“The next administration must support the people who protect us from illegal immigration and punish those who break our laws,” Cruz said Thursday in a statement on the bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).
It’s not unusual for lawmakers running for president to tailor their congressional actions for the campaign trail. But Cruz’s flurry of activity in Washington did more than that — it showed how to do it with focused efficiency.
Cruz faces an uphill battle in the South Carolina GOP primary on Feb. 20, where Trump leads the Republican field by 17 points, according to a RealClearPolitics polling average. Cruz is currently in second place with 20 percent, followed by Marco Rubio with 14 percent and Jeb Bush with 9 percent.
Cruz’s actions also give him new fodder for attacks on Rubio, a member of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees who frequently talks up his foreign policy credentials with voters.
Rubio is also known for maintaining the Senate’s worst attendance record. Though Cruz’s is the third-worst, according to C-SPAN data, a blitz of work could help him stave off suggestions that the two are equally truant.
“Cruz puts a priority on his day job, is always in contact with his Senate staff, and does his best to make important votes, like the North Korea sanctions vote yesterday,” campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier wrote in an email.
North Korea loomed large in Cruz’s work this week.
On Wednesday, he sent a letter to Obama decrying his policy on North Korea and outlining alternative ways to punish the reclusive nation for its nuclear tests, including increasing funding for the Navy and disinviting China from this year’s Rim of the Pacific naval exercise.
At the same time, Cruz announced he would vote for a bill to slap sanctions on North Korea, which passed unanimously in the Senate later that day. Rubio’s campaign scrambled his schedule so that he could stop briefly in Washington for the same vote. (The bill passed the House on Friday and now goes to Obama’s desk.)
Immigration came next.
On Thursday, Cruz introduced legislation that would create a dedicated revenue stream for the federal office that identifies, arrests and removes illegal immigrants from the United States. The funding would come from fines and penalties on illegal immigrants that Cruz claimed are not being enforced by the Obama administration.
The move could help him differentiate himself from Rubio, who is best known for his work on the Senate “Gang of Eight” immigration bill that provided a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Under conservative fire, Rubio has since renounced that approach, saying comprehensive reform can only be passed after the border is secure. Meanwhile, Cruz has been criticized for proposing his own amendment to the bill that included legalization, but he said it was a poison pill intended to kill that bill.
The two senators did agree on one thing this week — limiting judicial changes to the draft, which is becoming another hot-button issue for conservatives now that all military positions are open to women. Both said they would co-sponsor a forthcoming bill from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to clarify that any future changes to the draft, including requiring women to enlist, must be made by Congress.
China came back into play on Friday.
Capping the week, the Senate passed a Cruz bill renaming the plaza in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington after jailed pro-democracy dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Cruz took the opportunity to imply similarities between himself and President Reagan.
“When Ronald Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gate and said, ‘Tear down this wall,’ he didn’t listen to the voices of timidity saying, ‘Well, that’s going to embarrass the Soviets,’” Cruz said.
“And the U.S. Senate should not be aiding and abetting the oppression of the Chinese government. I am grateful to my colleagues for passing this legislation today, for standing with Dr. and Mrs. Liu and for standing and speaking for truth and for freedom.”
Katie Zezima and Sean Sullivan contributed.