WASHINGTON – Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas escalated his conflict with fellow Republicans on Tuesday when he stepped up his attacks on President Barack Obama’s health care law, complicating House GOP efforts to pass a funding bill that would avert a government shutdown next week.
Launching a marathon speech modeled on old-fashioned filibusters, Cruz also informed his Senate GOP colleagues that he would try to stretch the debate well into the weekend, according to senators who attended private huddles Tuesday. With Senate passage all but certain, including funds for the health law, senior Republicans had hoped to allow the measure to advance quickly to give House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, more time to respond with a different version of the legislation.
Instead, the freshman senator took the floor Tuesday afternoon promising to speak until I am no longer able to stand. His effort to block the legislation stood almost no chance of success, as the series of votes advancing it are locked in and most of his Republicans have abandoned him in the effort.
The Cruz talkathon was the latest example of the increasingly stark division among Republicans, both on Capitol Hill and nationally. The Texas newcomer, just 42 and nine months into office, is carrying the banner for conservatives urging a take-no-prisoners approach in confronting the president, even if it means shuttering the government.
A great many Texans, a great many Americans feel they do not have a voice, and so I hope to play some very small role in providing the voice, Cruz declared.
But the move angered senior Republicans, who complained that Cruz and the junior senators pushing this strategy did not understand the wounds the GOP suffered during the mid-1990s shutdown battles with President Bill Clinton. Back then the party controlled both the House and Senate, a luxury when compared to its majority in the House today.
I just don’t believe anybody benefits from shutting the government down, and certainly Republicans don’t. We learned that in 1995, said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the dean of the GOP caucus. We’re in the minority, we have to find a way of standing up for our principles without immolating ourselves in front of everybody, in a way when we don’t have the votes to do it.
Throughout the afternoon and evening a half-dozen colleagues joined Cruz on the floor, including Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., two 2016 presidential aspirants. Cruz could yield to colleagues for long-form questions but could not leave the floor or sit down.
After a little more than two hours, Cruz had discussed an unusual mix of subjects, ranging from opposition to the health care law; the unemployment rate among black teenagers; how his father, Rafael Cruz, used to make green eggs and ham for breakfast; and the restaurants Denny’s, Benihana and White Castle.
But even if Cruz were physically capable of speaking for more than 24 hours – the longest filibuster in U.S. history is 24 hours, 18 minutes by the late Sen. Strom Thurmond – there are parliamentary procedures in place that dictate that Cruz will have to yield the floor by thisafternoon at the latest.