As Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) engages in a long speech in opposition to the Affordable Care Act, many of the nation’s top newspapers aren’t highlighting the Tea Party lawmaker’s efforts on their front pages, and several media outlets have actively criticized him for working to force a government shutdown. Cruz’s fellow conservatives say that amounts to the height of media bias — pointing out that outlets were much more receptive to Cruz’s colleague, State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-TX), when she filibustered a package of abortion restrictions in the Texas legislature over the summer.
“Gee I wonder why NYT and WaPo and everyone else gave ecstatic coverage to Wendy Davis but not to Ted Cruz. I just can’t make sense of it!” right-wing commentator John Podhoretz tweeted. After comparing the headlines covering Davis and Cruz, the Right Scoop blog concludes “the bias couldn’t be more obvious.” The Washington Examiner laments the fact that Davis was called a media hero and Cruz is being labeled a “grandstander,” suggesting that’s probably because the media supports legalized abortion and doesn’t want to defund Obamacare. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) took the comparison even further, tweeting, “If ObamaCare were an infant Democrats would support a filibuster to kill it.”
It’s true that the two senators from Texas are being received very differently in the media. But a perceived media bias isn’t the only reason why that could be the case. In fact, the disparities in the coverage could reflect the gulf between the actual impact of the lawmakers’ filibuster efforts.
Davis successfully delayed an anti-abortion bill that didn’t come up for a vote during Texas’ regular session, but that was brought up for consideration during a special legislation session that was specifically convened to give lawmakers more time to enact abortion restrictions. Davis’ 11-hour filibuster — during which she wasn’t allowed to sit down, take a sip of water, cede the floor, or stray off topic — ran out the clock on that special session. The Senate was not able to vote on the abortion bill in time. Davis’ efforts were backed by hundreds of grassroots protesters who rallied against the abortion restrictions for weeks.
Cruz, on the other hand, decided to launch a “speaking filibuster” against a continuing resolution that must be passed in order to keep the federal government operating. He’s standing in opposition to the funding bill because, after House Republicans added a provision to defund Obamacare, the Democratic-controlled Senate will surely strip that out of the final legislation. Cruz wants to stall the bill — and ultimately force the government to shut down next week — unless Democrats agree to defund Obamacare. But it’s not actually a real filibuster. The Senate will vote on the legislation on Wednesday afternoon regardless of how long Cruz speaks. And the effort doesn’t actually have that much support. Republican leadership has split with Cruz over this strategy, and recent polling has found that just seven percent of GOP voters actually favor defunding Obamacare in this way.
And ultimately, Cruz’s filibuster doesn’t have the same policy implications as Davis’ did. Davis was attempting to block a piece of legislation from imposing new restrictions on Texas’ abortion clinics and enacting a new ban on abortion procedures after 20 weeks. Her filibuster very well could have successfully prevented those new provisions from taking effect. (Ultimately, it didn’t, because Gov. Rick Perry (R) called another special session and ensured that Democrats couldn’t delay the bill in the same ways again.)
Cruz, on the other hand, is trying to attack a law that’s already in place. Even if he succeeded at forcing through a funding bill with a provision to defund Obamacare left intact, it wouldn’t actually do much to halt the central provisions at the heart of health reform. And if he succeeds at shutting down the government, that will disrupt many federal programs, but it won’t slow the enrollment process for the health law’s new insurance plans. Billions of dollars have already been appropriated to fund Obamacare, and those can’t be removed unless the law is totally repealed.
Both lawmakers are from Texas. Both have spoken for a long time on the floors of two different legislative bodies. Both want to block a vote from happening. Both will ultimately be unsuccessful. Both will probably take advantage of this to raise money for their upcoming political campaigns. There are definite parallels, but the similarities end there. Davis and Cruz are operating in entirely different contexts. Even though Davis didn’t end up single-handedly blocking the package of abortion restrictions from taking effect, she had a much greater chance to effect real policy change than Cruz does — and she didn’t threaten to take the government funding hostage while doing so. The mainstream media could be making editorial decisions based on those distinctions.
Conservatives have a long history of alleging a pro-choice media bias. They took a similar tact last spring, claiming that mainstream outlets were covering up the murder trial of the illegal abortion provider Kermit Gosnell (who has since been sentenced to prison for life). Just like this latest controversy, that sounded like a logical takeaway on the surface. But the evidence wasn’t there to back up those claims, either.