Ted Cruz and Mike Lee helped appoint Obama surgeon general: The conservative senators’ effort to stop the president’s immigration plan backfires.

Ted Cruz Just Did Obama a Big Favor

Ted Cruz Just Did Obama a Big Favor

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Dec. 15 2014 8:39 PM

Ted Cruz Just Did Obama a Big Favor

The senator’s attempt to block the president’s immigration order may have opened the door to a number of his political appointees.

Michael Lee and Ted Cruz
Sen. Michael Lee (R-Utah), right, speaks as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) listens during a news conference on Sept. 9, 2014, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

It won’t last long, but at least for one day, Democrats are celebrating Sen. Ted Cruz. On Monday, the Senate confirmed controversial surgeon general nominee Vivek Murthy, and many on the left and right are thanking (or blaming) the Texas freshman for that.

Democrats argue that a procedural tactic that the Texas Republican and fellow conservative Sen. Mike Lee undertook over the weekend is responsible for opening the door for the confirmation of a number of President Obama’s executive and judicial nominees, including Murthy. Cruz and Lee have won snarky adulation from Democrats and blistering criticism from more establishment-friendly members of their own party, and Murthy’s narrow confirmation win (51 to 43) may intensify those sentiments in the days to come.

Late on Friday, Cruz and Lee kept Majority Leader Harry Reid from adjourning the Senate for the weekend as part of a last-ditch effort to block funding for the president’s immigration move. That tactical strategy didn’t work, but Cruz did wrangle a vote on a point of order calling the president’s move unconstitutional. That vote failed, 22 to 74.

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Republican senators tore into Cruz and Lee, according to Politico. Sen. Kelly Ayotte said their strategy was “ridiculous,” Sen. Jeff Flake called it “counterproductive,” and Sen. Susan Collins told Cruz he was “going to make everybody miserable.”

Off the Hill, Lee and Cruz found little succor. Daniel Horowitz at the Conservative Review went to bat for them, but the conservative Washington Examiner ran a deeply critical editorial on their move, and Daily Caller columnist Matt Lewis compared the pair to Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell—a comparison not intended to flatter. Even at Breitbart News, Caroline May recognized that their strategy “gave Majority Leader Harry Reid time to advance a number of Obama’s nominations.”

So is Cruz Democrats’ new best friend? At issue is the question of whether Cruz and Lee’s weekend move will result in more of the president’s nominees getting confirmed than would have been otherwise. On this front, it seems to be Cruz and Lee largely contra mundum. On Fox News (per Breitbart), Lee defended the move by arguing that Reid would never have adjourned the Senate without getting votes for all of the president’s nominees. But a top Democratic Senate aide close to the confirmation proceedings disputed that logic. He said that though Murthy and two other controversial nominees—Sarah Saldana to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Tony Blinken for deputy secretary of state—would have gotten confirmation votes regardless, those votes would have been a few days later in the week. The aide argued that if that had happened––which would have been the case if not for the weekend’s activity––then it’s possible Democratic senators would have skipped town, and Reid could have been a few votes shy of getting them confirmed.

In a rare moment of warm and fuzzy bipartisanship, Republicans concurred.

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“Maybe Cruz wanted to give Obama more nominees because he’s hoping Democrats will return the favor if he becomes president,” said a senior Republican aide.

Another Republican aide echoed that point.

“At some point, Cruz is going to have to stop undermining conservative victories for the sake of getting more press,” he said, blaming the Texas Republican for Murthy’s confirmation. “We had made a lot of progress and he just undid it all for something he knew was not going to be possible.”

Murthy is controversial because he was politically active in favor of the president. The National Rifle Association also lobbied hard against his confirmation because of his stance on gun rights; he famously tweeted that “guns are a health care issue.”

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Democrats seem to be enjoying thanking Cruz for his assist. Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, tweeted that he “[w]as worried Dr. Vivek Murthy might not get confirmed but thanks to @TedCruz, looks like he will.” And Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson tweeted, “I mean this sincerely: thank you, Senator Cruz.” Talking Points Memo has more detail here on the Cruz love that emerged from Democrats’ ranks over the weekend.

Some Republicans—while angry with Cruz—have tried to take some of the sting out. Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, told reporters before the Murthy vote that he thought Reid would have gotten all of his nominees confirmed regardless of the extra time over the weekend.

Sen. John McCain was in the opposite camp and said the Cruz and Lee strategy was a flop.

“I don’t see any positive result,” he said.

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And Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller said Cruz’s “shenanigans” left many members of his party irked.

“I think we’ll have more nominees than otherwise,” he said.

“He had an opportunity to stand up at lunch any day this last week, to give us a heads up and tell us his goals and let us be aware,” the senator continued. “I think that’s the only frustration in this: He waits till everybody goes home and then pulls it off.”

In an email, Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier suggested some of his Republican critics could be acting in bad faith.

“Unfortunately, there are many on both sides of the aisle who want to distract from the more important debate over the president’s unilateral action to grant amnesty,” she wrote.