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Ted Cruz bucks the establishment, again

By Jeremy Diamond, CNN
updated 7:28 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cruz opposed House GOP leaders' border bill that was pulled from floor
  • The Texas senator wanted conservatives to change Obama immigration policy
  • Cruz angered his fellow Republicans with Obamacare push that many blame for shutdown
  • He has expressed his support for some anti-establishment candidates in the primaries

Washington (CNN) -- Ted Cruz appears to have played a key role in the emergency border bill falling apart in the House.

Less than 24 hours before GOP leaders pulled a vote on Thursday on the $659 million emergency measure to address the crisis provoked by a surge of migrant youth from Central America, the arch-conservative Republican senator had lobbied House allies to scrap it unless it included a provision to toughen deportation policy.

Support for the bill as written was already tenuous at best, but Cruz held sway, for the moment anyway. Negotiations were scheduled to run into Thursday night with a GOP meeting set for Friday morning to discuss next steps.

Still, the meddling complicated an already arduous process in both the House and the Senate of marshaling support to help thousands minors, many unaccompanied and still stuck in a legal limbo that is stressing immigration services.

Ground zero for the crisis is the Rio Grande crossing in Cruz's home state of Texas.

Has his reasons

Cruz had his reasons and it wasn't the first time he's figuratively crossed the Capitol to buck Republican leaders to make his case to conservative members.

The move that heightened legislative uncertainty most likely leaves President Barack Obama able to throw pretty sharp darts at House Republicans.

Obama's sure to blame them for doing nothing about the border crisis as Congress stops work for a month-long summer recess, likely leaving him to use his executive powers to do what he can in the meantime.

Even though getting a bitterly divided Congress to agree on a common approach on the border crisis in a midterm election year was a long shot from the start, it appears lawmakers in both parties won't even have the political cover as they arrive home of having voted for or against something in their own chamber.

"The Obama White House should put Ted Cruz on the payroll," Republican Rep. Peter King of New York quipped to the Washington Post following Cruz's latest foray into House affairs.

Cruz vs. Boehner on border bill
Should Congress leave for break?
'Border is not open to Central Americans'

What was he after anyway?

Cruz, a tea party star who may have presidential ambitions, met with House allies on Wednesday night in is office where pizza was served. His office wasn't saying much about it.

But others who were there said he pushed them hard for a provision that would bar the Obama administration from expanding a policy that prevents deportation of immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

He urged them to oppose the emergency border bill backed by Speaker John Boehner and his lieutenants unless it defunded that policy. Cruz likens it to amnesty even though it does not convey legal status.

California GOP Rep. Devin Nunes said Cruz's intervention was "not helpful."

"It's kind of shocking to me that some of our members are willing to turn their voting cards over to the Senate or to outside groups," Nunes said of those following Cruz' lead.

But Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who attended the dinner meeting with Cruz, said the attendees did not make a pact on the House bill and denied that he twisted any arms to kill it, as Republican leadership aides have claimed.

"I don't think that would be accurate," he told CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash. "Ted's a listener."

Remember the shutdown

Rep. King: Cruz living in his own world
Cruz: I don't work for the party bosses
Cruz accuses GOP of 'trickery'

The scenario on Thursday conjured up memories of last fall, when Cruz led the charge against funding Obamacare that helped draw Congress into a government shutdown.

At the time, Cruz rallied tea party allies in the House to join his dogged opposition to Obama's signature health law, which remains a partisan political flashpoint.

Instead of working for compromise in the days before the shutdown, Cruz took to the Senate floor for 21 hours to push against Obamacare. The shutdown lasted 16 days.

Boehner and other Republicans admitted the tactic was a mistake and some, like Sen. John McCain, called it futile.

"It was a fool's errand to start with. It was never going to succeed," McCain said then on CNN's "State of the Union."

Cruz placed the blame squarely on Democrats and the White House and denied his role in provoking the shutdown, despite being branded by Democrats and even some Republicans as the architect of the standoff.

And then there was Cruz and the debt ceiling.

And the debt ceiling

Just months later, Cruz again angered fellow Republicans by blocking a vote to raise the nation's borrowing authority so it could pay its bills.

Republicans quickly scuttled Cruz's filibuster attempt, which would have forced at least 60 senators to vote in favor of raising the debt limit to avoid a U.S. debt default.

That would have forced some Republicans into the awkward position of voting against the measure and being seen as responsible for another shutdown or voting for it and hurting their standing with conservatives.

That procedural move provoked a contentious exchange between Cruz and his GOP colleagues as he accused the Republican leadership of "trickery."

Cautious on primaries

Cruz has since cautiously waded into primary politics this election cycle by linking up -- often quietly -- with conservative groups that are backing challengers and opposing establishment incumbents in several Senate primaries.

Cruz appeared in a Senate Conservatives Fund ad backing a tea party-backed candidate vying for an open Oklahoma Senate seat in June.

And that group has poured millions of dollars supporting challenges to Republican incumbents, including state Sen. Chris McDaniel's contentious challenge to veteran Sen. Thad Cochran and Matt Bevin's failed battle against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Cruz also penned a fundraising appeal for the Madison Project, a PAC that set its sights on dethroning establishment figures ranging from Cochran to McConnell to Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts.

CNN's Dana Bash and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

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