Conservative groups came to Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz's defense after members of Congress from both parties said his immigration maneuver during the spending bill fight was a political failure that ultimately helped Democrats.

Senate leaders had agreed to vote on the $1.1 trillion spending bill Monday, but efforts from Cruz and Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee to protest President Obama's executive action on immigration upended the deal and kept the Senate in session through Saturday.

Cruz forced a vote on whether funding Obama's executive order granting work permits to millions of illegal immigrants is constitutional, a point of order intended to force senators to take a position on Obama's order.

"Senator Cruz is trying to fill a leadership gap," For America President David Bozell told The Daily Caller News Foundation. "There is no game plan as to how to deal with these issues coming from leadership, so time and again he's trying to find a creative way to demonstrate what the Republican Party should be standing for."

But only 22 Republicans voted with Cruz, in part because a successful vote would have defeated the spending bill and shut down the government. And critics, including Republican and Democrat members and members of the press, say the unexpected move handed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid the ability to push through more of President Obama's nominees than he otherwise could have.

An aide to Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn said that the senator understands and shares Cruz's frustration with the president, but disagrees with his tactic.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake took the same position. "I don't see how conservative ends are achieved," he told Politico. "I think it's counterproductive. Some of the nominations that we had issues with, like the surgeon general, were not going to move forward. Now they're going to move forward."

But outside groups came to Cruz's defense, arguing that the criticism is a cop-out designed by Republicans who don't have the stomach to stand up to the president.

"Harry Reid made clear he was going to move these nominees anyway," Heritage Action spokesperson Dan Holler said. "Anyone who suggests he was going to let all these nominees lapse is simply ignoring reality so they can score cheap political points against conservatives."

Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin called the criticism of Cruz "gratuitous."

"I doubt anyone can convince me that Harry 'Nuclear Option' Reid was not going to call the Senate back into session the week after Christmas, just to take up nominations," she told The DCNF. "I'm glad there are a couple of conservatives in the Senate actually willing to fight the Obama agenda, even if it means they have to endure another round of unfavorable stories in the press," she added.

If the vote had happened Monday as planned, Reid would have had less time to confirm the nominees and possibly more trouble convincing enough senators to stick around for the votes. But he may have been able to find other ways to push through the same number of nominees, such as delaying an important vote until the end of the week.

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn told CQ he believes Reid will hold a vote on expiring tax breaks last, and a GOP tax writer said that's a tactic to keep senators around for confirmation votes. "Harry wants to make sure people stay here for nominations," the tax writer told CQ.

Presumably, Reid could have used that tactic regardless of Cruz's interference. "I'm sure [Reid] would have found a way to do exactly what he did any way he could," Bozell said.

"I don't remember any of these guys [criticizing Cruz] saying, 'we'll fight Obamacare, we'll fight executive amnesty, but we're just not going to do it because we're really afraid that Harry Reid will force through a surgeon general nomination,'" he added.

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