WASHINGTON -- He’s not your usual newbie senator. After just weeks on the job, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has managed to ruffle feathers on both sides of the aisle with his aggressive questioning of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., the Obama administration’s nominee for defense secretary. Some critics said it contained echoes of the McCarthy era.
“Cruz is somebody who doesn’t much care. He breaks crockery, crosses lines of propriety and pisses off colleagues,” said Norman Ornstein, an expert on Congress at the American Enterprise Institute.
The Senate may vote on Hagel’s nomination by Wednesday. While it appears that the administration has enough votes to win confirmation, Cruz played a major role in stalling it, requiring a Senate vote of 60 for confirmation instead of a simple majority of 51.
But the Texan, a tea party favorite who in his first bid for elected office beat the Republican establishment candidate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, in November, is doing exactly, he says, what he set out to do: Change Washington.
“I don’t think comity means avoiding the truth,” Cruz told McClatchy in response to emailed questions. “It would have been very easy to shy away from hard questions, because in asking them, it was not surprising that would provoke the wrath and criticism of the defenders of Chuck Hagel. But I don’t think that would be doing my job, to fear the reaction of the Obama administration.”
Last week in Texas, Cruz signaled his support of the Second Amendment in the face of calls for gun control by visiting a gun manufacturer.
“In Washington there is no liberty that is more in the target right now than the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” he told McClatchy.
Cruz challenged Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, on his letters to major banks asking them to stop supporting gun manufacturers. Cruz said the mayor was bullying the banks, and he invited them to invest in Texas.
Cruz’s supporters are thrilled with his aggressive style and want him to continue, possibly all the way to the White House.
“He’s not going to be ignored,” said Bill Miller, an Austin-based political consultant who advises candidates in both parties. “He’s resonating with the conservatives. He’s grabbing the conservative mantle and he’s running with it.”
Already, Cruz has voted no on a number of high-profile issues, including raising the debt ceiling, reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and sending federal aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy. He was one of only three senators to vote against the nomination of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to be the secretary of state.
Cruz, a Cuban-American born in Canada, is an attorney from Houston who filled the seat that Republican former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison held for nearly a quarter of a century. The 42-year old Harvard University Law School graduate was a clerk to former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and served as the solicitor general of Texas. He’s argued before the high court nine times.
“There’s a conservative electorate out there looking for a lawmaker to come to Washington and be aggressive,” said Nathan Gonzales, the deputy editor of The Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan political tip sheet.