There Was a Secret Santa Gift Exchange in the Senate and Ted Cruz Got Democrats

The fiery Republican got Tammy Baldwin a Texas cookbook.

What better way to embrace the spirit of the holiday season than through stealthy, bipartisan gift-giving?

Despite a spending bill with a looming deadline that has divided lawmakers in Washington, senators came together this week to give and get gifts in a Secret Santa exchange. Ted Cruz told TMZ he'd picked Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, and he gave her a Texas cookbook because "she likes cooking." As for his gift, the Texas Republican said outgoing Alaska Democrat Mark Begich gave him "a collection of food and things from Alaska, which were very nice."

Al Franken began the Secret Santa tradition in 2011 to bring about goodwill among often-bickering legislators. Inspired by a grade-school gift exchange, the Minnesota Democrat, who is Jewish, thought it would be "a good way to cut through the partisan divide here in the Senate."

The gifts aren't always so saccharine. Last year, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., gave Florida Republican Marco Rubio a lump of coal—albeit in the shape of an elephant and a donkey. The gift wasn't a slight, Manchin said, as West Virginia has the largest coal-mining industry in the country.

Because "politicians are inherently cheap," Cruz said, the limit for gifts was $15. There was no word, however, on whether talks around the spending bill—which includes a rider allowing campaign contribution limits from individual donors to triple—would inspire a higher spending limit for next year's Secret Santa exchange.