Cruz Ship: Off Course?
Well, that didn’t take long.
Or, as NBC broadcaster Andrea Mitchell put it recently, “Ted Cruz has made his mark already.”
If The Cruz were a missile, there might be a plaintive call to Mission Control: “Houston, we have a problem.”
In just six weeks, Texas’ new U.S. senator has irked just about everyone he’s encountered in Washington. Those spared just haven’t crossed The Cruz Missile’s path yet.
The Cruz was one of just three of 100 senators to vote against confirming their colleague, Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, as secretary of state. But the best-publicized demonstration of The Cruz in action was the confirmation hearings of Republican former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel as defense secretary.
The Cruz actually caused some fellow GOP members of the Senate Armed Services Committee to defend Hagel.
When The Cruz questioned decorated Vietnam vet Hagel’s dealings with foreign governments, hackles rose.
The Cruz: “We saw in this nomin-ation something truly extraordinary, which is the government of Iran formally and publicly praising the nomination of a defense secretary.”
Florida’s Sen. Bill Nelson said The Cruz “has gone over the line. He basically has impugned the patriotism of the nominee.”
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, another Vietnam vet, former prisoner-of-war, and Hagel opponent, chimed in. “Sen. Hagel is an honorable man,” McCain testified sternly. “He has served his country. And no one on this committee, at any time, should impugn his character or his integrity.”
Later, Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, questioned The Cruz’ intimations that Hagel had gotten speech honorariums from North Korea. She compared it to McCarthyism.
Cruz “just laid out … all of this accusatory verbiage without a shred of evidence,” McCaskill said. “In this country we had a terrible experience with innuendo … when Joe McCarthy hung out in the United States Senate.”
The Cruz said 24 other senators backed his request for more financial disclosures by Hagel. As for Hagel getting money from questionable sources? His “suggestions,” Cruz said, “have been merely to raise examples for why I believe Sen. Hagel’s financial disclosure is so important.”
The Cruz said he felt “compelled to vote ‘no’ on Sen. Kerry’s nomination because of his longstanding less-than-vigorous defense of U.S. national security issues.” And though he himself has no military service, the Cruz also questioned the commitment of decorated vets Kerry and Hagel to the armed forces.
Later, even Hagel critic Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said The Cruz’ undocumented charges were “out of bounds, quite frankly.”
The Cruz is an accidental senator, beneficiary of a perfect storm that claimed front-runner Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. To Dewhurst’s detriment, a redistricting court decision postponed the Republican primary from March 6 — when Dewhurst was expected to win without a runoff — to May 29.
Dewhurst got 44.6 percent but not a majority. Cruz got 34.2 percent.
In most states, without runoffs in primaries, Dewhurst would probably be senator today and The Cruz a faint memory.
But Texas is one of 11 states that require runoffs. Nine weeks later, The Cruz won the GOP nomination in the runoff, 56.8 percent to 43.2. In red-state Texas at present, the general election is just a formality.
John Cornyn, Texas’ senior Republican senator, has voted in lockstep with The Cruz against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, raising the debt ceiling, cutting off military sales to Egypt, authorizing relief aid for Hurricane Sandy, and of course confirming Kerry.
Speculation is that Cornyn, whose term is up next year, worries about getting “primaried” in 2014. Is he trying to avoid being passed on the right by a Tea Party candidate, as Dewhurst was?
So far, The Cruz’ biggest accomplishments seem to be making the Senate’s other Cuban-American, Marco Rubio of Florida, seem closer to the mainstream and Kentucky’s Rand Paul less lonesomely wacky.
For those who think Texans are know-it-all blowhards, The Cruz is reinforcing the brand.
For others, The Cruz Missile seems more like the cruise ship that broke down in the Gulf of Mexico, forcing passengers to endure several days without enough food, water, or toilets. A senator is not a broken-down cruise ship. But in this case, the smell is the same.
Veteran Texas political writer Dave McNeely can be reached at email@example.com.