Sen. Ted Cruz took aim at his congressional colleagues Wednesday, accusing them of being part of a “Washington Cartel” that fattens the pockets of lobbyists and special interests groups at the expense of hard-working Americans.
The Texas Republican is angling to seize the populist mantle in the 2016 GOP presidential race and tap into seething anti-Washington discontent that’s driven voters in the last few elections.
“Washington is looking for solutions for Washington — not solutions that empower citizens across the nation to succeed,” Mr. Cruz said in remarks at The Heritage Foundation think tank. “Instead Washington solutions invariably help the rich and well-connected.”
His attack on D.C. came just a day after the senator himself changed his stance on trade, which he voted for just a month ago but now says is too much of a giveaway to fat cats.
Accusing his colleagues of duplicity, Mr. Cruz chastised them for claiming they are fighting to limit the size and scope of federal bureaucracy, but still voting to bulk it up when the key fights landed on the Senate floor.
He pointed to last year’s debate over the debt ceiling as an example of how Senate Republicans sold out conservative principles.
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He said he was described as “selfish” after he tried to block the debt hike, but he defended himself as a lonely voice for truth in D.C.
“If you stand and fight for conservative principles, you will be vilified by Democrats, you will be vilified by Republicans, you’ll be vilified by the mainstream media,” Mr. Cruz said.
The freshman senator entered the GOP presidential race in March, and received a bounce in the polls, though his numbers have since trailed off.
Still, he remains a favorite of conservative leaders and grass-roots activists in Iowa and South Carolina, which hold some of the early nominating contests, and are also home to evangelical voters who respond well to Mr. Cruz’s appeals.
The fight within the GOP in Washington has been raging since the tail end of the Bush administration. Republicans have tilted more conservative, but Mr. Cruz said the party’s leaders still push members to vote for moderate priorities instead.
The latest fight came over the trade package.
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Some House conservatives tried to scuttle trade by voting alongside Democrats to block the rules for floor debate. In response, Speaker John A. Boehner ousted some of them from their leadership team positions, and Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz demoted Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican, from a subcommittee chairmanship.
Mr. Cruz said the punishments were wrong.
“Why is it that Republican leadership always cuts deals with Democrats and with Washington and throws overboard the conservatives that come October and November in an election year they are desperately asking them to turn out and elect them to power?” Mr. Cruz said.
Mr. Boehner defended the punishments, saying that the GOP needed to stick together on procedural votes.
“I think the chairmen made the right decision,” Mr. Boehner said. “I made it clear to the members I supported that decision.”
As Mr. Boehner’s grip on power strengthens, Mr. Cruz’s sway appears to be waning, and it’s unclear he could rally supporters the way he did in 2013, when he demanded Congress block all government funding until Obamacare was repealed. That resulted in a 17-day government shutdown.
This week, Mr. Cruz’s vote wasn’t even needed to pass the trade deals, and his opposition hasn’t swayed fellow Republicans to follow his lead.
The senator said his newfound opposition stems from his desire to see the expiration of the federal Export-Import Bank, which provides loan guarantees to American manufacturers. Many conservatives say it’s a corporate welfare relic. Mr. Cruz said he feared GOP leaders were cutting a deal to renew the Export-Import Bank in order to win support for trade.
Mr. Cruz has also taken a stand against sugar subsidies, saying they, too, are corporate welfare.
And he called for an end to all energy tax credits, saying he was the only GOP presidential candidate at a recent agricultural summit in Iowa to openly oppose the Renewable Fuel Standard, which benefits the Hawkeye State, a major producer of corn-based ethanol.
“Every single candidate, but one, pledged his support for continuing the Iowa ethanol mandate,” he said. “It is very easy for conservative politicians to talk about ending cronyism, but when you are standing in front of people who are the beneficiaries that is when you separate talk from action.”