Posted by Curt on 13 January, 2017 at 6:08 pm. 2 comments already!


Eliana Johnson:

Ted Cruz met with Donald Trump exactly one week after Election Day. As it turned out, Cruz’s tete-a-tete with the president-elect he had spurned from the stage of the Republican National Convention just months before wasn’t the most consequential meeting he would have that day.

After his talk with Trump, the Texas senator and his chief of staff, David Polyansky, then sat down with his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, who sounded him out about his interest in filling the Supreme Court vacancy created by the late Antonin Scalia. Cruz — widely considered one of the best Supreme Court litigators of his generation — swatted down the idea, according to four people to whom he has relayed the conversation.

Handing Cruz a lifetime appointment to the high court would have been a political masterstroke. It would have simultaneously eliminated Trump’s chief adversary within the Republican Party and elated conservatives. That may not happen, but the conversations Cruz had that day with Trump and several of his aides touched off a congenial and cooperative relationship between the onetime rivals.

Though Cruz may have been one of Trump’s most vocal critics during the campaign, as Inauguration Day nears, he has become perhaps the president-elect’s most important — and most unexpected — ally in the Senate. Not only are the two teaming up on several pieces of legislation, but Cruz also offered glowing introductory remarks for one of Trump’s most controversial cabinet nominees, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, during his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calling him “a serious man who understands the value of perseverance.”

Cruz’s high-profile snub of Trump at the Republican convention overshadowed a web of personal connections between the two men. Both Bannon and Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie, who has for years overseen the conservative grassroots organization Citizens United, are longtime Cruz friends. Kellyanne Conway, who served as Trump’s campaign manager and will head to the West Wing with him, ran a super PAC that supported Cruz’s presidential campaign before she joined the Trump team. And Trump transition aide Jason Miller previously served as the Cruz campaign’s communications director.

Those ties have helped to foster a far more productive relationship between Cruz and Trump than many had expected. During his visit to Trump Tower in November, Cruz discussed two pieces of legislation with Trump’s team, and they agreed to push forward on them together. The first is a constitutional amendment Cruz introduced earlier this month along with Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis, that would limit senators to two terms and congressmen to three. The second, the Super PAC Elimination Act, would allow donors, whose contributions are capped at $2,700 per campaign, to give unlimited sums to federal political candidates.

They will also work together on legislation Cruz introduced on Thursday to defund the United Nations in retaliation for its vote late last month to condemn Israeli settlement building.

“These are measures we have discussed with the transition that we see eye to eye on and can work together to push forward,” said Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier.

Even before he delivered his speech at the convention in July, Cruz’s Senate colleagues were talking about how the Texas senator had emerged from his failed presidential campaign a changed man — more collaborative and accommodating of his colleagues, less combative and strident. Some had begun jokingly to refer to him as “Cruz 2.0.”

Trump’s victory, fortified by Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, has accelerated and deepened the change, taking Cruz from the country’s leading oppositionist and putting him in the unlikely role of facilitating Trump’s Senate agenda. Cruz’s legislative priorities are “very much the president-elect’s legislative priorities,” said a senior Trump transition aide.

It’s no coincidence that Cruz’s new role will also help his 2018 reelection campaign. For months, the senator’s head-turning convention speech and grudging endorsement of Trump has fueled talk that he might face an aggressive primary challenge — and even that Trump himself might encourage one.

The president-elect eliminated one potential adversary when he tapped former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy, but Cruz’s newfound desire to cooperate with the incoming administration will also go far to win over the sorts of loyal Republicans who cast primary ballots and are eager to see the Trump administration get off to a smooth start. Texas Congressman Michael McCaul hasn’t ruled out the possibility of challenging Cruz in the primary.

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