(Bloomberg) — Ted Cruz is trying a radically new role: dealmaker.
The first-term senator from Texas is seeking to unite warring wings of the Republican Party around an effort to kill the Affordable Care Act and is showing a new willingness to compromise with colleagues to devise a replacement plan.
It’s a significant departure for the formerly obstructionist Cruz, who lost the Republican presidential contest to Donald Trump and has long had icy relations with other lawmakers. Cruz once called Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar on the Senate floor, and former Republican House Speaker John Boehner once called Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh” and the most “miserable son of a bitch” he had ever worked with. His most notable legislative accomplishment so far has been to help force a shutdown of the government for 16 days in 2013 in an unsuccessful effort to strip funding from the Affordable Care Act.
Cruz, 46, said Trump’s election and Republican control of the government prompted him to change his approach. These days, he’s negotiating regularly with McConnell and other senators. “The entire world changed on election day,” Cruz said in one of several recent interviews. “My focus today is on delivering results and not wasting this historic opportunity.”
Cruz’s engagement underscores how difficult it has been for Republicans to follow through on one of the party’s top priorities. While the majority of GOP lawmakers have long championed getting rid of the Affordable Care Act, there are deep divisions among Republicans about what should replace it. While the House narrowly passed a health care plan, Senate Republicans have been mired in discussions about how to craft legislation that could attract enough votes to pass.
Fellow Republicans say they’re pleased with Cruz’s current approach.
Sen. John Cornyn, the Republican whip and fellow Texas senator, called his health care efforts “constructive.”
“I like the way Senator Cruz has been conducting himself,” Cornyn said.
Whether he’ll be able to help bridge the Republican divide, given that his previous behavior left a strong distaste with a number of lawmakers, remains to be seen. McConnell has said Republicans are nearing the introduction of their health care plan. But some GOP senators have said they’re skeptical about whether their party can pass a bill.
Cruz has been working to pass a health care bill for several months. He set up a working group of conservatives and moderates, starting with Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, which later expanded to include party leaders. They met once a week for two months in Cruz’s conference room without the press catching wind of it — a point of pride for Cruz.
“The week after the election I brought my staff together,” he said, and told them they had a new mission. For the past four years, he told them, they had been fighting “a president with a radical agenda” and had focused on stopping bad things from happening as the loyal opposition.
Republicans can’t afford to lose the support of Cruz, making him crucial not only to passing a health care bill in the Senate but also to potentially selling such a compromise to House conservatives and outside groups.
Cruz already played a behind-the-scenes role in the May House vote to approve that chamber’s version of an Affordable Care Act change bill, H.R. 1628.
After an earlier attempt to pass H.R. 1628, the American Health Care Act bill, collapsed because of opposition from the Freedom Caucus, Cruz was among those insisting the party not give up.
Rep. Mark Meadows (Photo: Meadows)