AUSTIN, Texas — Over the weekend, Texas’ two senators traded barbs over the last year’s government shutdown in a pair of speeches delivered at The Texas Tribune Festival, a conference at the University of Texas at Austin organized by the online media outlet. Senator John Cornyn delivered a keynote address on Saturday morning and Senator Ted Cruz followed later that afternoon. Both made remarks placing blame for partisan gridlock on Democratic leadership of the Senate, but it is their comments on the shutdown that are generating the buzz.
In response to a question about the upcoming 2016 presidential race, Cornyn observed that because of President Barack Obama’s many missteps, it would be likely that other first term Senators would “have a tougher time” convincing the American people that they were ready to lead the country. Cornyn expanded on this, saying that it was imperative for the Republican Party overall to prove that they are capable of governing while they had this opportunity: the failures of the Obama administration had made voters across the political spectrum more receptive to considering voting Republican.
However, Cornyn warned, the government shutdown that occurred in late September to early October last year was the type of tactic that should be avoided.
“It didn’t turn out so well. What people want is for the government to function and not to throw temper tantrums and say we’re not going to play ball,” said Cornyn. There were audible gasps in the audience at this line, and the “temper tantrum” quote in particular generated a lot of tweets. Cornyn did not specifically identify Cruz by name, but when an audience member asked him if he meant to include his fellow Texas Senator in his criticism, Cornyn responded, “among others.”
Cornyn also criticized the pressure exerted by “outside groups” on Republican Senators during the time period leading up to the shutdown, saying that their threats to negatively score a vote against the shutdown exerted undue pressure, especially on newer Senators.
During Cruz’s appearance later that day, he pushed back against the idea that he was against compromise, saying that he was not unwilling to make deals, but would not yield on core principles. “I am absolutely happy to compromise if they are shrinking size and power of Washington,” said Cruz, having previously called changing the “fundamentally corrupt” culture of Washington one of his main goals.
Cornyn and Cruz saved their harshest words for Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, with both Senators pointing out that over 350 bills had been passed by the House, but Reid had refused to allow votes on these bills or even allow them to be debated. Cornyn noted that the American people had a “tremendous appetite” for Congress to work together to solve the big issues, and praised how a Republican Congress and President Bill Clinton had worked together on a balanced budget, and how Democrat Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan had worked to strengthen Social Security. Likewise, Cruz commented that he believed the American people would use the next election to end the partisan gridlock by putting new people in charge.
Both Senators were optimistic about their party’s chances in the 2014 midterms and 2016 presidential elections, with Cornyn predicting a new slim but controlling Republican majority in the Senate, and Cruz directly comparing 2016 to Reagan’s landslide defeat of President Jimmy Carter in 1980.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter at @rumpfshaker.