Marcus: Freshman senator crosses line with Hagel criticism

By Ruth Marcus, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

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photoRuth Marcus

Ted Cruz is not going to win Senator Congeniality. Not that he cares. The newly arrived Texas Republican has come out, well, guns blazing — and not just on guns.

The traditional stance for a freshman senator is to hold back a bit. Most new senators choose, as much as it clashes with their instincts, to tamp down.

Not Cruz.

Since being sworn in less than two months ago, the 42-year-old Tea Party darling has been one of three senators to vote against confirming fellow Sen. John Kerry as secretary of state; expressed "deep concerns" with a bipartisan immigration-reform blueprint crafted by, among others, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida; introduced his first bill, to "repeal every last word of Obamacare"; and tangled with Rahm Emanuel over the Chicago mayor's "bullying campaign" to have the city's pension funds divest their investments in gun manufacturers.

Most notably, Cruz — a Princeton debating champion, Harvard Law School graduate, law clerk to the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, and Texas solicitor general — trained his formidable rhetorical skills on two targets: gun control proposals and President Obama's nominee for defense secretary, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican. Cruz has taken the wear-their-scorn-as-a-badge-of-honor approach with liberal critics. "I view all of that as a sign that maybe we're doing something right," he told Glenn Beck.

Yet he has rankled even Republican colleagues, who think he lectures too much and listens too little, especially for a newbie.

Cruz is said to have a frosty relationship with his state's senior senator, John Cornyn, dating to Cruz's surprising decision, as Senate candidate, not to endorse his fellow Texan's bid for party whip.

No supporting evidence

The people of Texas knew what they were getting when they picked him over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the choice of the GOP establishment. No one can claim to be surprised by Cruz's positions. But with his latest attack on Hagel, Cruz has gone too far. Cruz has every right to question Hagel vigorously. He has a right to vote against Hagel; indeed Republicans are now filibustering the nomination. But Cruz doesn't have the right to smear Hagel, with no supporting evidence, with insinuations that the nominee received money from foreign governments or extremist groups.

"We do not know, for example, if he received compensation for giving paid speeches at extreme or radical groups," Cruz told the Senate Armed Services Committee before it voted Tuesday to approve Hagel's nomination. "It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea.''

The "only reasonable inference" to draw from Hagel's refusal to provide additional financial information, he said, is "there was something in there that they did not want to make public."

As the committee chairman, Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, pointed out, Cruz was attempting to unilaterally rewrite committee rules, which require two years of financial information, instead of the five Cruz demanded. And Cruz's sleazy innuendos about hidden foreign money are undercut by a separate requirement to disclose any transactions with a foreign government — going back 10 years.

In an emailed answer to questions, Cruz said "there is long precedent for viewing the committee's requirements as a floor, not a ceiling. If a nominee is controversial, as Sen. Hagel is, senators are fully entitled to request additional information." And, he said, "comity is important, but comity does not mean avoiding the truth concerning a nominee's policy record."

Where Cruz truly crossed the line was in insinuating — with no proof whatsoever — that Hagel has something to hide. To use Cruz's logic: What reasonable inference is there to draw about this brash new senator? That there's little he won't do in pursuit of his prey.