Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has an awkward history with President Donald Trump
The two men and their wives are expected to have dinner at the White House on Wednesday
President Donald Trump will sit down for what could be an awkward dinner Wednesday night with Sen. Ted Cruz, roughly a year after the two men waged a deeply personal and ugly primary fight for the Republican presidential nomination.
The White House meal comes as the President and the Texas senator potentially find themselves in yet another tense face-off. Trump endeavors to push a health care plan through Congress, but conservatives like Cruz have expressed serious concerns about the trajectory of the repeal and replace effort.
Cruz has not gone as far as other colleagues, such as Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Mike Lee, in vocally resisting the bill introduced by the House this week, which they say doesn’t go far enough. Rather, Cruz has said he’s still looking at the legislation but that he doesn’t think it will pass the Senate.
“As drafted, I do not believe this bill would pass the United States Senate,” the Texas senator told Roll Call.
A very awkward history
The two men have a contentious history, to say the least – one that includes Trump attacking Cruz’s wife, Heidi, who will be at the dinner, along with first lady Melania Trump. Cruz’s two young daughters, who were frequent fixtures on the campaign trail, are also set to attend.
Last March, Trump expressed anger that an anti-Trump super PAC used an old photo of Melania, a model who posed in the nude for a 2000 British GQ spread, in a provocative Facebook ad that read, “Meet Melania Trump. Your Next First Lady. Or, You Could Support Ted Cruz on Tuesday.”
Trump accused Cruz’s team of being behind the ad, which Cruz vehemently denied. Still, Trump took to Twitter, threatening that Cruz, whom he dubbed “Lyin’ Ted,” ought to “be careful” or else Trump would “spill the beans” on his wife.
Trump later retweeted a follower who posted an unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz alongside a glamor shot of Melania Trump, with the caption: “no need to ‘spill the beans’ the images are worth a thousand words.”
In return, Cruz, speaking at a sheet metal factory in Wisconsin, labeled Trump a “sniveling coward” and called on Trump to “leave Heidi the hell alone.” Trump later expressed some regret over the incident.
On the campaign trail, Cruz framed his rival as a “Washington insider” and a “bully,” the firebrand casting himself as the only true conservative in the race as the crowded Republican field narrowed.
“Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are both the essence of the Washington establishment,” Cruz repeatedly told reporters, calling the ultimate nominees “two big government New York liberals.”
Then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence even endorsed Cruz, calling him a “principled conservative” on local Indianapolis radio and appearing alongside the candidate during two retail stops.
Trump also riled Cruz in early May when he made baseless allegations that Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, was with Lee Harvey Oswald months prior to the assignation of John F. Kennedy.
Cruz responded in a memorable news conference, in which he called Trump a “pathological liar,” a “narcissist” and “a serial philanderer,” among other things.
As others quickly denounced Trump over the claim, the real estate mogul retaliated, calling Cruz “unhinged” and “desperate” as he was losing to Trump in the primaries.
Later that night, Cruz dropped out of the race after Trump crushed him in the Indiana primary.
Trump would go on to clinch the Republican nomination and later hire two of Cruz’s key allies, Kellyanne Conway and Jason Miller, now a CNN contributor.
Yet the tension between the formal rivals continued when Cruz refused to endorse Trump during a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention despite his earlier pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee.
“That pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi that I’m going to nonetheless come as a servile puppy dog and say, ‘Thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father,’” Cruz later said.
Cruz faced widespread pushback from the Republican base over the move, and he endorsed Trump less than two months before Election Day, lending some conservative credentials to the GOP nominee who was still facing reluctance from some on the right.
The senator has since kept a relatively low profile, meeting with Trump at Trump Tower during the transition in December, but is starting to insert himself more into the spotlight as the health care battle picks up steam.
Cruz isn’t the first former primary rival Trump has met with as President. He’s also hosted Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Other ex-competitors like retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry have gone one to become Cabinet secretaries in Trump’s administration.
CNN’s Noah Gray contributed to this report.