WASHINGTON — “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is more than a film.

It has become an expression used to describe the type of politician the Founding Fathers envisioned.

A “Mr. Smith” is a professional who becomes a politician, rather than a professional politician.

A “Mr. Smith” is a lawmaker who still cherishes democratic ideals more than incumbency.

A “Mr. Smith” believes in American greatness more than his or her own.

And, a “Mr. Smith” has become so rare, unfortunately, he or she would deserve an award.

The nation is fortunate enough to have at least three.

WND is pleased to announce the winners of the inaugural “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Award” are Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Upon receiving word of the award, Cruz’s Communications Director Sean Rushton called it “great news” and told WND:

“Sen. Cruz came to the Senate to represent Texans by fighting to restore economic growth and jobs, trying to protect people losing their health plans under Obamacare, and defending their Second Amendment rights. He’s proud to have worked with Sens. Lee and Paul to make Washington, D.C., listen to the American people.”

Like Mr. Smith, Cruz and Paul both used lengthy filibusters to try to sway public opinion to fight an entrenched majority in Congress.

With Lee, they became the “Three Musketeers” of marathon oratory in the Senate, helping each other endure the most physically demanding form of speech in politics.

During Paul’s filibuster on March 6, 2013, against the nomination of John Brennan for CIA director, Lee and Cruz took turns at the podium to ask lengthy questions (statements, actually) effectively giving the Kentuckian a few breaks.

In turn, Lee and Paul asked long questions during the Cruz filibuster against the funding of Obamacare on Sept. 24-25, 2013.

Mr. Smith’s fictional filibuster lasted more than 23 hours, which would have made it the second-longest ever. At 21 hours and 19 minutes, the Cruz speech was the fourth-longest in Senate history. Paul’s 12 hours and 52 minutes put him 10th place. The late Sen. Strom Thurmond, D-S.C., held the record, going for 24 hours and 18 minutes in 1957 as the Democrat opposed a civil rights bill.

There is some disagreement about whether Cruz’s speech technically qualified as a filibuster, because it had to end before a scheduled vote.

Whatever it was, it was grueling. Filibuster rules prohibit bathroom breaks or sitting down. Cruz said he got a pair of helpful tips from Paul: Wear black sneakers (instead of his customary cowboy boots) and drink as little water as possible.

The Cruz filibuster was one of the most memorable political events of 2013, and it instantly made the freshman senator a household name.

His speech became a spectacle, partially because of the volatile subject matter of Obamacare, but mostly because of the intense, bitter criticism it received. And the flak came from all sides. The criticism from the left and Democrats was to be expected, as was the carping from the mainstream media. But even establishment Republicans scorned the senator, including a number of influential columnists and the Wall Street Journal, which accused the senator of seeking “fund-raising lists or getting face time on cable TV.”

But what the senator undeniably did was stake his reputation and career on the prospect that Obamacare is unworkable and the American public should be spared from its ravages. By the end of 2013, that looked like a rather savvy gamble.

A Rasmussen poll found Cruz had become the third most influential person in the world, behind Pope Francis and President Obama. The Washington Times said he’d not only had “the best year of any Republican” but “virtually anyone in the world.”

The speech itself was a tour de force on the greatness of America and the pitfalls of Obamacare.

It began with the words, “I rise today in opposition to Obamacare,” and then, “I intend to speak in support of defunding Obamacare until I am no longer able to stand.”

His warning that politicians were not listening to “the people losing their health insurance” would be proven strongly prophetic in the months to come after Obamacare was implemented, as six million people had lost their health insurance, with that number expected to skyrocket once the employer mandate goes into effect later this year.

Another one his observations during the speech was even more eerily prophetic, as Cruz warned, “We all remember when President Obama told the American people: ‘If you like your health insurance, you can keep it.’ … We have learned that promise did not, in fact, meet reality because the reality is millions of Americans are at risk of losing their health insurance.”

That was back in September, well before Obama admitted in November that he had repeatedly lied to the American public that they could keep their health plans under Obamacare, and before six-million Americans (and counting) had lost their health-insurance plans because of Obamacare.

