Conservative Review - Senator Ted Cruz Declares Parliamentary War in the Senate


Senator Ted Cruz Declares Parliamentary War in the Senate

By: Brian Darling | July 24th, 2015

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Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has tied the Senate in knots into the weekend with his parliamentary maneuvers on a bill funding highway programs.  The U.S. Senate is embroiled in a battle between leadership and conservatives that is getting ugly and personal.

Sen. Cruz has offered something called a “Third Degree Amendment.” That means nothing to most people.  In plain English – Senator Cruz is digging in to lead the fight against the Senate Republican leadership to end the Export Import Bank and the Third Degree Amendment is his tool to fight.

New fronts in the battle are expected to be opened up on the highway bill this weekend over the issues of repealing Obamacare, Planned Parenthood funding and President Obama’s Iran deal.  Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) are expected to join the fight.  The leadership will be using allies in the media to fire away at Cruz and his band of Senate conservatives.

How did we get here?

Senator Ted Cruz is using Senate procedure to fight the Export Import Bank extension that has been added as an amendment to the highway language in the bill. It is that simple.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is in the process of trying to check off two items on his to-do list for the year.  First, he wants to pass a long-term highway bill.  Second, he wants to help extend the life of the crony Export Import Bank – a bank that is anathema to conservatives.  These are both leadership priorities.  Senator Ted Cruz is using Senate procedure to fight the Export Import Bank extension that has been added as an amendment to the highway language in the bill.  It is that simple.

The House has passed a short-term highway bill and they are insisting that the Senate just take up and pass a bill that will only last for a few months.  That bill does not contain any extension for the Export Import Bank (EX-IM).  The option remains for the Senate to take up the House passed highway bill without EX-IM if this fight results in a stalemate.

Procedurally this bill is getting complicated.  It is important to note that many times, procedure is king because if a Senator can use procedure to gum up the works, all too often that Senator can use the procedure in the Senate to kill legislation.  Here, the goal is to kill the EX-IM amendment to the highway bill and to get the Majority Leader to make the calculation that he wants a long-term highway bill more than he wants EX-IM.

McConnell has avoided one procedural blockade.  The Senate Majority Leader has attached the highway bill to an unrelated bill from the House to make sure that he does not violate the Constitution. 

Leader McConnell called up a House passed bill and added the text of the highway bill to it, then he called up an amendment that allows the Export-Import Bank to continue.  This married an unrelated House bill to the highway bill and EX-IM.  But then Senator McConnell did something that was unexpected.

Senator Ted Cruz speaking on the Senate floor, July 24, 2015

Senator Cruz’s fight with Majority Leader McConnell typifies the struggle of the Republican Party to define itself and what it will stand for.

Next, Senator McConnell offered an amendment for a full repeal of Obamacare.  This seemed to be an attempt to intimidate the Tea Party faction in the Senate to take the vote on a full repeal of Obamacare and walk away from the fight over EX-IM.  The problem is that nobody believes the Obamacare amendment to be anything other than meaningless vote.

McConnell then proceeded to use a parliamentary maneuver, abhorred by many conservatives and Senate procedure strict constructionists, to block all other amendments to the bill. This tactic, known as “Filling the Amendment Tree,” enraged many members of the Republican caucus who wanted to offer their own amendments to the bill.  When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) ran the Senate he frequently filled the amendment tree as a way to block Republicans from ever offering amendments. This obstructionist tactic still rubs many conservatives the wrong way and is still considered by many to be an abuse of power.

Enter Senator Ted Cruz. Cruz took to the floor and offered an amendment to condition the Iran deal on Iran recognizing the right of Israel to exist and calling on Iran to release Americans held hostage.  The Cruz amendment violates the Senate’s rules, because, under the current scenario, only certain amendments are allowed. 

Senator Cruz’s amendment relating to Iran is out of order and not allowed by Senate precedent.  Yet, the great thing about the Senate precedents is that they can be voted on and determined by the full Senate. That is, every voting member of the Senate gets to decide if Senator Cruz gets to offer the amendment on the Iran deal, or on anything else. This option is open to every member of the Senate.

Senator Rand Paul has vetted the idea of offering an amendment to defund Planned Parenthood – that could be the next third degree amendment.  Senator Mike Lee might also get into the act with another third degree amendment. The full Senate will get to decide if their colleagues – Senator Cruz, Senator Paul, Senator Lee and potentially others – should be able to add their amendments to the underlying bill. If there is any question as to where Senators stand on defunding Planned Parenthood, recognizing Israel, and forcing Iran to release American hostages, the votes this weekend will make their positions clear.

Senator Cruz is going into parliamentary war with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

This weekend’s Senate skirmish translates directly to the epic fight we are expecting in the Presidential nomination contest between the Tea Party faction, most loudly led by Donald Trump these days, and the establishment faction, led by the establishment poster boy Jeb Bush. Senator Cruz’s fight with Majority Leader McConnell typifies the struggle of the Republican Party to define itself and what it will stand for. Will the Republican Party prioritize handouts to big corporations over defunding an organization that traffics baby body parts? Thanks to the efforts of courageous Senators like Ted Cruz, we will soon find out.


Brian Darling is former Sr. Communications Director and Counsel for Senator Rand Paul.  Brian is also served at The Heritage Foundation.  He can be followed @BrianHDarling on Twitter. 

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