When Sen. Kelly Ayotte voted in support of the $1.1 trillion fiscal 2015 spending plan that passed the Senate last Saturday, she made no official mention of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and his push to overturn President Obama’s executive action on immigration, which conservatives charge is an “amnesty” plan.
But Ayotte had sharp words for the Cruz move in the national media. She said on Saturday that Cruz, by, in effect, prompting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to force senators to return to Washington on Saturday for the vote on the Cruz initiative and other items, was helping Obama get several controversial nominees through the confirmation process.
“I think this is ridiculous,” she was quoted as saying, referring to what she considered an avenue opened for the confirmations.
She also noted that the Saturday action was forcing her to miss a performance of “The Nutcracker” with her daughter.
Now Ayotte is being cited by a conservative political action committee as one of 20 Republican senators who, it charges, “voted to waive the constitution.” And she is being criticized in the conservative media, along with other GOP senators for, as Brietbart.com headlined, being “upset they have to work on the weekend.”
The Senate Conservatives Fund, headed by former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cucinelli, lists Ayotte and 19 other GOP senators who voted against Cruz’s “constitutional point of order” to send the bill back to the House to remove “amnesty” funding.
“Unfortunately, a group of Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to reject Cruz’s point of order and to ignore the serious constitutional problems with the president’s executive amnesty,” the group wrote on its web site.
Ayotte has opposed the executive action and still does, said her spokesman, Liz Johnson, noting that she is co-sponsoring Sen. Rand Paul’s legislation that would reverse it, “which should be brought up when the full Congress is under Republican leadership.”
She disagreed with Cruz’s action, Johnson said, because it could have prompted a government shutdown and Ayotte believes “Congress has the constitutional authority and responsibility to fund the government.”
The funding bill pays for the Department of Homeland Security only until Feb. 27, 2015 to provide Congress on opportunity to address Obama’s executive action.
Cruz has been in hot water with much of the Republican caucus since the weekend because, they complain, his action allowed Reid to push through a group of President Barack Obama nominations that Republicans opposed.
Cruz later apologized for forcing his colleagues to shift their weekend plans, but not for his action to try to de-fund the Obama immigration plan.
Cruz spokesman Catherine Frazier said, “The senator acknowledged that a number of his colleagues had to unexpectedly change their weekend plans, and he apologized to them for inconveniencing their personal schedules. That was not his intention. His intention was to secure a vote on President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty, and to use every procedural means to do so. He believed — and still believes — that forcing that constitutional vote was critically important, but he apologized for causing any personal hardship.”
After rejecting the Cruz anti-“amnesty” move, the Senate went on to vote in favor of the spending plan, which also funds the Affordable Care Act through the Sept. 30, 2015 end of the fiscal year — and does not address the President’s executive action.
Ayotte said in a statement she supported that measure because it averted a shutdown, because it “adheres to the spending limits established by Congress last December and provides certainty for the remainder of the fiscal year.”
She noted it also provided “an opportunity to address the President’s executive action on immigration when the full Congress is under Republican leadership” in 2015.
Cruz explained in an op-ed in Politico on Tuesday that it was Reid who brought the Senate back on Saturday, not him. He wrote that after the House on Thursday passed the so-called “CRominbus” bill, he and “a handful” of other senators went to the Senate leadership “affirmatively offering to cooperate to facilitate a quick vote on the CRomnibus — that very evening, we suggested — in exchange for a simple up or down vote on defunding executive amnesty.”
He wrote that the Republican leadership told Cruz and his supporters “we would likely get our vote. All day Friday, they told us the same thing. Then, late Friday night, Harry Reid apparently changed his mind, and we were told there would be no vote on amnesty.
“At that point, I supported an objection to delaying the CRomnibus vote any further. We used the leverage we have under the rules to try to force our vote.
“Harry Reid responded in anger. He forced the Senate to come back Saturday and spend the entire day casting procedural votes to move forward a series of Obama nominations,” Cruz wrote.
While many Republicans blamed Cruz for the approval of the Obama nominees, Cruz called the charge “nonsense” and said Reid had announced a week earlier he was going to “force” them through the Senate at some point soon, anyway.
He wrote that his move put all Democratic senators on record in support of Obama’s “illegal amnesty.”
And he wrote that while it would have been better to have a straight “up or down” vote on the Obama plan, Reid blocked such a vote, so the “CRomnibus” was the only vehicle available to get the vote. And, he wrote, the GOP leadership did not want to “fight this fight right now” on this particular bill and risk a government shutdown.
Cruz insists there are no hard feelings, but it could heighten tension between him and Ayotte as he presumably prepares to run for President and, presumably, campaign in New Hampshire. Fourteen months ago, in October 2013, Ayotte confronted Cruz at a closed door Senate caucus with a Senate Conservatives Fund printout that logged 25 Senate Republicans, including her and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, for a vote the group said supported the Affordable Care Act, “betraying their principles” and “giving Democrats the power,” the New York Times reported.
If Cruz does campaign for President on Ayotte’s home turf, he will do so at a time when Ayotte herself is gearing up for a reelection to the Senate in November 2016.
Ayotte is already in disfavor with some conservatives for supporting the so-called “Gang of Eight” immigration reform plan last year – a plan conservatives have also charged is an amnesty plan.
And, according to Breitbart, “major conservative organizations,” such as Tea Party Patriots, Heritage Action and NumbersUSA are “scoring any vote against Cruz’s” anti-“amnesty” initiative as a vote for amnesty.
In New Hampshire, Ayotte took a hit this week from the conservative Granite Grok blog, which charged that she “whined that she had to go back to work” on a Saturday. “And then (she) voted to fund Obama’s illegal alien” plan. Ayotte supporters say she works plenty of weekends.
Ayotte supporters say her record has been that of a hard liner against amnesty.
Ayotte opposed Obama’s executive action in 2012 that deferred action to deal with children sent to the country illegally. She co-sponsored the CREST Act, which would change a 2008 law to allow for the expedited return of unaccompanied minors to their home countries, increase the number of immigration judges to more quickly dispose of cases, establish requirements to ensure individuals appear in court, and set conditions on foreign aid to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The bill would have also required mandatory detention of unaccompanied minors, with limited exceptions, until their cases are fully adjudicated.
Ayotte in July voted against the Senate Democrats’ border spending bill, which, according to her office, did not include any policy reforms to address the influx of unaccompanied minors across the southern border. She backed amendments to the immigration bill that would have required the completion of more than 1,000 miles of fencing and would have required Congress to certify that border security triggers were met before any illegal immigrants could be given temporary legal status.
She also supported doubling the number of agents at the southern border, doubling fending and requiring advance border surveillance and an E-verify system.
Still, conservatives say her support for comprehensive immigration reform, and now in opposition to Cruz, make her position on the issue subject to debate.