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The House GOP is punishing rebellious members. Ted Cruz is steamed about it.

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Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz ripped GOP leaders in Congress Wednesday for punishing conservatives who voted to kill President Barack Obama's trade agenda, escalating a fight the Texas senator wants to have with his party's establishment.

Following a series of votes on trade two Fridays ago, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise kicked three Republicans out of their spots on the party's vote-counting team, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) was stripped of a subcommittee chairmanship, and Red State's Erick Erickson reported Wednesday morning that Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) is in danger of losing his post as president of the freshman class.

The Meadows decision is a "shameful example" of a leader seeking retribution "because of his principled objections" to giving the president fast-track trade authority, Cruz said in a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Cruz, who is currently mired in the second tier of Republican presidential hopefuls, would need a big boost from conservative activists to make a real play for the nomination in 2016. That was his target audience in weaving the retribution anecdotes into a larger narrative pitting conservatives against what he calls the "Washington cartel" of politicians in both parties, lobbyists, and the mainstream media.

He has little to lose in going after Republican leaders, particularly in the House, because they already detest his brand of take-no-prisoners politics. They were incensed in late 2013 when his refusal to give up on repealing the Affordable Care Act paved the way for a government shutdown. And GOP leaders hate that Cruz often complicates their agenda by riling up House conservatives.

The relations have grown so frosty that John Boehner has taken to communicating with Cruz by gesture: The New York Times reported last month that the House speaker's response to a question about Cruz's campaign was to raise his middle finger.

Republican retribution

Meadows, Buck, and the three Republicans kicked off the whip team all voted against the GOP leadership on the rule for debating a package of trade bills — a serious no-no in a chamber that operates on majority-party rule. Voting against a rule is considered more disloyal than voting against a bill because it threatens the ability of party leaders to control which legislation comes to the floor.

The House and Senate eventually passed fast-track trade authority for Obama.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and a Boehner ally, said he alone made the call to knock Meadows from the top spot on of one his panel's subcommittees.

Meadows said in a tweet that he won't vote with GOP leaders if he thinks it will harm his home district.

Boehner defended the Meadows move Wednesday after a GOP caucus meeting, according to the Hill.

"I think the chairman made the right decision. I made it clear to the members I supported that decision."