DES MOINES -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) continued his post-shutdown victory lap Friday night by warning that congressional Democrats will soon face political consequences for a series of votes taken during the recent partial government shutdown.
The comments came at an Iowa Republican Party fundraiser, an event long-scheduled on the senator’s calendar, but held just a few days after he held several rallies with supporters in his home state.
Cruz admitted that Republicans failed to strip apart the new federal health-care law, but insisted that conservatives “accomplished a great deal” because their firm stance during the spending impasse “elevated the national debate of what a disaster, what a train wreck, how much Obamacare is hurting millions of Americans in this country.”
“This bill is called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but it doesn’t provide protection, it’s not affordable and it’s denying care to millions,” Cruz said. “The one word in the title is true is ‘Patient,’ because if you log into the Web site you’ve got to be very patient.”
He warned that the decision by Senate Democrats to repeatedly vote together against GOP-backed budget proposals -- including a measure that Cruz claimed would repeal the congressional exemption from the new health-care law -- means that vulnerable House and Senate Democrats will suffer political consequences during next year’s midterm elections.
“I promise you, come October and November of 2014, we’re going to see TV commercials all over this country of Democrats who voted to give themselves a special exemption to Obamacare that their constituents don’t get and there are going to be some Democratic members of Congress and of the Senate who are suddenly going to be experiencing the joys of the private health-care system,” Cruz told the crowd.
The comments suggest that Cruz is preparing to take an even more active role in calling out his Democratic colleagues for actions taken during the shutdown -- even though Democrts have generally emerged victorious from the standoff, at least according to public opinion polls. Any new effort by Cruz to blunt Senate Democrats would be notable since he is a vice chairman of the National Senatorial Campaign Committee and has been criticized by some for doing little to help bolster the party’s chances of retaking the Senate next year.
The senator delivered a series of well-worn jokes and zingers heard before on the Senate floor or in similar speeches in other early-primary states, including South Carolina.
Promising a sellout crowd of 600 people that he wouldn’t speak for as long as he did during his recent 21-hour marathon filibuster-like speech on the Senate floor, Cruz began by joking that “Twenty-one hours is a long time. That’s almost as long as it takes to sign up on the Obamacare Web site.”
As he did during a similar state party function in South Carolina in May, Cruz avoided using a lectern and instead paced the stage with a wireless microphone pinned to his necktie. He began by chastising the Obama administration for being “bent on violating every constitutional protection." He retold the life story of his father, Rafael Cruz, a Cuban immigrant. And he repeatedly poked fun at “conventional wisdom” emanating from Washington.
Unlike previous addresses, however, Cruz was accompanied Friday night by his wife, Heidi Nelson Cruz, a rare political trip for her outside of Texas. The joint appearance came just days after a high-profile New York Times profile that discussed the couple's relationship and finances and her work for Goldman Sachs.
Looking beyond the health-care fight, Cruz at one point discussed the need for Republicans to focus much more intently on economic growth.
“If we don’t have growth, we can’t achieve anything,” he told the crowd. Arguing that even modest economic growth could generate trillions of dollars in tax revenues and deficit reduction, he said “That’s what the Republican Party needs to be about. We need to be about economic growth all the time, every day, that’s how we turn the country around.”
In a nod to the growing power and popularity of grassroots conservatives, he listed five instances in the past year where a groundswell of conservative support helped blunt Obama administration policies: During a filibuster by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) against U.S. drone policy; during the Senate debate over gun control; during the summer's immigration debate; when Republicans joined Democrats in raising concerns about President Obama's plans in Syria; and most recently during the government shutdown.
Cruz eagerly sought to harness that grassroots support by asking people in the crowd to use their cellphones to text the word “growth” to a number tied to his political organization -- a modern-age way to collect the names and numbers of potential political supporters. He made a similar request during his South Carolina speech in May.
That request, plus Cruz's appearance in the state that hosts the first presidential caucuses, will once again fuel speculation about his political future. He demurred when asked afterward by reporters whether the trip was in preparation for a presidential bid.
The visit was Cruz's third to Iowa this year, but his longest yet. He arrived Friday afternoon in time for his speech and on Saturday plans to join Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) on the congressman’s annual pheasant hunt and “Defenders of Freedom” fundraiser in Akron and Le Mars, two towns in the conservative northwest corner of the state. He will fly home Sunday to celebrate the birthday of his 3-year old daughter.
Cruz is not the only would-be GOP presidential candidate spending time in Iowa these days. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate, will be in the state next month to attend a fundraiser for Republican Gov. Terry Branstad. And Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made a well-received trip to the state last spring shortly after he mounted a filibuster in opposition to domestic spying programs.
Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost