Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. (Eli Imadali/American-Statesman)

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. (Eli Imadali/American-Statesman)

Calls grow for Sen. Cruz to be punished for his role in challenging electors

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the aftermath of last week’s mob violence at the U.S. Capitol, the calls for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to be punished for his leading role in challenging the presidential electors are now building to a crescendo.

To be sure, the central figure of blame is President Donald Trump, who the Democratically controlled House is expected to impeach Wednesday for inciting insurrection — with support from at least one Republican leader, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.

But the blowback to Cruz, who gave Trump supporters false hope of a way to undo the election of Democrat Joe Biden, continues.

Many lawmakers — including GOP senators — opinion makers and Texas editorial boards are calling for Cruz to resign, be expelled, be censured, be disbarred or, at a minimum, be taken off the Senate Judiciary Committee while the riot that resulted in six deaths is investigated. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., wants Cruz on a “no fly” list.

His national reputation — and presidential ambition — has taken a hit, with 71% of Americans in an ABC News/Ipsos poll saying they do not trust him to protect democracy.

And Tuesday, Cruz communications director Lauren Bianchi resigned after holding the job for 18 months because, as first reported by Punchbowl News, she was “uncomfortable” with his challenge of the election results, which were certified by each state.

Cruz is standing his ground, saying that his plan to investigate alleged voting irregularities — even after those claims were rejected by state officials who conducted recounts and courts from coast to coast — was “the right approach.”

“The purpose of the objection was to protect the integrity of our election,” he told KTRK-TV, the ABC affiliate in Houston, after the riot. “Eleven senators came together and proposed that the Congress create an election commission that would be credible, impartial, and could conduct an emergency 10-day audit into the election returns into the very serious allegations of voter fraud that could consider the evidence and make a definitive adjudication.”

After the riot, lawmakers returned to their chambers to vote and eight different senators challenged the electors of at least one state.

“I still think that would have been the right approach,” Cruz said.

But Cruz also appeared to incite Trump supporters Jan. 2 in a Georgia campaign appearance on behalf of two GOP senators in runoff elections to decide control of the U.S. Senate. (They lost three days later.)

“I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with you, as we defend the United States of America, as we defend our Constitution, as we defend our freedom, and we will not go quietly into the night,” he said, paraphrasing one of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ most famous lines. “We will defend liberty into the future, and we are going to win.”

At least seven Democratic senators and high-profile House members including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., have said Cruz should resign or be expelled — a move that would require the support of 67 senators.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who is on the Judiciary Committee with Cruz and Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., another proponent of challenging electors, said “the Senate Ethics Committee must consider the expulsion, or censure or punishment of Sens. Cruz and Hawley and perhaps others.” He wants them off the panel while the riot is investigated since he considers them to have a conflict of interest by staying on the committee.

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, one of the state’s challenged by Cruz and Hawley, accused them Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press of “being complicit in the big lie, this lie that Donald Trump won the election in a landslide and it was all stolen.”

Two major Texas papers, the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News, called on Cruz to leave office — he was narrowly reelected in 2018 for a second six-year term.

“Resign, Senator Cruz, your lies cost lives,” trumpeted the Chronicle and the Express-News asked, “Have you no decency, Sen. Cruz?” which echoes a question posed to 1950s anti-communist rabble-rouser Sen. Joseph McCarthy who was censured.

Meanwhile, alumni of Ivy League law schools attended by Cruz (Harvard) and Hawley (Yale) have launched petitions to disbar them that have drawn thousands of signatures.

Two House members from Texas are also being questioned for their actions surrounding the riot.

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Waco, tweeted earlier this month that he had had “a great meeting” with members of “Stop the Steal” and that he would vote to challenge electors. In a vote that occurred after the riot, Sessions voted against accepting electors from Arizona and Pennsylvania.

Sessions deleted the tweet the day after the riot and his office did not respond to a request to explain why.

U.S. Rep. Mike Cloud, R-Victoria, was one of the lawmakers seen on a video not wearing a mask and refusing one when offered while members were huddled in an undisclosed location during the incursion.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., was in the room with them, and along with two other House Democrats, has recently contracted COVID-19.

“Only hours after President Trump incited a deadly assault on our Capitol, our country, and our democracy, many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic — creating a superspreader event on top of a domestic terrorist attack,” Jayapal said a statement.

Cloud’s did not respond to a request for comment.