As the Senate on Saturday passed a short-term spending bill to fund the government through Wednesday, many Republicans targeted Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for forcing lawmakers into an all-day session that left the timing of the $1.1 trillion spending bill’s completion in doubt.
Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate have reached an agreement to hold a vote Saturday night on the spending bill. A Senate Democratic leadership aide said the first of three votes related to the measure could come within the hour.
But passage of the bill was thrown into doubt after Cruz challenged the measure on Friday night. That led swiftly to the unraveling of an informal bipartisan agreement to give the Senate the weekend off, with a vote on final passage of the bill deferred until early this coming week.
That, in turn led Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to call an all-day Senate session to be devoted almost exclusively to beginning the time-consuming work on confirmation for as many as nine judicial appointees and an unknown number of nominees to administration posts.
The procedural move to delay a vote immediately drew ire from both sides.
Democrats accused Cruz of a publicity stunt. Republicans said the move was counterproductive as it won’t stop a vote on the spending bill and will expedite votes on several of President Barack Obama’s nominations.
As reporters tried to interview Cruz as he entered the Senate chamber in the Capitol, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill shouted: "Quit giving him so much attention, that's exactly what's causing the problem!"
But the sharpest criticism came from Cruz's fellow Senate Republicans.
"I've seen this movie before, and I wouldn't pay money to see it again," Georgia GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson said between seemingly endless roll calls.
Asked if Cruz had created an opening for the Democrats, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said, "I wish you hadn't pointed that out."
"You should have an end goal in sight if you’re going to do these type of things," Hatch added, "and I don’t see an end goal other than just irritating a lot of people."
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said the strategy doesn’t bode well for the new Republican-controlled Congress. "I fail to see what conservative ends were achieved," he told reporters.
But Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, praised Cruz for his opposition to a provision in the bill that would fund the executive orders Obama announced last month.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions and Utah Sen. Mike Lee also opposed the Senate bill on those grounds.
"We strongly support Sens. Sessions, Cruz, and Lee as they fight to insure that the Congress does not appropriate funds for an unlawful, unconstitutional order," Martin said on Saturday. "We urge their colleagues to join them in that fight.
"This is not a fight about amnesty; this is a fight over whether or not America will remain a constitutional republic," she said.
During floor debate on Friday and later on Facebook, Cruz blamed Reid for the budget drama.
He said that the Nevada Democrat's "last act as majority leader is to, once again, act as an enabler" for the president by blocking a vote on Obama's policy that envisions work visas and deferred deportation for as many as 6 million immigrants living in the country illegally.
Cruz, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, charged that Reid was "going to an embarrassing length to tie up the floor to obstruct debate and a vote on this issue because he knows amnesty is unpopular with the American people, and he doesn't want the Democrats on the record as supporting it."
Democrats lost control of the Senate in November.
The legislative process remains in flux as the Senate was holding as many as 40 procedural votes on nominations on Saturday because the two parties couldn’t reach a deal on holding a vote on the budget bill.
"The other concern I have here now is the nominations that are going to get through that otherwise wouldn't," Hoeven said.
The list included Carolyn Colvin to head the Social Security Administration, Vivek Murthy to become surgeon general, Sarah Saldana as head of Customs and Immigration Enforcement, and Antony Blinken to the No. 2 position at the State Department.
Democrats did not provide a complete list, saying it might change. More than a dozen judicial nominations remained on the Senate's calendar, and dozens of appointees to administration positions.
Appearing irritated, some Republicans spoke with Cruz on the Senate floor about his actions. At another point, Cruz huddled in the rear of the chamber with Lee
, who had supported him on Friday evening, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, another tea party-backed lawmaker who said that he would not vote for the measure over the immigration issue.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News
Saturday morning that he was surprised that both Cruz and Lee had gone over his head, but otherwise made no comments on the events.
Cruz suggested on the Senate floor that McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner should not be entirely trusted to keep their pledge to challenge Obama's immigration policy in the new Congress.
"We will learn soon enough if those statements are genuine and sincere," Cruz said.
It was not the first time Cruz has interrupted the parliamentary process to make clear his opposition to legislation. Last year, he led the drive to defund Obamacare that resulted in a 16-day partial government shutdown that cost American taxpayers $1.4 billion.
The $1.1 trillion spending bill provides funds for nearly the entire government through the Sept. 30 end of the current budget year.
The exception is the Department of Homeland Security, which is financed only until Feb. 27.
Republicans intend to try then to force the president to roll back his immigration orders that he announced in a Nov. 20 a prime-time speech on national cable television.
The events in the Senate quickly overshadowed developments in the House earlier in the week, when Democratic divisions were on display over the spending bill.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California opposed the bill, and publicly chastised Obama for giving it his support.
"I'm enormously disappointed that the White House feels that the only way to they can get a bill is to go along with this," she said during debate on the House floor on Thursday.
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