When those like Senator John McCain say that Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), and other conservatives have no chance at winning the battle to defund Obamacare, they are wrong. Cruz, Lee, and the others do indeed have a pathway to victory, though it is a long one and will require a lot of stars to align.
Here is the path:
First, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brings the House continuing resolution (CR) to the floor next week, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell needs to deliver 41 Republican votes to filibuster it until Senator Reid agrees not to try and restore funding for Obamacare. McConnell has the power to ensure that Reid cannot get an amendment onto the bill that strips the Obamacare defunding language with a simple majority vote. As Breitbart News laid out on Friday, McConnell has closed down one pathway that Reid could use:
If [Reid] introduces an amendment before the Senate votes on cloture for the House CR[, t]hat would require a 60-vote threshold, and McConnell’s spokesman Don Stewart told Breitbart News that if Reid attempted that tactic, all Senate Republicans would stand together to block it.
However, a major avenue is still open through which Reid can get the amendment onto the bill with a simple majority. If McConnell decides Obamacare is worth fighting in earnest on must-pass legislation (ie non-symbolic votes), then he will deliver the 41 necessary votes to filibuster until Reid is forced to agree to a clean up-or-down Senate floor vote on the Obamacare defunding CR the House just passed. There is something McConnell can do using his power that could accomplish this: Filibuster the House CR until there is a unanimous consent agreement that any amendments added to it after cloture is invoked would also each require a 60-vote threshold. The power rests now with McConnell. Delivering the 41 votes is essential to help Ted Cruz.
Cruz’s spokesman Sean Rushton said in an email Friday evening that Cruz’s and his team’s “goal is to protect the bill passed by a bipartisan majority of the U.S. House, which will defund Obamacare while fully funding government.”
“Anticipating the likelihood that Senator Reid will strip the crucial defunding language, it may be necessary to oppose cloture to block him from changing the bill,” Rushton wrote. “We’ll use any procedural means necessary to protect the House bill and keep debate open, standing guard against any attempt to reduce this opportunity to another show vote. Americans want Congress to pass a bill that funds government but defunds Obamacare, and the House worked hard to pass one. Senator Reid must not be allowed to add Obamacare funding back into the House-passed bill.”
Since there are 46 Senate Republicans, McConnell does not even need to unite his caucus in full like House Speaker John Boehner did to accomplish this first step. Every Republican in the House voted for the CR that defunds Obamacare except Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA), who said he supports the Obamacare defunding part of it but voted no because of issues related to sequester. Since McConnell only needs 41 votes to defeat Reid’s expected procedural trick to use taxpayer to pay for Obamacare, that leaves room for those like Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Bob Corker (R-TN), and a few others to defect on the strategy, as one would expect them to.
Assuming McConnell delivers the votes like Boehner did in the House and is able to use the minority rights in the Senate to force Reid to agree to a clean floor vote on the CR as passed by the House, then the heat turns to the red state Senate Democrats like Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mark Begich (D-AK), Kay Hagan (D-NC), and so on. Each of them might not publicly say that they would support the defund Obamacare movement as of now, but when the time comes for the vote with reelections looming, their votes may change. It is expected that all of the Senate Republicans, in the case of a clean vote on the CR as passed by the House, would vote for the House CR. To pass the bill out of the Senate, five Democrats would need to cross the line. That is a tall order, and expectations of that actually happening are low at this point in time. But again, nobody expected even Boehner to deliver as many votes from the House as he did, including bringing Democratic Reps. Mike McIntyre (NC) and Jim Matheson (UT) across party lines.
The question is, are Harry Reid and the red state Democrats willing to shut the government down to protect Obamacare, which many of them admit is not a good law. As you may recall, their colleague Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), a red state Democrat, says the law is now a “train wreck.” Union bosses like Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., say Obamacare “destroys” workers. The majority of the American people have an unfavorable view of Obama’s signature piece of legislation, according to the latest polling data as released by Rasmussen Reports?
While the battle rages in the Senate at that point over who will vote for what, the government shutdown will loom. Pressure will mount on Senate Republicans from those in the political class in Washington, D.C., and in the media, to cave in order to avert a government shutdown. McConnell, again, will need to hold the line and show that he, like Boehner, is a competent leader and can keep his conference organized, focused, and united. Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn would need to help him. Republicans and Democrats would compete in the media and across America to make their case to the American people about why they each think they are right, and the other team is wrong. President Barack Obama’s administration would likely trot out scare tactics, and threaten about people’s Medicare and Social Security payments and taunt the troops and their families with similar rhetoric.
If Cruz-aligned conservatives win that debate then they will have popular support if the government shuts down. But, there is also the possibility that those Democrats, for political self-preservation purposes, cross the line and vote with Republicans for a bipartisan support of the House’s CR that defunds Obamacare. If that happens and the Senate passes the bill the House passed, it will go on to the president, where Obama will have a similar choice: Try to save Obamacare, or shut the government down. At that point, either option is possible.
Cruz acknowledges that this pathway to victory, though it exists, is a long and arduous one.
“From day one, I have said that this is going be a long process,” Cruz said in an interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox News on Friday. “I believe we can win this fight, and I don’t think anyone can look at what I’ve said and done, what Mike Lee has said and done, and have any doubt that we are going to fight with every ounce of breath in our bodies to defund Obamacare. But it’s going to be an iterative fight, and the point I made is, Harry Reid has 54 Democrats. He can kill the continuing resolution, shut it down at this stage, and if that happens… it goes back to the House and the only way we win, the only way we ultimately move the votes in the Senate, is for the House to continue to stand strong, to stand firm, to start sending over limited continuing resolutions, funding the military, funding different pieces of the government.”
Cruz pointed to Syria as an example of how the narrative can turn quickly and decisively in his favor. “Look at what happened with Syria,” Cruz said on Cavuto’s program. “When Syria started you had the President, leadership in both houses, all saying we’re going to attack Syria. The American people spoke up and said, we don’t want that. They said we don’t want that, that’s not in America’s interest. Leaders from both parties listened. We need Harry Reid, we need Senate Democrats to listen. That’s how we win this fight.”
Cruz added in that interview that if Republicans “begin by surrendering” they automatically “lose 100% of the battle.”
And so far, Cruz has shown resolve. In an interview on Sean Hannity’s television program earlier this week, Cruz said he and Sen. Lee “are gonna fight with 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.”