In a joint appearance Friday at a conservative policy event in downtown Austin, U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn lavished praise on President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks, with Cruz saying he expects the Republican majority in the Senate to confirm them all.
“These Cabinet appointments are phenomenal,” Cruz said, describing the Trump Cabinet as prospectively “the most conservative in decades.”
Cornyn, who as the Senate majority whip is responsible for corralling Republican votes, said he hadn’t yet talked to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. The Florida Republican aggressively questioned Rex Tillerson, the ExxonMobil CEO who is Trump’s choice for secretary of state, at his confirmation hearing this week, and Rubio could effectively scuttle the Texan’s nomination.
Among other things, Tillerson wouldn’t condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin in the manner Rubio thinks Putin merits.
Cornyn said Rubio still has to work through his thinking on whether to support Tillerson, but added that “I hope that he does, because I think Tillerson would be a very good secretary of state.”
The joint appearance at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Annual Policy Orientation for state lawmakers — in which Texas’ two senators were questioned in a relaxed give-and-take by foundation President and CEO Brooke Rollins — revealed how, in ways that couldn’t have been foreseen, Trump’s election has brought harmony to Texas GOP politics, and a symbiotic relationship between Texas Republicans and the Trump White House.
From their discussion, one would have no inkling that Trump has undergone perhaps the most tumultuous and fraught transition periods of any president in memory.
Throughout the presidential primary and general election campaign, Cornyn was consistently tepid toward Trump, though obviously very pleased that his victory brings Washington under firm GOP control. Cruz was Trump’s archenemy through the primary process, and he didn’t endorse Trump’s candidacy until the late stages of the general election campaign.
But on Friday, Cornyn and Cruz engaged in friendly one-upmanship as to who could heap more praise on the administration Trump is assembling, and who could express greater optimism about what can be accomplished by Trump and a Republican Congress in the next two years.
But, even beyond that, Cruz and Cornyn, whose relationship since Cruz entered the Senate in 2013 has been cool to frosty, seem to have rebranded themselves as buddies whose different styles aren’t clashing but complementary, and in the best interests of Texas.
Cruz, who in the past hasn’t been particularly respectful of his own party’s congressional leadership, noted that Cornyn is the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and “that is a big-big position.”
“And I kind of like to mix it up sometimes,” Cruz said, adding that the combination of approaches would work to the advantage of 27 million Texans.
“Ted and my styles differ occasionally — did you notice that?” Cornyn said. “But how boring life would be if everybody were the same and brought the same skill set to the table.”
Cruz also said that his own job and that of Senate Republicans had changed with Trump’s election, and now, instead of doing everything to thwart the will of that “radical leftist” President Barack Obama, “our job is to deliver on pro-growth, pro-freedom positions and to be working every day to get those accomplished.”
“We have to actually honor the promises we made, and I couldn’t be more excited,” he said.
Cruz and Cornyn thanked former Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for championing a rules change that requires only a simple Senate majority of 51 votes to confirm presidential appointees, with the exception of Supreme Court nominations, which still require 60 votes.
With 52 Republicans in the Senate, Republicans, if they stick together, can approve Trump’s Cabinet picks without any Democratic votes.
Tillerson’s confirmation seems the most endangered because of Rubio, who has a pivotal vote on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which could keep the full Senate from voting on Tillerson.
Cruz said he was confident that Trump would pick a strong, capable conservative for the Supreme Court, but he said that Democrats have been “radicalized” by Hillary Clinton’s loss, casting her as having failed because she was too conservative, with the likes of U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts calling for a more confrontational approach.
Cornyn, shooting a look at Cruz, who grinned with appreciation, said he wasn’t sure Trump “will select my first choice for the Supreme Court, but I’m sure it will be a solid pick.”
Cruz declined to answer a question about whether he would promise to serve his full term if re-elected in 2018, and not run again for president. Cruz said there would be plenty of time to talk politics and campaigns later, saying he wanted to stay focused for now on policy.
Cruz also recommended to the many Texas legislators in the audience that they should focus on the issue of school choice — referring to using state money to expand educational options such as private school and home schooling — which he said was “the civil rights issue of the 21st century” and the best way for the GOP to improve its standing with black and Hispanic voters.
“The Texas Legislature is going to have an opportunity to do something extraordinary this year, which is to step up and lead and help lead the nation on school choice,” Cruz said.