At this morning's Playbook Breakfast at the Newseum, Politico White House Correspondent Mike Allen grilled Senator Ted Cruz on his relationship to the Senate Republican leadership, which has been nothing if not contentious. Allen made a point of trying to get Cruz to disparage his colleagues by name, but the senator, who says he has "never treated another senator with anything other than respect and civility," refused to give in—and then Allen brought up fellow Texas Senator John Cornyn, who is facing a primary challenge by a Tea Partier.
Early in the interview, Allen tried a lightning-round word-association game in which he named Democratic and Republican politicians and Cruz had to say the first word that came to mind. Hillary Clinton: "misguided." George W. Bush: "strategery." Chris Christie: "brash." Rand Paul: "liberty-loving."
Allen pressed harder:
Mike Allen: Did Senator Paul invite you to join the suit that he filed against President Obama over the NSA?
Ted Cruz: He did not.
MA: How do you feel about it?
TC: Listen, Rand and I are good friends. I recognize that people are eager to see Republicans bashing each other.
MA: How could you say that?
TC: You’re not going to get me saying negative things about Chris Christie, or Rand Paul—I think Rand Paul is terrific....
Allen continued: "Mitch McConnell."
MA: That’s a statement of fact, um...
TC: That is what is stencilled on his door.
MA: And that’s all you have to say. Should Mitch McConnell be the Senate Republican leader?
TC: Look, that’s a decision for the conference to make.
MA: No, but what’s your personal opinion on that—is he a strong leader, or is he a sellout?
TC: I strongly disagree with some of the decisions Republican leadership has made this year. There is a real divide over how you win elections. Let me tell you—I want Republicans to win. There is nobody who wants Republicans to take control of the senate more than I do. The divide we have in the Senate is how you do that. There are a number of people in Washington who think the way you do that, is you keep your head down, you don’t rock the boat, you don’t take risks.
MA: And that describes the current Senate Republican leadership?
TC: Sadly. And I think it is empirically false...the only good congressional cycle of the last four was 2010. 2010 we drew a line in the sand. We said we’re going to fight with every ounce of strength that we’ve got to stop Obamacare, and it was an epic tsunami of a victory...there’s a weird habit of talking to consultants that keep losing political races, and going back to them and saying, “tell us how we can lose the next race.”
MA: Who are you thinking of?
TC: I’m not going to name names, but you don’t keep following failed strategies....
Allen took another tack:
MA: Kim Strassel’s column in the Wall Street Journal—no liberal there—she says that by targeting moderate or practical Republicans, you could cost the party control of the Senate. Would that be worth it? Would you rather have conservative hard-right senators and be in the minority, or would you rather have a broader.
TC: You know it’s interesting. The debt ceiling debacle from a few weeks ago, I think illustrates everything that’s wrong with Washington, but it also illustrates a lot of people in the media who simply take a story and run with it, and the facts don’t bother to get in the way of that story. So, many many media outlets reported something to the effect of, “Cruz insisted that five Republicans vote for raising the debt ceiling.” Listen, what happened on that was very simple: the house, in a mistake I think, voted to give Obama what he asked for…
MA: Senator, as you know, a lot of your colleagues—Republican colleagues—were unhappy with you about that.
TC: I hadn’t noticed.
MA: To what degree do you feel or see the cultural…
TC: Oh, there are times when the Senate to some degree is like a junior high lunchroom.
MA: What do the mean girls of the Senate do?
TC: They leak stories to Politico... There have been some very candid discussions in the Senate lunch room. I’m not going to reveal what others say, but I think it’s fair to say they expressed considerable displeasure.… In those lunch rooms, some Republicans said, “Ted, why do you want to throw five Republicans under the bus?” And I said, “Listen, I want to be clear, I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus.” What I think should happen is all 45 Republican should stand together and say, of course not we shouldn’t add trillions to our national debt without meaningful spending reforms, which by the way 80 to 90% of the American people agree with.
Finally, Allen asked this:
MA: There is going to be a primary in Texas on Tuesday. Congressman Steve Stockman is challenging a Senate Republican leader, John Cornyn. How are you going to vote?
TC: As I said, I am likely going to stay out of incumbent Republican primaries. That is true outside of Texas and inside of Texas in congressional races. I like John Cornyn, he and I have worked together very closely, we agree on the vast majority of things, there are some areas on which we disagree. Part of the reason that I have stayed out of GOP primaries—and listen, I would note that is an unusual thing to do, most of my colleagues have made different decisions... Part of the reason for making a different decision, is that I trust the grassroots. I think every incumbent owes it to the grassroots to go home and make the case why he or she is standing up for the principles that you said you were going to... I think the degree of Washington politicians refusing to listen to constituents back home is very problematic...
MA: So it sounds like you’re going to vote for Senator Cornyn?
TC: That’s between me and the ballot box.
MA: So you will not sit here and say you will endorse a senior senator from your state, of your party?
TC: As I said, I am likely to stay out of incumbent Republican primaries. That’s an incumbent Republican primary.
Allen pressed on:
MA: So this is going to make things a little unpleasant in the lunchroom.
TC: Actually, not at all. Listen, John Cornyn and I have a very good relationship. We have spent a lot of time together.
MA: Well, maybe not so good now.