On Tuesday, Senate Democrats dropped International Monetary Fund reforms that were holding up passage of an aid package for Ukraine. Conservatives declared victory, having always viewed the inclusion of the reforms as (at best) a non sequitur, and (at worst) potentially harmful (as the New York Times reported, the reforms would have ironically given more authority “to emerging economic heavyweights like China, Brazil — and Russia.”)
In the end, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s prediction that the GOP-led House wouldn’t pass the bill without stripping the provisions, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s signaling to Majority Leader Harry Reid that it was time to move on, drove the final nails in the IMF coffin.
But it was Sen. Ted Cruz who pressed the issue — and one wonders whether Republicans would have simply gone along with the Democrats had it not been for the controversial young Turk.
For those who weren’t paying close attention to the fight, here’s a short timeline:
- On March 13, Cruz penned a letter to Harry Reid, announcing that he opposed “injecting IMF governance issues into this debate,” and that he intended to object to the IMF funding. I’m told he asked all Republican Senators to sign, but only Senators Enzi, Lee, Paul, and Roberts agreed to sign the letter.
- Later that same day, Sen. John McCain lashed out at Senators who were holding up the bill over IMF funding, calling it a “fool’s errand.” Meanwhile, Sen. Cruz went to the Senate floor and accused Democrats of making the decision “to hold Ukraine aid hostage to politics.”
- On March 19, Sen. Marco Rubio penned a Washington Post op-ed, which called the IMF reforms “controversial and unrelated.” However, despite saying he was “concerned by the proposed IMF reforms included in the legislation,” Rubio ultimately concluded that sending “a statement of resolve to Moscow far outweighs any misgivings” about the issue.
- Regardless, Cruz continued to criticize the inclusion of IMF reforms.
- On March 25, several outlets reported that Democrats would drop IMF provisions from the Ukraine aid bill.
So what’s the lesson?
Regular readers will know that this column was consistently and vehemently opposed to the flawed “defund ObamaCare” strategy. But that was based on strategy, not a preference for surrender. In this instance, however, liberals really did blink. And my guess is that — absent a Ted Cruz — Democrats would have likely gotten away with inserting this largely irrelevant (and potentially harmful) provision.
Of course, not everyone agrees. Some may argue that the situation in Ukraine is so perilous that the benefits of stripping the IMF provision still don’t outweigh the costs of delay. And others bristle at the notion that Cruz should get credit, in any event.
“Cruz is good at projecting the impression of influence, but influence inside the building usually works on its own timeline,” says one Senate aide familiar with the fight. “It’s an important distinction. Reid himself said on the floor that McConnell’s words changed the game.”
That may be true. But the game might not have even been played without Cruz.
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Note: Matt Lewis’ wife formerly worked as a consultant for Ted Cruz’s campaign.