Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz is pictured. | AP Photo

Politico

By Manu Raju and Burgess Everett
12/16/14 5:32 AM EST

Republican senators pounded Ted Cruz over the weekend, lashing him for his procedural tactics and ultimately voting in large numbers against his immigration gambit.

Now, Cruz’s allies off Capitol Hill are looking for revenge.

Conservative outside groups view Saturday’s vote as the first salvo in the GOP v. GOP purity wars that they hope to reignite in the beginning of the new Congress and in the run-up to the 2016 Senate races, when 24 Republican senators will be on the primary ballots.

After being pummeled by the party establishment in the 2014 midterms, activist groups are looking at the fight over Cruz’s contention that the spending bill is unconstitutional as their first opportunity to regroup and reestablish their relevance as Senate Republicans prepare to take the majority next year.

“People’s votes may by themselves inspire folks to say: ‘I’m running against this guy or this girl,’” said Ken Cuccinelli, the president of the Senate Conservatives Fund. “I have a funny feeling that some people who weren’t thinking of running two weeks ago are thinking of running now.”

Seven of the 20 Republicans who voted against Cruz are up for reelection in two years, including Sens. Dan Coats of Indiana, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Lisa Murkowksi of Alaska. And 16 Republicans who are running again, such as Richard Burr of North Carolina and Rob Portman of Ohio, joined the Texas freshman, a sign that many are well aware of ammunition that could be used against them in a GOP primary.

In an interview Monday, Cruz was unapologetic, pointing out that “just about every senator up for reelection in 2016” voted with him, saying he would battle his party’s leadership in February if it does not take a firmer line when Homeland Security Department funding lapses.

Republican senators were particularly incensed at Cruz over his procedural antics. After the party had a solid several weeks watching Democratic divisions on full display, Cruz — along with Utah Sen. Mike Lee — mounted a surprise legislative strategy that only seemed to backfire, while serving to deeply divide Republicans and turn the story line in the final days of the lame-duck session of Congress against them.

By demanding a vote on a constitutional point-of-order on a $1.1 trillion spending bill on the grounds that it improperly funded President Barack Obama’s immigration moves, Republicans were in a bind: Vote to kill a bill that must pass to keep the government open, or oppose the Cruz measure and be accused of supporting Obama’s “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants. Two dozen Republicans ultimately voted for the spending bill, and several took the unusual position of siding with Cruz to deem it unconstitutional but also approving the larger measure.

GOP Sen. Pat Toomey, a conservative who faces a potentially tough reelection in the swing state of Pennsylvania in 2016, was one of the 20 Republicans who voted against Cruz’s tactics, saying he would have preferred to have a stand-alone measure targeting the president’s decision to defer deportations to millions of immigrants in the country illegally.

“The point-of-order said that the segment of that [spending] bill was unconstitutional,” Toomey, who also voted for the spending bill, said Monday. “I don’t think the legislation was unconstitutional.”

Other Republicans who voted against the plan were more sharply critical. By effectively forcing the Senate to return to session Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took full advantage, beginning the parliamentary process on nearly two dozen nominees and easing their way for confirmation votes. On Monday, one of those controversial nominees was confirmed: Vivek Murthy as surgeon general, despite strong opposition from the GOP and National Rifle Association. GOP and Democratic leadership aides later said there was little chance all those nominations would be confirmed this year had it not been for the Cruz-Lee tactics.

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