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Politics and pizza: Ted Cruz scuttles House GOP border plans

By Jeremy Diamond, CNN
updated 6:59 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cruz is being branded by many as the man who killed the House border bill
  • Allies gathered over pizza and the next day Boehner realized he didn't have enough votes
  • Cruz and his allies denied that he twisted arms to get his way
  • Texan has a new moniker: "Speaker Cruz"

Washington (CNN) -- It's a scenario we've seen before: a gridlocked Congress pushes off legislative action until the last minute. But this time, leaders couldn't reach a deal before they were scheduled to break for a five-week recess.

House Speaker John Boehner and his new leadership team were prepared to pass a bill to fund a response to the crisis at the southern border.

But then, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called a pizza party, and all bets were off.

The bill that Boehner was pushing wasn't even expected to be taken up by the Senate because Democrats oppose a proposed fix to a 2008 law that makes it more difficult to deport children from Central America.

Coming in at $659 million -- after Republican leaders twice scaled down their proposal from an initial $1.5 billion -- the bill was a sliver of President Barack Obama's $3.7 billion request. Certainly no one could suggest Republicans were caving in to the White House.

But Cruz and his tea party allies in the House were determined to oppose the bill unless GOP leaders tacked on a provision that would reverse an Obama administration policy shielding young migrants and toughen the United States' deportation policy.

Less than 24 hours after Cruz pow-wowed with House Republicans over pizza pies, Boehner canceled the vote when he realized he didn't have enough support to pass what was already considered no more than a show vote.

Cruz denied playing a lead role in killing the bill, but insiders were quick to give the senator a new title: Speaker Cruz.

Oh, and of course, BuzzFeed's D.C. bureau chief piped in.

Then there's this zinger from a Republican strategist and CNN political commentator:

Meanwhile, Cruz gave an exclusive interview to the Washington Post's Robert Costa, whose reporting has led the narrative on Cruz's role.

That denial hasn't kept House GOP leadership aides and rank-and-file Republicans from pinning the bill's failure on Cruz getting involved in the wrong chamber. It wouldn't be the first time that's happened.

But maybe Washington is just delusional, as Cruz suggested Thursday on Twitter.

It certainly didn't stop Democrats from seizing on the idea of Cruz, a tea party favorite who has rubbed establishment Republicans the wrong way more than once, leading the Republican caucus.

Democrats also criticized Boehner for acting to sue Obama for abusing his executive authority, and then calling on him to act unilaterally to address the border crisis.

The Democratic Party's national press secretary jumped at the chance to slam Boehner's leadership failure:

Tea party backers didn't hesitate either, like Laura Ingraham, the influential conservative radio host.

Conservative pundit Erick Erickson, who said House Republicans should tack the Cruz-backed provision to a border bill, also weighed in.

Right or wrong, these new optics are not threading a positive storyline for congressional Republicans, especially ahead of the 2014 midterms.

These questions about the influence of the House GOP leaders couldn't come at a worse time as House Republicans transitioned leadership into new hands.

Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise just took over as House majority leader and majority whip, respectively, after Rep. Eric Cantor officially stepped down as the No. 2 House Republican on Thursday.

Despite the official change in leadership. Observers floated questions about who actually retained control of the house after the Cantor passed the baton to McCarthy and Scalise, suggesting that a de facto leader was really calling the shots.

Cantor's primary loss to an underfunded insurgent challenger stunned the Republican establishment in June. And it appears the tea party -- this time embodied by Cruz and his allies in the House -- is continuing to give GOP leaders a headache.

Which makes the timing of Cantor's exit a genius move.

.

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