WASHINGTON -- Senior lawmakers and staff from the House and Senate armed services committees are hammering away on the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual bill that keeps the military up and running. But there are fewer chairs at the negotiating table this time. And committee member and presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) isn’t in one of them.
GOP leadership was worried that the notorious grandstander would tank the crucial spending bill, two sources familiar with the process told HuffPost. In an effort to keep him out of the room, they cut the membership of the conference committee -- the panel responsible for hammering out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill -- to a smaller number than it’s been in years.
“The number of Senate conferees was cut from previous years. Typically, all members of the [Senate Armed Services Committee] are named as the Senate conferees, but that is not the case this year,” said one congressional source familiar with the process.
Both sources said they were told the conference panel was slashed in an effort to keep Cruz out of the room.
Instead of naming the entire Senate panel, the choice of this year’s conferees lacks a clear formula. It consists of the committee leadership, plus several chairs and ranking members of the subcommittees. Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) are also on the conference panel.
Cruz sponsored several amendments in the Senate's version of the NDAA, including requirements for reporting on the military capabilities of U.S. adversaries. But that didn't get him a seat at the table.
The firebrand senator is infamous for showy political maneuvers that often have far less to do with actual legislative objectives and far more to do with the interests of Ted Cruz. He’s chosen several hills through his senatorial career to die on -- Obamacare is his weapon of choice, and he led a government shutdown over it in 2013. More recently, he embarked on a 21-hour filibuster over the Affordable Care Act that served little purpose besides further bogging down the already bogged-down Senate and providing the masses with his Darth Vader impression.
But the motive for boxing Cruz out of the end stages of the NDAA process isn’t entirely clear. After all, bombastic freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) landed an appointment. Cruz voted against the bill when it passed the Senate last month, but so did several other committee members who were eventually appointed to the conference panel.
“You’d have to ask Senator McConnell. That was his decision,” Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, adding that the conference process was ongoing.
There’s certainly no love lost between Cruz and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. On Friday, Cruz took to the Senate floor to, among other things, call McConnell a liar.
"I cannot believe he would tell a flat-out lie, and I voted based on those assurances that he made to each and every one of us," Cruz said. He was referring to a supposed promise that McConnell made to Cruz and his Republican colleagues on a vote regarding a controversial export system.
McConnell has thrown his own jabs at the presidential hopeful, joking earlier this year about Cruz’s threats to throw himself in front of a train to stop Obamacare.
“That idea has some merit to it,” McConnell said at a dinner in January.
The offices of both Cruz and McConnell did not respond to requests for comment.