Other memorable quotes from the Cruz filibuster:

  • “Obamacare is the biggest job killer in this country. The American people want to stop this madness, and so do I. In Washington, we pass million-dollar bills, billion-dollar bills no one has ever read, often without even voting on them. We call it unanimous consent. It is only unanimous because they don’t let anyone know.”
  • “In Washington, we spend $2 trillion more than last year and then tell voters we saved money. The system is deliberately designed to hide what we are actually doing.”
  • “I would wager all the money in my bank account there is no member in this body who has read 20,000 pages of Obamacare regulation.”
  • “There are a lot of folks in the Washington establishment who do not want to hear from us. The chattering class is quick to discipline anyone who refuses to blindly fall in line. That is the way Washington plays. There are rules. We are not supposed to speak for the people. There is a way things are done in Washington and make no mistake, D.C. depends upon Americans not paying attention.”
  • “Look, most Americans could not give a flying flip about a bunch of politicians in Washington. Who cares? You know, almost all of us are in cheap suits and have bad haircuts. Who cares?”
  • “If this body were listening to the people, we would have 100 senators concerned about all of the Americans being hurt by Obamacare and here at any hour of the night ready to act to stop it. Because no one wants to live in their parents’ basement forever. Because Reagan once said, you can’t be for big government, big bureaucracy and still be for the little guy.”
  • “I’ll tell you, the difference with ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ is when Americans tried it, they discovered they did not like green eggs and ham and they did not like Obamacare, either. They did not like Obamacare in a box with a fox, in a house or with a mouse.”
  • “It’s a late night. I’m going to venture to say most members of the United States Senate are home in bed, asleep, while America lives the nightmare.”

Just like Mr. Smith, Cruz needed thick skin to withstand the aforementioned criticism, as the amount and intensity of the vitriol became an integral part of the story.

The New York Times suggested Cruz didn’t understand the will of the people or the rules of the Senate and had become “the least popular man in Washington.”

But it was the attacks from his own side of the political fence that were particularly notable.

Columnist George F. Will spoke for a number of people who considered the attempt to defund Obamacare a tactical mistake, believing it would collapse by itself.

He urged Republicans to fund the government and to increase the debt ceiling because that would force “Democrats to dramatize their perverse priorities.”

Columnist Charles Krauthammer had peculiarly venomous words for Cruz, calling him the leader of the GOP “suicide caucus.”

The columnist called the filibuster a “publicity stunt” intended to siphon tea-party support from Paul. The Fox commentator also called Cruz “quite nuts” for trying to defund Obamacare.

Conservative icon Rush Limbaugh rallied to the Texan’s defense and said of the Cruz critics, “A lot of hate there, folks. A lot of hate, a lot of extremism.”

WND Editor Joseph Farah put the attacks in perspective, discerning a “new litmus test for conservatism in Washington: If they attack Ted Cruz instead of Obama, you can be sure they are not conservatives.”

Farah continued, “Cruz is everything the Washington ‘conservatives’ are not. He’s passionate. He’s a fighter. He is not afraid to match his ideas with those of the other side. He is not afraid of the media. He is not afraid of his shadow. And he recognizes that it is far too late for Republicans and conservatives to keep doing business the same old way if there is any hope for saving America from the wrecking ball of Barack Obama and company.”

Proof of Farah’s litmus test seemed to be provided by the office of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., when it leaked word to GQ the senator was “offended” by Cruz’s style.

McCain, who many see as the paragon of the establishment in the GOP, sounded perhaps more like a Democrat when he told CNN, “In the United States Senate, we will not repeal, or defund, Obamacare. We will not. And to think we can is not rational.”

But Cruz’s meteoric rise in prestige since the filibuster, as demonstrated by the Rasmussen poll, shows the senator’s thinking may indeed be exceptionally rational.

A transcript of his entire filibuster can be found here.

“I will speak until I can no longer speak,” is how Sen. Rand Paul began his filibuster at 11:47 a.m. on March 6, 2013.

Paul’s speech created a stir because the filibuster had somewhat gone out of fashion in the Senate. His nearly 13-hour talk was the first significant filibuster in more than 20 years. WND provided a live-stream broadcast of the event.

Paul’s filibuster was nominally against the nomination of John Brennan for CIA director, but it really was a protest against what the senator saw as the unconstitutional, remote-control executions of Americans.

As WND reported, Paul said his goal was to “raise awareness” of the growing lethality of government power over American citizens. The focal point was Obama’s use of drones to kill people overseas, and confirmation from Attorney General Eric Holder that such an event, while unlikely, could occur on U.S. soil.

Paul called Holder’s admission “frightening.”

The senator also lamented the president’s evolution on civil liberties, saying Obama “seems to have lost” the “high standard” for civil liberties he held when a senator.

