Ted Cruz Signals He Will Steer Clear of Republican Primary Fights
A new olive branch from Sen. Ted Cruz?
After Cruz endured weeks of criticism from his fellow Republicans, several senators said he extended his hand on Wednesday and told them he would not actively campaign against them or help raise money for their primary opponents.
Cruz, the firebrand freshman from Texas, made the comments during a private lunch with Republican senators at the Capitol. He indicated he would not play a direct role in raising money or helping guide strategy for the Senate Conservatives Fund, several Republican senators told ABC News.
"I was very pleased. I had urged him to do that in the past," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in an interview. "This is a very important step. When people raise money to defeat their colleagues, that's beyond the pale."
While Cruz's marquee role in the 16-day government shutdown earned him praise from conservative activists and leaders across the country, he received a far different reaction behind closed doors from his fellow Republican senators. He has been ostracized and scolded by several of them for his central role in the Senate Conservatives Fund, a grassroots group that is not affiliated with the Republican Party or its campaign committees. The fund is working to unseat some Republican incumbents, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who had been among the Republicans who sharply confronted Cruz earlier this month, said tonight that she was pleased by what she viewed as a change of heart.
"I appreciated what he had to say," Ayotte told ABC News, "and that he is not going to participate in the Senate Conservatives Fund to raise money against Republicans."
When asked about reports of a mea culpa, Cruz did not dispute the account of his fellow senators. But he declined to answer questions after leaving the Senate floor tonight.
Catherine Frazier, a spokesman for the senator, told ABC News that Cruz "will likely not get involved in incumbent primaries." She said he has been consistent in his comments.
"The fact that he's not endorsing or raising money for SCF is consistent with those comments," Frazier said. "He will continue working with them on common conservative causes as they have been a strong ally to that end on many issues important to Americans."
The Senate Conservatives Fund, which is targeting McConnell and several other Republican incumbents, said that it would still promote GOP primary candidates "who have the courage to stand up to the Washington establishment." But the group said it would not ask Cruz or two other Republican senators - Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky - to support its candidates.
"We have enjoyed working with Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul on several policy issues this year, but we won't be asking them to support our candidates," said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund. "These are our endorsements, not theirs, and it's time for Americans to take the lead and use the political process to change Washington."
Several Republican senators told ABC News they interpreted Cruz's remarks on Wednesday as a sign that he was distancing himself from the controversial Senate Conservatives Fund. They said they took him at his word, but would be watching.
"I'm very pleased to hear Senator Cruz say he will no longer raise money for groups that are advertising against his colleagues," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Me., told ABC News.