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Beltway Confidential

GOP lawmakers disappointed by Ted Cruz should have listened to him more carefully before

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Beltway Confidential,Byron York,Republican Party,Texas,Ted Cruz

The Examiner's David Drucker reports many House Republicans are angry and disillusioned with Sen. Ted Cruz. The Texas Republican has been traveling the country encouraging people to support a move to defund Obamacare. But now that House Republicans have committed to passing a continuing resolution that does just that, Cruz has admitted Republicans don't have the votes to succeed in the Senate.

"Harry Reid will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution," Cruz said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "And right now he likely has the votes to do so."

The truth of that was obvious. Democrats have 54 votes in the Senate, and not a single one has expressed support for defunding Obamacare. In addition, several of the Senate's 46 Republicans have expressed opposition to the defunding proposal. Sen. Mike Lee's pledge to refuse to vote for any government funding bill that includes funding for Obamacare has been signed by just 14 GOP senators -- a minority of the minority.

But to House Republicans who support defunding, Cruz's admission sounded like a surrender before the fight. "I don't know how you could say, right now, that there are not the votes for it [in the Senate]," Tennessee GOP Rep. Phil Roe told Drucker. "I don't understand that." Other lawmakers expressed deep disappointment in conversations reported by Drucker. "Gee, thanks for the support," said Florida Rep. Trey Radel.

The unhappiness is understandable. But perhaps those Republicans now angry at Cruz should have listened to him more carefully all along. In his speeches promoting the defunding campaign, Cruz, a Harvard-educated lawyer, chose his words closely, not claiming that defunders had the votes to prevail but instead suggesting that they might somehow spur a popular uprising against Obamacare in which an enraged populace would pressure reluctant lawmakers to change their positions -- and then vote to defund.

Cruz's rhetorical strategy was on full display during a late August trip to New Hampshire, home to the nation's first president primary of the 2016 race. In an appearance at a state GOP fundraiser, Cruz repeatedly said the Obamacare fight could not be won in Washington DC. "The only way we're going to succeed in defunding Obamacare is if it comes from the American people," he said. "This is not a strategy of trying to convince Washington, DC. It's a strategy of empowering the American people."

Cruz was saying, in an indirect but still clear way, that Senate Republicans did not have the votes to defund Obamacare. (I wrote this at the time; see here.) Cruz went on to outline a plan in which, if enough people signed a petition at the website dontfundit.com, and then got in touch with their senators and representatives to urge them to support defunding, public sentiment would force lawmakers who now oppose defunding to change their minds and support it. "The only way we're going to succeed in defunding Obamacare is if it comes from the American people," Cruz said.

The tactic would even work on Democrats, Cruz argued. "If you're a Democrat, particularly in a red state, who's up for election in 2014, and you start to hear from 5,000, and then 10,000, and then 20,000, and then 50,000 of your constituents, suddenly the calculus starts to seem very, very different," Cruz told the New Hampshire audience.

Cruz was more direct in an appearance on CNN at about the same time. "We do not have the votes right now," he told the network on August 25. "I believe if we see a grassroots tsunami, that is going to cause Republicans and Democrats to listen to the people."

"But it's going to take a tsunami?" asked host Candy Crowley.

"It is going to take a tsunami and I'm going to do everything I can to encourage that tsunami," answered Cruz.

Now, Cruz has admitted again that defunders do not have the votes in the Senate to defund Obamacare. The difference from earlier statements, at least for those disappointed Republicans, is that some of Cruz's fellow lawmakers in the House are about to actually cast votes to defund. They're all in, and the last thing they want to hear is a leader of the cause in the Senate admit that it can't succeed.

Later on Wednesday, after the storm over Cruz's words, he and fellow defunder Sen. Mike Lee appeared on Sean Hannity's Fox News program. Cruz tried some damage control. "I can guarantee you one thing," he said. "Mike and I are going to fight with every breath in our body. As Churchill said, we will fight on the beaches, we will fight on the streets, we will fight at every step to stop the biggest job killer in America."

Those words would have been inspiring to House Republicans a week ago. Now, nobody is quite sure exactly what Ted Cruz really means.

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