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Panel: Cruz creating headaches for McConnell, GOP

CNN
Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 12:22pm

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is not making many friends in his own party after his latest attempt to block the Senate from raising the debt ceiling.

The Senate voted 67-31 Wednesday to break Cruz's filibuster as a dozen Republicans crossed party lines to vote with the Democrats against Cruz.

"[Cruz] forced their votes but you have several senators who are in purple states where shutting down the government, where leading us to the brink of economic ruin is not playing well for them," NPR correspondent Corey Dade said on CNN's State of the Union. "They're this close, they think, to retaking the Senate. They don't want to toy with that.

The bill was signed by President Barack Obama Saturday after passing through the Senate after a 55-43 vote that was strictly split on party lines, extending the debt ceiling through March 2015. The House, led by the GOP, passed the measure on a 221-201 vote. According to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, the debt ceiling had to be raised by Feb. 27 or the government would default on its duties and shut down some of its programs.

Among the Republicans who joined the Democrats in voting down Cruz's filibuster were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, both who are up for re-election.

"My job is to protect the country when I can and to step up and lead on those occasions when it's required. That's what I did," McConnell said at a campaign event in Louisville. McConnell is facing a primary challenge in Kentucky against Matt Bevin.

Republican strategist Kevin Madden defended McConnell's move, arguing that Cruz is not a typical Senator that can be easily reined in by the party leader.

"I think what's interesting is that a lot of the usual tools you have at your disposal as a majority leader to punish somebody like Ted Cruz, they aren't there because Ted Cruz does not care about moving up in the Senate," Madden said, also appearing on CNN's State of the Union. "He doesn't care what his profile is with inside Washington."

"They had to just go tell [Cruz] to go sit down," Dade said. "I mean, they pulled rank on him, slapped him and said to go sit down."

Madden also believes that while some might initially see McConnell's vote as potentially damaging, the minority leader may be in a better position following the vote.

"I think back in Kentucky, Mitch McConnell isn't in any worse off place than he was before this vote," Madden said. "He has had votes for raising the debt limits before that conservatives back there who didn't like him wanted to use it against him."

"I talked to one really smart reporter up on Capitol Hill who covers the Senate who said, 'Look, this was one of those cases where we skip to the last chapter. We ultimately knew that this was going to have to happen on the Senate side and it did. And I think that Mitch McConnell will take a little bit of a hit on the early side but he's still in a much stronger position because we'll have the debt ceiling showdown off the table."

Margie Omero, a Democratic strategist, also agreed that perception of McConnell will most likely not change too much as a result of the vote.

"I think Mitch McConnell's going to be seen as a political operator regardless of this," Omero said on CNN's State of the Union. "This was true before that vote; it's going to be true after the vote. This is just another piece of evidence, but I think a lot of this is already baked in the cake for primary voters and we'll see if Matt Bevin, his primary challenger, can use that to his advantage or not." 

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