U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left reporters and cable television viewers slackjawed Monday as he said in an impromptu live exchange on MSNBC that he had tried to keep the federal government open in 2013 and blamed Democrats for the 2013 partial federal shutdown that lasted 16 days and the three-day shutdown that the Senate had just resolved.
Until Monday, Cruz, who is up for re-election this year, had been unusually quiet about the most recent shutdown over immigration policy, notable because he is closely identified with the shuttering of the federal government in 2013 over a failed attempt to defund Obamacare.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, who was one of a few lawmakers who had been called by President Donald Trump during the standoff over the weekend, visited the White House on Monday with several other senators. Cornyn will be working on the follow-up immigration plan Democrats insisted on by Feb. 8 to protect from deportation young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The deal also would address border security measures demanded by Republicans, including a border wall and limits to some legal immigration.
“But obviously, I am not going to decide this by myself,” Cornyn said afterward. “We’re going to have to build a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, and I think we can.”
It was Cruz’s role in triggering the 2013 shutdown — especially a 21-hour Senate floor speech during which he read Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” to his young daughters watching on TV from Houston — that launched Cruz as a national figure and, in short order, a presidential contender.
He was widely accused by Democrats and members of his own party of engineering a shutdown over Obamacare, though he continues to dispute that version of events.
Stopped by reporters in a Senate office building basement, Cruz was asked about the deal reached between moderate Democrats and Republicans to reopen the government and blamed Senate Democrats for the shutdown.
“In 2013, I voted repeatedly to fund the government, and in 2013 it was Harry Reid and the Democrats who voted no, who voted to shut the government down just like this week Republicans voted to fund the government, and it was Chuck Schumer who voted to shut the government down,” Cruz said.
Cruz was challenged by MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt, who told him he was the one who had blocked critical votes in 2013. “Why were all of your GOP colleagues angry with you if you didn’t?” she said.
Cruz shot back that Hunt’s assertion was “factually incorrect and a wonderful media narrative.”
As the 2013 government shutdown began, then-Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., spoke out on the Senate floor against fellow Republican Cruz’s “ill-conceived strategy.”
“It was ill-conceived because, again, we knew that with the president in the White House and the Senate Democrats in charge, that they were not going to defund their signature piece of legislation, as much as I support repealing that legislation,” Ayotte said at the time.
Cruz said Monday: “We should not be shutting the government down; I have consistently opposed shutdowns. In 2013 I said we shouldn’t shut the government down. I went to the floor asking unanimous consent to reopen the government.”
Cruz, who was aligned with House tea party members, did try to bring up bills that would fund individual federal agencies, but he did so without Republican Senate support. He also voted against several efforts to reopen the government, including the final one Oct. 16, 2013, that ended the shutdown without affecting the Affordable Care Act except for tightening rules on income verification.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, when told Monday afternoon about Cruz’s retelling of the 2013 shutdown, reportedly paused for several seconds and appeared to be in disbelief before saying, “You’ve rendered me speechless.”
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who voted against the deal to reopen the government, said of Cruz’s comments: “The cause of this government shutdown was the same as the last — Republican intransigence. Like Trump, he seems to believe that denying facts makes them less real, even when there are witnesses, videotape and transcripts.”