Memorable quotes from Paul’s filibuster:

  • “I will not sit quietly and let (the president) shed the Constitution.” 
  • “If there were an ounce of courage in this body, I would be joined by other senators … saying they will not tolerate this.”
  • “Where’s the cacophony that stood up and said, ‘How can you tap my phone without going to a judge first’? I say: ‘How can you kill someone without going to a judge first’?”
  • “Only after yanking his (Brennan’s) chain … does he say he’s going to obey the law. We should be alarmed by that.”
  • “The people on the (administration’s so-called kill) list might be me.”
  • “I’m not accusing anybody of being [Hitler],” but the law “should protect you from a president that might kill you with a drone.”
  • “Are you going to just drop a hellfire missile on Jane Fonda? Are you going to drop a missile on Kent State? … That’s gobbledygook.”

After the filibuster, Paul further explained his cause in an article he penned for the Washington Post, writing:

“I wanted to sound an alarm bell from coast to coast. I wanted everybody to know that our Constitution is precious and that no American should be killed by a drone without first being charged with a crime. As Americans, we have fought long and hard for the Bill of Rights. The idea that no person shall be held without due process, and that no person shall be held for a capital offense without being indicted, is a founding American principle and a basic right.”

Paul described why the help of his two colleagues was so essential, relating how just before 3 p.m., Lee and Cruz came to the Senate floor to help him out. Under Senate rules, Paul could not yield the floor or his filibuster would end, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could have shut him down. The only way for Paul to continue and to allow Lee and Cruz to speak was to yield the floor for questions.

He also related a true “Mr. Smith moment”, saying that about 6:30 p.m., something “extraordinary” happened. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who had been recovering from a stroke, came to the floor to give Paul something. He was not allowed to drink anything but water or eat anything but the candy left in their Senate desks. But Kirk brought Paul an apple and a thermos full of tea — the same sustenance Jimmy Stewart brought to the Senate floor in the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Paul called that was “a moment I will never forget.”

Paul went on to describe an unexpected and most welcome outpouring of support as dozens of conservative colleagues then came to his side to offer support.

By the end of the night, the Kentuckian was tired and his voice was cracking. He ended by saying, “The cause here is one that I think is important enough to have gone through this procedure.” Finally, at 12:40 a.m., he yielded the floor.

Paul believes the president still needs to definitively say that the United States will not kill American noncombatants, because “The Constitution’s Fifth Amendment applies to all Americans; there are no exceptions.”

The senator hoped his efforts would help spur a national debate about the limits of executive power and the scope of every American’s natural right to be free. “Due process’ is not just a phrase that can be ignored at the whim of the president; it is a right that belongs to every citizen in this great nation,” insisted Paul.

The senator seems to have been overwhelmingly successful.

A Gallup poll showed a huge majority of Americans – 79 percent – supported Paul’s position that drone strikes should not be used on American soil against Americans suspected of terrorism. Just 13 percent say it would be OK.

Sen. Mike Lee did not launch a filibuster of his own, but he was a driving force behind the scenes.

Lee did not just help his colleagues Cruz and Paul with the grueling task of filibustering by asking long questions and boosting morale.

The senator from Utah has become perhaps the key strategist in the conservatives’ attempt to reinvigorate the GOP with fresh ideas and bold initiatives.

Lee recently called for a great debate among conservatives, akin to the one in the 1970s that launched the Reagan Revolution, to come up with new solutions to modern problems and to successfully challenge the establishment in Washington.

He has also outlined his own conservative approach to combating poverty.

But his major initiative in 2013 was the attempt to defund Obamacare before it could wreak havoc upon the nation. Lee was the architect of the defunding strategy, and he explained it to WND.

“The best way to do it is to start with a funding mechanism, a continuing resolution, passing in the House of Representatives that funds every other function of government at current levels but just excludes Obamacare funding,” Lee told WND.

“That would come over to the Senate, and once it became apparent that was the way to keep the government funded, (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid would have to make a difficult decision. I think it would be hard for him to explain to the American people why he would be willing to shut down the government simply to defend, doggedly, this very unpopular and unfair law that’s going to make health care more expensive in America,” Lee added.

Republicans had hoped it would turn the tables and put the burden on Democrats to explain why they would risk shutting down the government to preserve Obamacare.

However, the mainstream doggedly insisted on parroting Reid and Obama’s claim that it was the Republicans who had shut down the government.

So, the Republicans softened their negotiating stance and asked to delay implementation of Obamcare by a year (something Democrats may now regret not having accepted) but Democrats refused.

