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Campaigning on the Floor Not Going Away Anytime Soon

Paul reacts to a question about Cruz as he arrives for a rare Sunday session in the Senate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Paul reacts to a question about Cruz as he arrives for a rare Sunday session in the Senate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

If the Senate’s old guard has its way, the campaigning from the Senate floor would end. But don’t bet on it.

“We must ensure that the pernicious trend of turning the Senate floor into a forum for advancing personal ambitions, for promoting political campaigns, or for enhancing fundraising activities comes to a stop,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch said Sunday. “There are enough other platforms for those seeking to accomplish those objectives; the Senate floor need not be one.”

As president pro tem, the Utah Republican has a traditional role in preserving the comity of the chamber and its dignified operation. But with a handful of senators running for president, there’s bound to be some grandstanding. The goal for leadership will be to keep it under control.

So far, Republicans Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas have gotten the most headlines, with Cruz going so far as to say Mitch McConnell had lied, and charging that the majority leader is working in cahoots with Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to prevent the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

But the stands follow predictable patterns, with the campaigning senator’s official action quickly followed by a blitz of media appearances and fundraising emails. That was the case on July 24, when Cruz took the floor and made his charge about McConnell’s comments in a closed-door meeting about the Export-Import Bank reauthorization. Not long after, Cruz was discussing the matter with conservative radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin. By the next day, there was a fundraising pitch with the word “betrayed” arriving in inboxes.

And there is no sign the Texan will dial back his rhetoric. The more his procedural moves flop on the Senate floor, the more he can cast himself as the outsider who will fight for conservatives.

“Make no mistake, when the majority leader whipped Republicans to vote alongside Democrats, it was no surprise that Democrats did not want to vote on that because Democrats in this chamber do not purport to support the right to life. But to see the so-called Republican leadership whip against allowing a vote to defund Planned Parenthood — it has the virtue of clarity. It makes clear that the McConnell-Reid leadership team is united in favor of big government spending and debt and power,” Cruz said Sunday in a Daily Signal opinion piece. “The McConnell-Reid leadership team has no interest in cutting off one penny of funds to Planned Parenthood, which is why leader Mitch McConnell blocked a vote on defunding Planned Parenthood.”

The effort to defund Planned Parenthood led by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, was stymied in the same fashion as Cruz’s bid to secure an amendment on the Iran deal. Neither Cruz nor Lee could secure even a “sufficient second” to get roll call votes Sunday.

The inability to get over that usually perfunctory hurdle is a reminder that the Senate’s rules and precedents (as well as, in the particular instance of Sunday, the Constitution) provide considerable leverage for an overwhelming majority of senators to minimize chaos — provided they are willing to put in the time and effort to achieve a goal.

For a group of 67 senators Sunday, that meant turning the procedural gears to revive the Export-Import Bank as part of the highway bill.

In doing so, they advanced a “McConnell rule” of sorts. Unlike the often-discussed “Hastert rule,” which is the concept that legislation should not advance in the House without a majority of the majority in support, McConnell said something very different Sunday that lines up with the differences between the two chambers.

“When there is overwhelming bipartisan support for an idea, even if I oppose it, it doesn’t require some ‘special deal’ to see a vote occur on that measure,” McConnell said. “This is the United States Senate, after all, where we debate and vote on all kinds of different issues.”

But there isn’t much incentive for would-be presidential nominees to toe the line. As annoying as acting out may be to leadership and fellow senators, it garners headlines, and it pays.

Paul had one of his biggest fundraising days in May during his 10-and-a-half-hour speech against extending Patriot Act provisions, according to his Federal Election Commission filings.

That day, he pulled in nearly $38,000 from itemized contributors. The day prior, he pulled in just more than $3,600 in itemized contributions.

The actual numbers would be significantly higher, but the timing of contributions from donors whose aggregate amount is under $200 is not reported. (Paul actually raised about $1.1 million more in non-itemized receipts than itemized receipts for the quarter.)

The fundraising surge continued following the speech, fueled by fundraising emails asking for help in stopping the “Washington machine.” (Cruz’s emails call for help against the “Washington cartel.”)

The speech was on a Wednesday, a few days prior to Memorial Day recess. From Wednesday to the end of the work period that Friday, Paul’s campaign raised $88,259.

His fundraising dropped off during the three-day weekend, but then the numbers ticked back up — averaging $21,000 per day — in anticipation of the first of the month when certain provisions of the National Security Agency spying program, including the bulk metadata collection program, would expire.

On that day, Paul pulled in $42,275 in itemized contributions, one of his best days of the quarter.

With Cruz and Paul nationally polling at 7 percent and 6 percent, respectively, in the latest CNN/ORC poll released Sunday, it’s clear that they need all the help they can get.


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