GOP Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has a take-no-prisoners style that isn't gaining him many friends among his fellow senators. (AFP)
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein gritted her teeth and smiled politely. The longtime California Democrat somewhat nervously placed a hand on her lapel. “I really shouldn’t go there,” she told Defense News, leaning in as she dragged the last word for emphasis.
The Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman was responding to a reporter’s question about the take-no-prisoners style of GOP Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. She clearly was still irked about her testy, and highly publicized, brush-up with the freshman during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on March 14.
But just a few days before, Feinstein explained on cable news that she fired back at Cruz during the hearing because “I just felt patronized.” Bluntly, she added: “I felt [Cruz] was somewhat arrogant about it.”
Larry Korb, a former Pentagon official now with the Center for American Progress think tank, said Cruz and other tea party Republicans possibly could damage the power defense committee’s tradition of bipartisanship.
“Let’s say you [committee leaders] want to work out something on the F-35, which is being built in Texas, but what happens if other members get too annoyed with him?” Korb asked rhetorically. “They very well could say, ‘To hell with it, why should we help him?’
“In the Senate, you typically sit back and wait your turn,” Korb said. “He seems to be trying very successfully to draw attention to himself right away.”
One longtime Senate Democrat acknowledged Cruz’s sharp style, uncommon in the usually clubby upper chamber, has rubbed some of his new colleagues the wrong way.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Cruz has a unique style, but both said he, like all lawmakers, is “entitled” to do things his own way.
One senior Senate Democratic aide, asked about Cruz’s brusque approach, took a long breath and said, “It’s definitely an issue. Members aren’t going to say much in public. But the commentary is out there. It says it all.”
Another congressional aide said of Cruz: “He’s not making any friends outside of the Rand Pauls,” a reference to fellow-tea party Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Cruz waved off reporters several times March 19-22. The Senate is in the second week of a recess period. His office, in an email, charged his critics with mischaracterizing the freshman.
“Sen. Cruz is simply doing the work that Texans elected him to do, and he will continue to do so. It’s no surprise that some would try to mischaracterize his intentions, but that is not a distraction,” Catherine Frazier, Cruz’s press secretary, said in a statement Tuesday. “He’ll continue working with his colleagues in the Senate, in both parties, on issues important to the people of Texas and all Americans.”
Cruz entered the Senate swinging, hammering now-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during confirmation hearings on Jan. 31.
Days later, Cruz left veteran Senate Democrats and Republicans alike visibly annoyed during the committee’s Feb. 14 debate leading up to its party-line vote on Hagel’s nomination, when the tea party Republican suggested Hagel might have taken funds from Islamist extremist groups and North Korea.
The charge prompted normally docile Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to tell Cruz he had “gone over the line.” McCain, moments later, said “no one should impugn” Hagel’s patriotism.
Most recently, Cruz celebrated the $500 billion, decade-spanning cut to planned Pentagon spending set in motion March 1 when sequestration was triggered. Cruz declared the cuts to be the start of a winning streak for Washington conservatives.
Korb said senators will remember that and seek payback.