By the end, Republicans had given up seeking to defund of delay Obamacare and were merely asking that Congress and the administration be subject to Obamacare, like the rest of the country.

But the Democrats were so successful in getting the media to pin the blame the shutdown on the Republicans, as columnist Ann Coulter memorably and accurately observed, “the only reason the government is shut down right now is that Democrats refuse to fund the government if they are required to live under Obamacare.”

Memorable quotes from Lee during the defunding filibuster:

  • “This nation was founded by We the People. That is the only place sovereignty has ever resided in the United States of America.”
  • “Thomas Jefferson referred to the Constitution as chains that bind the mischief of government.”
  • “For some time the United States Senate has behaved as if the rules that matter are the rules that are here in Washington, D.C. That is why the most important objective of this week is to make D.C. listen.”
  • “Calls from our constituents, town halls, are not a pesky annoyance: It is the core of our job.”
  • “The president of the United States, Barack Obama, has acted as a monarch by unilaterally exempting large businesses and federal employees from Obamacare. The rest of America is stuck with it. The American people do not want it.”

After the defunding filibuster and the government shutdown, Lee told WND he had no regrets.

“It was not Republicans who caused this shutdown,” Lee said. “It was the president and the Senate Democrats who refused the government or any part of it to be funded unless everything, including Obamacare’s implementation, was also simultaneously funded. That’s not fair. That’s not a good faith compromise effort.”

He added, “I understand the shutdown was unpopular. The shutdown was also unnecessary. It was never what I wanted. I went out of my way to make avoiding the shutdown a possibility. The shutdown was made a reality by virtue of the fact that the president and Harry Reid refused to negotiate and refused to allow us to fund anything in government unless we were willing to fund everything in government, including a law that they knew would be harming Americans as it now is.”

Lee said he, Cruz and others knew the defunding effort was an uphill climb given the balance of power in Congress, but he said there was no other choice than to fight as hard as possible against a law that has already been proven to be a nightmare.

“We fought this, not because we were certain that we could win but because we knew that the consequences of Obamacare taking effect uninhibited, with the president free to rewrite it unconstitutionally and without statutory authorization, would be so dire that we couldn’t let that happen without at least trying to stop it,” Lee said.

As for the subsequent Obamacare disaster?

“We take no pleasure in being proven right, but at the very least the American people now know who is singularly responsible for making the health-care system throughout America more expensive, complex and unfair than it was before,” Lee said. “That’s the president of the United States, who stands defiantly behind this law, notwithstanding the fact it’s hurting people.”

Biographies from the Senators’ official websites

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas

In 2012, Ted Cruz was elected as the 34th U.S. senator from Texas. A passionate fighter for limited government, economic growth and the Constitution, Ted won a decisive victory in both the Republican primary and the general election, despite having never before been elected to office.

Propelled by tens of thousands of grassroots activists across Texas, Ted’s election has been described by the Washington Post as “the biggest upset of 2012 … a true grassroots victory against very long odds.”

National Review has described Ted as “a great Reaganite hope,” columnist George Will has described him as “as good as it gets,” and the National Federation of Independent Business characterized his election as “critical to the small-business owners in [Texas, and], also to protecting free enterprise across America.”

Ted’s calling to public service is inspired largely by his first-hand observation of the pursuit of freedom and opportunity in America. Ted’s mother was born in Delaware to an Irish and Italian working-class family; she became the first in her family to go to college, graduated from Rice University with a degree in mathematics, and became a pioneering computer programmer in the 1950s.

Ted’s father was born in Cuba, fought in the revolution, and was imprisoned and tortured. He fled to Texas in 1957, penniless and not speaking a word of English. He washed dishes for 50 cents an hour, paid his way through the University of Texas and started a small business in the oil and gas industry. Today, Ted’s father is a pastor in Dallas.

In the Senate, Ted serves on the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; the Committee on Armed Services; the Committee on the Judiciary; the Special Committee on Aging; and the Committee on Rules and Administration.

Before being elected, Ted received national acclaim as the solicitor general of Texas, the state’s chief lawyer before the U.S. Supreme Court. Serving under Attorney General Greg Abbott, Ted was the nation’s youngest solicitor general, the longest serving solicitor general in Texas, and the first Hispanic solicitor general of Texas.

