National Beat Reporter
At the beginning of this year, the 113th Congress was sworn in with 12 new senators and 67 new representatives in the House, each looking to make their mark on Washington. Two senators in particular have quickly furnished themselves with reputations for being tough interrogators, as they promised they would during their respective campaigns. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Elizabeth Warren (D-TX) have each thrown off long-held Senate traditions that demand junior senators refrain from questioning during their committee meetings.
Earlier this month, Cruz was one of three senators to vote against John Kerry’s nomination to Secretary of State, and, not long after, publicly suggested that former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel may have accepted payments from the North Korean government during his work as an advisor there. Cruz also dug up extensive financial information, public speeches, and other documents with Hagel’s information for an interrogation that took on an unusual toughness during Hagel’s hearing before the Senate for confirmation to Secretary of Defense.
Cruz’s grilling of Hagel caused many Democrats and even a few fellow Republicans in Washington to publicly question the freshman senator’s tactics.
“All I can say is that the appropriate way to treat Senator Hagel is to be as tough as you want to be, but don’t be disrespectful or malign his character,” long-time Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told the New York Times.
Another establishment Republican, Lindsey Graham, said that Cruz’s line of questioning for Hagel was “out of bounds, quite frankly.”
This, as well as other debates, has shed light on an emerging rivalry within the Republican Party between centrist legislators and a new class of combative conservatives sponsored by the nebulous Tea Party movement. Cruz was himself elected as the newest Republican from Texas after defeating the favored lieutenant governor of Texas David Dewhurst in the Republican primary, in large part by stressing his adherence to conservative ideals.
Sen. Warren, a former professor at Harvard Law School was likewise elected on a wave of idealistic fervor when she defeated the sitting senator, Republican Scott Brown. One of Warren’s primary lines of attack was that Brown, coming from a state that hosted many of the financial institutions that committed fraud leading up to the 2007 financial crisis, had failed to seek justice against guilty bank executives. Campaigning on a promise to work toward jail time for bankers found guilty of committing fraud, the expectations among liberals for Warren were high going into the new session of Congress.
Last week, during a Senate Banking Committee hearing with federal regulators, Warren grilled the representatives from the Securities Exchange Commission for choosing to settle with bank executives as opposed.
“I’m really concerned that ‘too big to fail’ has become too big for trial,” said Warren. Video of the exchange between Warren and SEC regulators has since become a hit on Youtube, with just over a million views between the four videos of the hearing by Monday.
“Anyone else want to tell me about the last time you took a Wall Street bank to trial?” Warren asked the regulators as she wrapped up her interrogation.
Warren’s performance during the hearing, while rallying approval among liberal supporters, bucked Senate tradition in ways similar to those of Cruz. Still, both senators have many more opportunities to make their name in their respective committee hearings.
Photo courtesy of Noshin Baharabi