Andy Slavitt, former Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, speaks about the proposed cuts to Medicaid in the American Health Care Act, which President Trump’s budget takes into consideration.
WASHINGTON — Ted Cruz has not been known for his conciliatory gestures.
Former House speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, once dubbed him “Lucifer in the flesh” and said he had “never worked with a more miserable son of a b—-” in his life. But these days, Cruz is trying to be a master of compromise, bringing together his Republican colleagues to come up with a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Cruz and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., met quietly for a steak dinner in February and discussed the need for the party to come together on a repeal bill. Then, as House Republicans scrambled to pass their version of the bill, they convened a small group of senators from all different ideological wings of the Republican Party in Cruz’s office conference room.
The Texas conservative’s pitch: Let’s talk through our differences on Obamacare, so when the House passes the health care hot potato to us, we can draft a bill that works for everyone. Republicans in the Senate have a slim 52-48 majority. Because no Democrats are expected to vote for the legislation, the GOP can only lose two members before the legislation fails.
Gathered in his conference room was “a group that I think really represents the ideological spectrum of the different wings of the party,” Cruz told USA TODAY. “If these six could come together and find common ground then that likely would represent a bill that would have a good chance of passing the (Republican) conference.”
The group included: Cruz and Alexander and Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Mike Lee of Utah, and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
“He’s trying to get a result,” Alexander told USA TODAY. “And as smart as he is, he can be a real force in making that happen. If we’re able to come to a result in the Republican caucus, I’ll be glad to give him a lot of the credit.”
“Like the entire Republican Conference, Sen. Cruz has been working with his colleagues on crafting legislation that can pass the Senate, drive down costs, and increase the quality of coverage plans available,” Gardner said. “He’s been a team player and should be applauded for that.”
“Team player” is a new role for the junior senator, who has angered his share of Republican lawmakers in the past. In 2013, Cruz led the government shutdown for 16 days in a failed attempt to strip funding from the Affordable Care Act. He also stood on the Senate floor and accused the majority leader of his own party of lying in 2015.
When USA TODAY asked Cruz what was behind his new approach to dealing with colleagues, he responded: “Different circumstances call for different strategies.”
“Our role under President Obama was to serve as the loyal opposition … I think we were pretty effective in doing that,” Cruz said. However, “the entire universe changed on Election Day” when Republicans swept both chambers of Congress and the executive branch, and now Republicans have to actually deliver on their promises.
When Cruz ran for the GOP nomination for president in 2016, he didn’t receive his first endorsement from a Senate colleague until early March, and it was from Lee, his close friend and a fellow conservative.
To contrast: Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., another senator running for president, got his first nod of support from Gardner in November 2015 and had more than a dozen Senate endorsements by the time Lee backed Cruz. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also each got one Senate endorsement but both dropped out of the race that winter. Cruz did end up getting more Senate support as the race narrowed.
USA TODAY asked Cruz whether his role in health care negotiations could be a first step toward another presidential run in the future. The senator was non-committal.
“My focus is on 2017, we have the potential for this to be the most productive Congress in decades we have the potential for 2017 to be a historic blockbuster year,” Cruz said. “I’m energized and invigorated by the task at hand and there will be plenty of time to consider future races, in future years.”
“During his rise in Texas he was very successful at being the guy who was fighting Washington, D.C., and using President Obama as a foil, like so many other Republicans did,” said James Henson, a University of Texas at Austin government professor. “Without that foil, and with Republicans in charge in Washington, D.C., if he’s gonna make the argument for another presidential run — which I think everybody expects — he’s going to need to have something a bit more substantive in his belt. Now that he’s part of the ruling coalition in Washington, D.C., he can’t run as part of the resistance of the establishment.”
“As I understand it, the way that this thing is being structured, I think that (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.) deserves applause because what he is recognizing is the Republicans won the majority not with a Sen. Collins agenda, but with a Ted Cruz agenda,” said Brent Bozell, chairman of ForAmerica, a conservative advocacy organization, and president of the conservative Media Research Center. Bozell was referring to Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican known for her moderate views. She has already expressed concern over a variety of issues — including a likely provision to defund Planned Parenthood — in health care negotiations.
“I wasn’t encouraged, frankly, until I heard that Ted was taking a lead role. Now I’m suddenly encouraged,” Bozell continued. “The recognition that the negotiating team should should be run by conservatives is an important one.”
McConnell is working closely with Cruz — the original group of six has grown to more than double the size, including the Senate majority leader — and he praised Cruz’s “important voice in the discussion.” But McConnell also stressed to USA TODAY that they weren’t the only members involved in crafting the health care legislation and that every member gets to have a say.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., is chairman of the hardline conservative Freedom Caucus and played a leading role in the House’s health care negotiations before the bill was narrowly passed earlier this month. He was able to pull the legislation further to the right to bring on the votes of the majority of his group’s members, and now he hopes Cruz is doing the same in the Senate.
“The narrative has always well, Sen. Cruz is willing to take it alone and lead the charge and be out in front when perhaps it may only be him and a couple of others,'” Meadows said. “And there’s still that willingness to fight on behalf of something he believes that’s right and good, but there’s also this very subtle tenacious behind-the-scenes negotiating ability that has not been normally associated with him,” Meadows said.
Cruz is up for re-election in 2018 and has already drawn at least one challenger, Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke. While the state is solidly red — the last time a Texas Democrat served in the U.S. Senate was 1993 and Texas hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since 1976 — demographics are shifting and Democrats believe it’s just a matter of time before they can win statewide again. President Trump won the state by 9 points in 2016, but it was the smallest margin in two decades.
“I remember … struggling to do everything I could to keep the government open and losing that fight to Ted Cruz who successfully shut the government down and did it because he put his ideology and his personal career over this country and saw the consequences of that,” O’Rourke said. “He doesn’t have a great track record on getting things done, he has a great track record on shutting things down — and running for president.”
“Ted Cruz has never put together a compromise bill in his life, ever,” said John Weaver, who was a top adviser for Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. “He couldn’t find 52 votes with a map. So a lot of this is just posturing,”
“The fact that Ted Cruz is actively involved in trying to shape a health care bill in the Senate should scare the hell out of anybody who cares about that issue in this country. He doesn’t have the temperament or the right kind of spirit, quite frankly, to craft this kind of legislation,” Weaver said.
Source: USA Today