Sen. Ted Cruz speaking to members of the media on Capitol Hill in July 2017. Were their questions about “substance”? (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
Media critic

It might as well be a contractual obligation binding on everyone who appears onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). During your appearance, you shall offer at least one pointed critique of the mainstream media, preferably while pointing to them as they work in the back of the ballroom.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) on Thursday afternoon complied with this ambient requirement in an interview with Ben Domenech of the Federalist. In his travels on Capitol Hill, said Cruz, he faces questions from reporters all the time, and:

That comment tilted the head of the Erik Wemple Blog as we observed the proceedings from the Potomac Ballroom of the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland. If there’s one province of Beltway reporting that lends itself to meaningful discussions of policy, after all, it’s legislation in Congress. Does senator so-and-so support the background-check bill? If not, why not? Such is the daily gruel of Capitol Hill reporting, and it invariably stumbles into wonkish considerations. Even the reporting on vote counts draws on fundamentals of how a piece of legislation makes its way toward law — a walking civics lesson.

Yet what really stood out about Cruz’s complaint was its temporal proximity to a highly visible clash in Capitol Hill corridors with NBC News reporter Kasie Hunt in January. It was not about his diet; it was not about how he spends his weekends; it was not about a matter of Washington optics. It was about his legislative history on government shutdowns. Here’s a transcript, as presented in a PolitiFact piece:

Cruz: “We should not be shutting the government down. I have consistently opposed shutdowns. In 2013, I said we shouldn’t shut the government down. Indeed, I went to the Senate floor repeatedly asking unanimous consent to reopen the government.”

Hunt: “Sir, you stood in the way of that.”

Cruz: “That’s factually incorrect. It’s a wonderful media narrative, but only one thing causes a shutdown: when you have senators vote to deny cloture on a funding bill. And when that bill comes up, you have a vote. A yes means fund the government, a no means don’t fund the government. In 2013, virtually every single Republican voted to fund the government, including me multiple times. In fact, every single Democrat I believe in 2013 voted to shut the government down. The same thing is true here. Virtually every single Republican voted this week to fund the government. Virtually every single Democrat voted to shut it down.”

Hunt: “Sir, that’s simply not the case. This was about Obamacare funding …”

Cruz: “Those facts are incorrect. … I get that you want to debate me, but you don’t actually have any facts.”

Enough with the substance, Cruz! Give me some fluff!

On the merits of this clash, PolitiFact ruled for Hunt, delivering to Cruz a “pants on fire” rating. For the purposes of the case before us, however, we care not about who’s right or wrong — just whether there’s substance in the exchange. The centrality of cloture settles that matter.

Tweets about Cruz’s allegation kicked up some feedback. Here’s Jennifer Haberkorn, a health-care reporter with Politico:

Corbin Hiar of E&E News:

Alice Ollstein with Talking Points Memo:

Bloomberg reporter Steven Dennis:

And tune in to the 13:24 mark in this video of a GOP news conference last October on judicial nominations. You’ll see committed nodding from Cruz as he apparently recognizes the legitimacy of a question posed to one of his colleagues:

Who knows — perhaps Cruz doesn’t like it when Capitol Hill reporters inquire about President Trump’s tweets-cum-official presidential statements. We invite more submissions of both substantive and flimsy questions posed to this lawmaker. This is a developing story.

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