In private practice in Houston, Ted spent five years as a partner at one of the nation’s largest law firms, where he led the firm’s U.S. Supreme Court and national Appellate Litigation practice. Ted has authored more than 80 U.S. Supreme Court briefs and argued 43 oral arguments, including nine before the U.S. Supreme Court. During Ted’s service as solicitor general, Texas achieved an unprecedented series of landmark national victories, including successfully defending:

• U.S. sovereignty against the U.N. and the World Court in Medellin v. Texas;
• The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms;
• The constitutionality of the Texas Ten Commandments monument;
• The constitutionality of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance;
• The constitutionality of the Texas Sexually Violent Predator Civil Commitment law; and
• The Texas congressional redistricting plan.

The National Law Journal has called Ted “a key voice” to whom “the [U.S. Supreme Court] Justices listen.” Ted has been named by American Lawyer magazine as one of the 50 Best Litigators under 45 in America, by the National Law Journal as one of the 50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America, and by Texas Lawyer as one of the 25 Greatest Texas Lawyers of the Past Quarter Century.

From 2004-09, he taught U.S. Supreme Court Litigation as an adjunct professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law.

Prior to becoming solicitor general, he served as the director of the Office of Policy Planning at the Federal Trade Commission, as associate deputy attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice and as domestic policy adviser on the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign.

Ted graduated with honors from Princeton University and with high honors from Harvard Law School. He served as a law clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist on the U.S. Supreme Court. He was the first Hispanic ever to clerk for the Chief Justice of the United States.

Ted and his wife, Heidi, live in his hometown of Houston, Texas, with their two young daughters Caroline and Catherine.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Dr. Rand Paul is the junior United States senator for Kentucky. Elected in 2010, he has proven to be an outspoken champion for constitutional liberties and fiscal responsibility, and a warrior against government overreach. Among his first legislative proposals: cutting $500 billion in federal spending and a plan to balance the federal budget in just five years. He has since introduced similar bills with growing support. In the Senate, Rand serves on the Foreign Relations, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Homeland Security and Government Affairs, and Small Business Committees.

A graduate of Duke University School of Medicine, Rand was a practicing ophthalmologist in Bowling Green, Ky., for 17 years.

In 1995, he founded the Southern Kentucky Lions Eye Clinic, an organization that provides eye exams and surgery to needy families and individuals. Today, even as a U.S. senator, he continues to provide pro-bono eye surgery to Kentuckians in need of care.

Rand has been a vocal advocate for term limits, a balanced-budget amendment, a Read the Bills Act and an audit of the Federal Reserve. He has gained prominence for his independent positions on many political issues.

Rand has been married for 23 years to Kelley Ashby of Russellville, Ky., and they have three sons. He is the son of former Republican congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah

Elected in 2010 as Utah’s 16th senator, Mike Lee has spent his career defending the basic liberties of Americans and Utahns as a tireless advocate for our founding constitutional principles.

Sen. Lee acquired a deep respect for the Constitution early on. His father, Rex Lee, who served as the solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan, would often discuss varied aspects of judicial and constitutional doctrine around the kitchen table, from due process to the uses of executive plenary power. He attended most of his father’s arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, giving him a unique, hands-on experience and understanding of government up close.

Lee graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor of science in political science, and served as BYU’s student body president in his senior year. He graduated from BYU’s Law School in 1997 and went on to serve as law clerk to Judge Dee Benson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, and then with future Supreme Court Justice Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr. on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Lee spent several years as an attorney with the law firm Sidley & Austin, specializing in appellate and Supreme Court litigation, and then served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Salt Lake City, arguing cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Lee served the state of Utah as Gov. Jon Huntsman’s general counsel and was later honored to reunite with Justice Alito, now on the Supreme Court, for a one-year clerkship. He returned to private practice in 2007.

Throughout his career, Lee earned a reputation as an outstanding practitioner of the law based on his sound judgment, abilities in the courtroom and thorough understanding of the Constitution.

Today, Lee fights to preserve America’s proud founding document in the United States Senate. He advocates efforts to support constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility, individual liberty and economic prosperity.

Lee is a member of the Judiciary Committee, and serves as ranking member of the Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights Subcommittee protecting business competition and personal freedom.

He also oversees issues critical to Utah as the top Republican on the Water and Power Subcommittee of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He serves on the Armed Services Committee and the Joint Economic Committee as well.

Lee and his wife, Sharon, live in Alpine, Utah, with their three children. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served a two-year mission for the Church in the Texas Rio Grande Valley.

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