After Texas Sen. Ted Cruz mounted a challenge to the spending bill over the issue of immigration, conservative groups see a new opening to push their agenda, directly challenging the GOP establishment in the run-up to the 2016 elections.
According to Politico
, despite setbacks for conservative candidates in the 2014 cycle, activist groups are already looking ahead to the next round of primaries when 24 GOP senators will fight to defend their seats.
"People's votes may by themselves inspire folks to say: 'I'm running against this guy or this girl,'" Ken Cuccinelli, president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, told Politico. "I have a funny feeling that some people who weren't thinking of running two weeks ago are thinking of running now."
For his part, Cruz appears to be aware of the impact he could have in the next Congress, noting in an interview Monday that "just about every senator up for re-election in 2016" voted with him on the spending bill.
He said he intends to fight the party leadership again in February if it doesn't take a stronger stance on funding Homeland Security Department when the issue is up for debate again, Politico reported.
But Cruz's challenge on Friday drew strong criticism from fellow GOP senators, who have been keen since the election to maintain an impression of unity.
Many were also unhappy that the tactic, which extended the Senate session into Saturday, gave Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a chance to initiate a new round of confirmations
of presidential nominees.
"It's no secret that none of us were happy about the tactics that he chose without at least having the courtesy to let us know that was what he planned to do," said Indiana GOP Sen. Dan Coats, who voted against Cruz, according to Politico.
"We had met as a caucus, we had an agreement, we had an exit strategy to limit the number of nominations," Coats said. "And every member has the right to do what he did, but it would have been nice to know about it."
Conservatives nonetheless intend to keep up the heat on incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the next session.
"It is a missed opportunity," Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action, said referring to Saturday's vote, according to Politico.
"Conservatives will be paying very close attention to see if a Republican-controlled Congress will actually do what is necessary to stop Obama's amnesty."
Democrats are struggling with their own divisions following the elections. Twenty-two Democrats voted against the spending bill after Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren challenged the measure for being too favorable toward Wall Street.
"I think there's a realignment, and after every election cycle — there's a reordering of priorities and jockeying and that's a part of it," Hawaii Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz, who supported the spending package, told Politico.
"But certainly after this particular election cycle, there's more of it. And going into 2016 … many Democrats in the Senate have never been members of the minority."
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