want to avoid as he faces a challenge from Democrat Beto O’Rourke for Senate reelection. It puts Cruz in a test of allegiance between the Republican congressional leadership and President Trump over issues that can only be resolved by negotiating with Democrats.
First, Trump wants billions of dollars to build a promised border wall with Mexico—a proposal that is unpopular in South Texas but has adherents among conservatives from Dallas to Lubbock. Cruz tried to straddle the issue last year by introducing a bill called Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order Act. That’s a cute acronym for El Chapo, an indicted and imprisoned drug lord whose assets—believed to be $14 billion—Cruz said the nation should seize to pay for the wall.
Second, the president also wants to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, established by President Obama in 2012 to give some residency protections to undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country by their parents as young children. Nationally, more than 800,000 immigrants are exempt from deportation because of the program. About 124,000 of those people reside in Texas, including 36,700 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, 35,800 in the Houston area, 7,500 in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and 5,600 in San Antonio, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Democrats agreed to avoid a government shutdown late last year if a solution could be reached on DACA so the program’s protections could stay in place, but Democratic leaders refused to go along with the current request to keep the government open without a DACA deal.
During his presidential campaign in 2016, Cruz made it clear that if it was up to him, he would deport the population protected by DACA. “I would note, if you’re a DACA recipient, it means that you were brought here illegally, and violating the laws has consequences,” Cruz told one young DACA recipient. At this stage, any deal to approve a federal budget to re-open the government will require Republican congressional leadership to successfully negotiate some sort of deal with Democrats, and that will mean Cruz will have to choose between standing on his principles or voting to end the shutdown.
Republicans are trying to blame Democrats for the shutdown. So far, it doesn’t look like Americans are buying that spin. A CNN poll released Friday found that 47 percent of Americans blamed either President Trump or the Republican congressional leadership for the shutdown, while just 31 percent blamed congressional Democrats. But 56 percent of those surveyed said it was not worth shutting down the government because of DACA. That’s a pretty mixed signal for a member of Congress who might be trying to decide which way to jump.
O’Rourke had no trouble deciding. He voted against the continuing resolution in the House to keep the government function. He said he wanted other issues resolved and a federal budget that would keep government operating for a full year, not a few months at a time.
“We have over $1 billion in transportation infrastructure projects authorized but not funded because of this erratic budget path,” O’Rourke said in an email. “And $81 billion in disaster relief, much of it allocated for those who are rebuilding after Harvey, continues to languish in the Senate while Congress remains unable to do its most basic job: fund the government for the full fiscal year. I voted against continuing on this reckless course because I believe that Congress must come to a bipartisan solution to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year.”
During my interview with Cruz last year, he told me he would compromise with a Martian if the deal improved government. Perhaps, Cruz should remember that the moral of Green Eggs and Ham is that if you try something new, you might find that you like it. Is Ted-I-Am ready, ready to take a tiny bite, just a little tiny bite, of compromise?