Ted Cruz wasn’t the only politician who promised to shake up Washington when he was sworn in earlier this year.
But he delivered like no other.
By the time the brash Houston lawyer and Republican firebrand completes his first year in the U.S. Senate on Jan. 3, he will arguably have become the most recognizable face of the GOP’s unapologetic far right — not bad for a guy with no previous experience in elective office.
Loathed by Democrats, feared by many moderate Republicans and practically worshiped by Tea Party activists, Cruz took the U.S. Senate by storm almost from the minute his hand came off the Bible.
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His harsh questioning of (and opposition to) Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during the confirmation process sparked comparisons to red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy. He helped lead the successful fight against a bipartisan bill aimed at introducing mandatory background checks for people who buy firearms over the internet or at gun shows. And, unlike fellow conservative senators such as Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, he fiercely criticized and helped derail a comprehensive immigration bill whose future is now uncertain at best.
Perhaps most significantly, Cruz was a chief architect of the budgetary confrontation that sparked a partial shutdown of the government earlier this year — all in an effort to repeal Obamacare.
In the process, he became the star of a hot-selling coloring book, sparked endless speculation about a run for president in 2016 and even prompted an addition to the political lexicon — “Cruz Control” — generally used by people opposed to his confrontational, uncompromising style.
If there was any doubt about his mark on U.S. politics, a recent poll by Rasmussen seems to clear it up. Eleven percent of the Americans surveyed in it ranked him as the most influential person of 2013 — in the world. He came in third, behind Pope Francis and President Obama.
So what does Cruz have to say for himself as he nears the one-year mark?
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In a lengthy interview with The Texas Tribune on Wednesday, Cruz made it clear that he has no regrets to ponder or apologies to make. When it comes to the government shutdown, for example, Cruz said the fight helped crystallize the failures of the Affordable Care Act while strengthening his resolve to repeal it.
“The proof is in the pudding,” he said. “As a consequence of that fight, we elevated the national debate over the harms Obamacare is causing, and today President Obama has the lowest approval rating he has ever had, and the American public has turned strongly against Obamacare. The reason is simple. This thing isn’t working.”
Democrats don’t see it that way, of course. Texas Democratic Party spokesman Manny Garcia said Cruz pushed people away from the GOP and insulted hard-working Texans.
“Ted Cruz did a great job for Texas Democrats last year,” Garcia said. “As he drove the Republican Party off the ideological cliff, every day Texans turned to Democrats for responsible leadership.” Garcia gave Cruz an “F” for his efforts to kill Obamacare while representing a state that has the highest percentage of uninsured people.
But don’t expect Cruz to back down one iota. He said he will continue to seek the repeal of Obamacare, an idea that in his view has gone from the fringes to “a common-sense, middle-of-the-road” proposal given all of the woes of the new law, such as the botched website rollout and the cancellation of existing policies.
“I intend to do everything possible to stop Obamacare because it isn’t working and it is hurting millions of Americans,” he said. “The path to repealing Obamacare is going to be continuing to energize and mobilize the American people. The answers are not going to come from Washington.”
In the wide-ranging discussion, Cruz made a variety of other observations about his first year in office, his own future and other Texas Republican heavyweights. Among the highlights of the exchange:
- Cruz said his concerns about Hagel as defense secretary were “rendered all the more relevant by the terrible deal the Obama administration has brokered with the nation of Iran." He added: "In that confirmation hearing my focus was consistently on his record, on his disclosures and on his past statements, all of which raised substantial reason to doubt that he was an appropriate nominee for that position."
- In similar fashion, Cruz defended his questioning of Sen. Dianne Feinstein during a March debate over gun restrictions, when she angrily told him she didn’t need a “lecture” as if she were “a sixth-grader.” Cruz said he merely wanted to know why Feinstein didn’t see the proposal as a violation of the Second Amendment. “It was treated as a ridiculous question outside the bounds of reasonable discussion,” Cruz said in the interview. “That’s part of the reason why we have an out-of-control federal government with a $17 trillion national debt, because there is far too little focus on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
- Cruz was perhaps the least talkative when asked about the U.S. Senate race, which pits Sen. John Cornyn against U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman and others. Reminded that Stockman was citing Cornyn’s opposition to Cruz’s tactics during the shutdown as a key reason he got in the race, Cruz said, “I like John Cornyn,” and “I like Steve Stockman.” He also noted that he and the senior U.S. senator have "stood side by side on a great many issues" but Cruz steadfastly refused to pick sides. “I’ve never liked it when Washington insiders try to pick winners and losers in Republican primaries,” Cruz said. “I think primaries should be decided by the grassroots in each state. … I’m going to leave it to the voters of Texas to make that decision.”
- Cruz, who was born in Canada, said he is living up to his promise to give up his claim to citizenship there but that it’s taking time. “I have retained counsel, and this is in process, but that has not been completed yet,” Cruz said. “My understanding is it should be completed sometime next year, but I don’t have an exact time frame.”
- On the topic of his failure to disclose an investment in a Jamaican private equity firm, Cruz said his amended forms ended the matter as far as he is concerned. “To the best of my knowledge, that matter is fully resolved,” Cruz said. “We simply filed an amended filing because I realize I inadvertently omitted something I should have disclosed.”
- As for a potential run for president, Cruz wouldn’t go there: “100 percent of my focus is on the U.S. Senate,” he said. “The Senate is the battlefield right now.” Cruz didn’t care to speculate about a potential 2016 presidential primary matchup with Gov. Rick Perry, either, though he had some kind words for the longest-serving governor in Texas history. “I think he’s been a good governor. He’s a friend, I respect him, and the economic growth and jobs in Texas over the last two decades have been extraordinary, and Gov. Perry deserves credit for helping create, helping maintain, an environment in which small businesses can prosper and thrive,” Cruz said. “I think more states should follow the model of what has worked in Texas.”
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