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It's Ted Cruz versus John Boehner again as new shutdown looms

Speaker John Boehner’s new plan to avoid a government shutdown over immigration is running into a major hurdle.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) reacts as Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 3, 2014.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) reacts as Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 3, 2014.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Speaker John Boehner’s new plan to avoid a government shutdown over immigration is running into a major hurdle: Sen. Ted Cruz. Cruz, who played a key role organizing House conservatives in the run up to the 2013 shutdown over health care, made clear that he’ll be taking up a similar role on immigration this week as well.

The Texas senator appeared at a rally with House conservatives outside the Capitol Wednesday in which he called on Republican leaders to threaten Senate Democrats and President Obama with a partial government shutdown if they don’t accept a funding bill blocking the president's immigration order. The senator also urged incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to block all of Obama’s judicial and executive nominations, minus vital national security positions, until Obama relents.

RELATED: GOP tweaks anti-'amnesty' bill as experts warn of problems

“The simple thing that I would urge to every Republican who spent the last year campaigning across this country saying ‘If you elect me, we will stop President Obama’s amnesty,' do what you promised,” Cruz said. "Doing what you promised doesn’t mean, as it so often does in Washington, sending a really stern letter and having a meaningless show vote.”

The “meaningless show vote” could be interpreted as a thinly veiled reference to the current plan Boehner is floating in which the House passes a bill funding almost all of government for the year, a short-term bill funding the Department of Homeland Security through March, and a bill by Congressman Ted Yoho blocking Obama’s ability to carry out his latest executive action that the Senate is almost certain to kill and the president would surely veto.

“Frankly, we have limited options and limited abilities to deal with it directly,” Boehner told reporters on Tuesday.

Cruz is a significant force in the debate because Boehner needs conservative Republicans to help pass spending bills if Democrats withhold their support, which is likely. The House GOP’s right wing has a long history of bucking the speaker on critical votes and sending leaders scrambling for a backup plan, especially when Cruz and allied groups like Heritage Action – which also opposes Boehner’s plan – are egging them on. Legislation funding the government expires on Dec. 11, leaving Congress and the White House just over a week to resolve their differences and pass a bill.

RELATED: GOP leaders look to avoid shutdown despite complaints on right

“Let’s be clear, I think we should fund virtually the entire federal government,” Cruz told reporters. ”We should, however, not be funding illegal amnesty. The funding of that occurs in the Department of Homeland Security, so we should attach a rider to the funding for DHS.”

Republican leaders argue that funding the Department of Homeland Security through early next year will buy time until the incoming GOP Senate majority can take office, giving them greater power when they renew the fight. While Cruz told reporters the party would have “the greatest leverage” after the new Congress is sworn in, he sounded pessimistic that Republicans opposed to a shutdown fight today would have much appetite for one later either.

“Even with a Republican House and Senate, the same folks who are saying ‘Gosh, we cant do anything now’ in January are going to say ‘Gosh, we don’t have 60 votes in the Senate,’” he said. “It’s like Charlie Brown and Lucy.” 

In addition to Cruz, conservative House members Steve King of Iowa, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Louie Gohmert of Texas, and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas spoke at the event.

“We're presented with this proposal that we ought to fund the presidents lawless unconstitutional act,” King told the crowd. He went on to say that a vote for such a bill “crosses a line that cannot be tolerated.”

A handful of supporters joined them, carrying signs with such slogans as “Say not to dictatorship” and “Why should we expect an illegal president to enforce ‘legal’ immigration,” and chanting shouts of approval throughout the rally. “Ted Cruz 2016!” one attendee yelled as the Senator spoke.