In May, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) joined a group of Senate Republicans urging party leaders to cancel the August recess. In June, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced the summer break would, in fact, be curtailed, the Texas Republican celebrated.
“I am pleased that Majority Leader McConnell acted upon our request to work through August recess,” Cruz said in a statement. “We must not waste one minute of one day while we work to fulfill the promises we made to the American people…. By working through August, we will continue to fight for more policy achievements and to deliver for the American people who elected us.”
A few months later, August is nearly over, and those “policy achievements” Cruz referred to are in short supply. But more to the point, Roll Call reported yesterday that the Texas senator who seemed so eager to work on Capitol Hill throughout August is not, in fact, working on Capitol Hill throughout August.
Cruz was in the Senate chamber for part of last week, but he missed floor votes on both ends. He was among 15 senators to miss votes the evening of Aug. 20, including on a proposal from New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez to support funding for a firefighter cancer registry.
And, despite Cruz being among the Capitol’s leading opponents of abortion, he missed a vote last Thursday on an amendment intended to defund Planned Parenthood.
Thursday, it appears the Texas senator left early. He was on the floor to vote to limit debate on the fiscal 2019 package of Defense and Labor-HHS-Education spending. But mid-afternoon, when senators were voting on the failed amendment from Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky to block funding for groups that provide abortion services (and final passage of the appropriations bill), Cruz was not recorded.
There was a procedural vote late yesterday on an HHS nominee, and Cruz skipped that one, too, attending campaign events in Texas instead.
To be sure, Cruz missing a series of floor votes in August – even after urging GOP leaders to hold these votes – is largely inconsequential. But it’s emblematic of a larger truth: the senator appears awfully nervous about his re-election prospects.
His challenger, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) is not only competitive with Cruz in recent statewide polling, the congressman is also posting very impressive fundraising numbers. The Washington Examiner reported this morning that Cruz has been so nervous, he started passing the hat at Senate caucus meetings.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during a lunch with colleagues last week in Washington passed the hat for campaign cash, as the Texas Republican’s anxiety mounts about the unusually brisk challenge from Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
O’Rourke is raising money by the truckload – enough to compete in Texas, a big state with costly media markets. The development has forced Cruz to hunt for resources in unlikely places for a politician who built his national career on opposition to the party establishment: fellow lawmakers, political action committees, and wealthy Republican donors.
“He was pretty intense last week and he should be – he needs the dough,” said a GOP operative, requesting anonymity in order to speak candidly about Cruz’s pleas for contributions from Republican senators and their political action committees.
Circling back to our earlier coverage, some caveats are in order. Texas is still Texas – a state with no Democrats elected to statewide office, and a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since the 1990s. It won’t help O’Rourke that there’s a Republican governor at the top of the ticket who’s heavily favored to win a second term.
Making matters slightly worse, GOP lawmakers in the Lone Star State have imposed some harsh voting restrictions in recent years, which has further tilted the landscape in Republicans’ favor.
And yet, despite all of this, O’Rourke clearly has a shot. A Vox report added yesterday that the congressman isn’t yet widely known statewide, but O’Rourke “has a lot of money, and voters who do know him overwhelmingly like him. The Quinnipiac poll shows black, Hispanic, and women voters prefer him to Cruz. “It’s still a long shot, but as one strategist told Vox of O’Rourke’s campaign in October of last year, ‘sometimes a Hail Mary works.’”
Disclosure: Anytime I mention Planned Parenthood, I try to remind readers that my wife works for the organization, though she played no role in this piece.