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WASHINGTON — As the Senate edged toward a divisive filibuster vote on Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be defense secretary, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, sat silent and satisfied in the corner of the chamber — his voice lost to laryngitis — as he absorbed what he had wrought in his mere seven weeks of Senate service.
J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
Mr. Hagel, a former senator from Mr. Cruz’s own party, was about to be the victim of the first filibuster of a nominee to lead the Pentagon. The blockade was due in no small part to the very junior senator’s relentless pursuit of speeches, financial records or any other documents with Mr. Hagel’s name on them going back at least five years. Some Republicans praised the work of the brash newcomer, but others joined Democrats in saying that Mr. Cruz had gone too far.
Without naming names, Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, offered a biting label for the Texan’s accusatory crusade: McCarthyism.
“It was really reminiscent of a different time and place, when you said, ‘I have here in my pocket a speech you made on such and such a date,’ and, of course, nothing was in the pocket,” she said, a reference to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s pursuit of Communists in the 1950s. “It was reminiscent of some bad times.”
In just two months, Mr. Cruz, 42, has made his presence felt in an institution where new arrivals are usually not heard from for months, if not years. Besides suggesting that Mr. Hagel might have received compensation from foreign enemies, he has tangled with the mayor of Chicago, challenged the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat on national television, voted against virtually everything before him — including the confirmation of John Kerry as secretary of state — and raised the hackles of colleagues from both parties.
He could not be more pleased. Washington’s new bad boy feels good.
“I made promises to the people of Texas that I would come to Washington to shake up the status quo,” he said in e-mailed answers to questions, in lieu of speaking. “That is what I intend to do, and it is what I have done in every way possible in the responsibilities that have been granted to me.”
In a body known for comity, Mr. Cruz is taking confrontational Tea Party sensibilities to new heights — or lows, depending on one’s perspective. Wowed conservatives hail him as a hero, but even some Republican colleagues are growing publicly frustrated with a man who has taken the zeal of the prosecutor and applied it to the decorous quarters of the Senate.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said that some of the demands Mr. Cruz made of Mr. Hagel were “out of bounds, quite frankly.” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, issued a public rebuke after Mr. Cruz suggested, with no evidence, that Mr. Hagel had accepted honorariums from North Korea.
“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,” Mr. McCain said in an interview.
Democrats were more blunt.
“He basically came out and made the accusation about money from North Korea or money from our enemies, and he just laid out there all of this accusatory verbiage without a shred of evidence,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri. “In this country we had a terrible experience with innuendo and inference when Joe McCarthy hung out in the United States Senate, and I just think we have to be more careful.”
Mr. Cruz, a Canadian-born lawyer who won an upset primary victory last year, is adamant in his own defense. He said his focus at hearings had been on policy, not personality. With Mr. Hagel, whose nomination is set for a Senate vote the week of Feb. 25, he said his request for financial disclosures were backed by 24 other senators. As for his statement that Mr. Hagel may have received honorariums from nefarious sources, “the suggestions I have made in my arguments have been merely to raise examples for why I believe Senator Hagel’s financial disclosure is so important,” he said.
“Comity does not mean avoiding the truth,” he added. “And it would be wrong to avoid speaking the truth about someone’s record and past policy positions, even if doing so inevitably subjects me to personal criticism from Democrats and the media.”
To the growing core of ardent conservatives in the Senate, Mr. Cruz has offered a jolt of positive energy.