Ted Cruz begins a new job this week. He’ll be serving in the United States Senate, representing the great state of Texas. We’re sure our state’s senior senator will appreciate the help because the post has been largely vacant since the 2013 departure of Kay Bailey Hutchison, who helped save the then-Waco Veterans Affairs Medical Center from closure.
Sure, Mr. Cruz has technically held the post for more than three years. However, some observers argue that he has used the U.S. Senate as a personal staging area to launch his 2016 presidential campaign, offering up such populist spectacles as a costly government shutdown (and to no real benefit) and his self-amused reading of “Green Eggs and Ham” in a quasi-filibuster.
Of course, Cruz’s presidential campaign crashed last week amid a war of insults, sneers and whoppers with Donald Trump.
To be a successful lawmaker, Cruz might want to offer John Cornyn, a former judge, our senior senator and the Senate’s second-in-command, an olive branch. Cruz didn’t exactly call Cornyn a liar (though he did so label Cornyn’s boss, Mitch McConnell) but he sure suggested as much in his damning remarks about the “Washington cartel.”
Ironically, while bad-mouthing Republican leaders, Cruz held his tongue for months regarding Trump, allowing other Republican presidential aspirants to do the dirty work while Trump disparaged women, minorities, Muslims, even POWs.
While Senate Majority Whip Cornyn has shown some class and refused to return the insults Cruz lobbed at him and others, Cornyn conveyed plenty by what he didn’t say. And he did concede of Cruz last month in a KERA interview that, “Clearly, he didn’t come here to remain in the Senate. He came here to run for president. I think that perhaps explains the difference in tactics.”
It may explain much more. Cruz reportedly has missed 17.6 percent of Senate roll-call votes. Missing almost one in five votes might not seem a great sin to tea-party disciples, but if I had an employee with that work record, I’d fire him, especially at an annual salary of $174,000 plus benefits. And, yes, his roll-call absenteeism really is worse than the median of 1.6 percent among the lifetime records of senators serving. Even before his presidential run, he ranked 97th in showing up for votes. That’s out of 100 senators.
For a politician who claims to want to change things in Washington, opportunities exist. Last month Cornyn was in the Senate touting the bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, based on reforms in Texas that have helped reverse recidivism rates, saved taxpayer dollars and encouraged partnerships between prisons and faith-based organizations.
Cornyn also has been pushing a bill to allow all veterans in the Veterans Affairs health-care system to visit walk-in clinics without VA pre-authorization or co-payment. It smartly expands the use of telemedicine. And he’s been pressing to speed up studies on ways to safeguard the Texas coast from hurricanes, including the Houston area. He’s focused, too, on preventing a Zika outbreak.
In February Cornyn was at Waco’s Antioch Community Church, rallying others in his long fight against sex trafficking. And he continually makes himself available to the Texas press, taking tough questions at least once a month in phone press conferences. In fact, we at the Trib have more access to Sen. Cornyn than we do our congressman.
Reports indicate Cruz campaign staffers are already fanning out to state conventions to bolster delegates loyal to them, not only to protect the national party platform in July but likely to lay groundwork for yet another presidential run. Let’s hope not. Our state is too big and faces way too many challenges to be paying someone whose chief, self-serving ambition is winning the White House at all costs. It’s time for Cruz to get to work in the U.S. Senate or get out.