WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, brought his marathon speech seeking to defund Obamcare to an end at high noon Wednesday, to a rousing round of applause from his colleagues.
The speech lasted more than 21 hours, the fourth longest in Senate history.
It was not a true filibuster, because under Senate rules he had to finish at noon.
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Afterward, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told senators he had admiration for Cruz's tenacity and called the speech "interesting to watch" but also "a big waste of time."
Reid then got heated, claiming "any day that government is hurt is a good day" for the tea party and called it "the new anarchy."
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"The American people know that every hour he has spoken or he speaks pushes us closer to a Republican government shutdown," the Democrat leader suggested, adding, "if anyone has any doubt that there are Republicans rooting for a shutdown, they should just turn on the television."
By contrast, Cruz said in closing, "the pleas are deafening" across America to defund Obamacare.
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He wrapped up by asking the Senate not to vote on cloture, a procedure that would likely doom the bill to defund Obamacare.
Cruz filled the time in a largely empty chamber by criticizing the law and comparing the fight to the battle against the Nazis. He talked about the Revolutionary War, the Washington ruling class and his Cuban-born father who worked as a cook.
Six hours into the speech, Cruz recited Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham" while addressing his young daughters at bedtime.
Cruz acknowledged most senators slept through his all-night filibuster-like speech on the Senate floor.
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"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."
Cruz also rattled off quotes from the hit reality-TV show “Duck Dynasty."
"Redneck rule No.1 – most things can be fixed with duct tape and extension cords."
During his talkathon, eight Republican senators joined Cruz on the Senate floor, including Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., both of whom have been mentioned as possible presidential candidates. Cruz yielded to them for questions but did not give up his time controlling the debate.
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His message was aimed at Republicans as well as Democrats.
"It is my hope, my fervent hope, that the voices of dissension within the Republican conference will stop firing at each other and start firing" at the target of the health-care law, Cruz said, a clear acknowledgment of the opposition he faced.
"No more fake fights," he said. "No more hiding your votes. We need to make D.C. listen.
"Washington depends on the American people not paying attention."
Battle with establishment Republicans
Cruz was trying to stop establishment Republicans from pushing a plan that would allow them to make merely a symbolic vote against Obamacare, allowing it to remain funded.
Cruz and colleagues such as Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who has also been leading the fight to defund Obamacare, are opposed by the leadership of their own party.
That includes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who announced Monday he does not support the attempt to defund Obamacare.
Cruz took a swipe at GOP leadership during his speech.
"This is the first time since I’ve been in the Senate that I’ve seen Senate Republican leadership whipping a vote … so that Harry Reid can turn around ... and fund Obamacare and gut the House resolution."
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, told WND McConnell's opposition to defunding Obamacare "sounds like leading from behind in the wrong direction."
Late in his speech, Cruz issued a thank you to Gohmert for staying through the night and the entirety of his speech.
Wednseday, Gohmert told WND, “It is an honor to be a part of an effort that does not merely joust at windmills, but focuses the nation’s attention on an absolutely critical issue like the Obamacare train wreck that has already caused massive suffering and stagnation. Tuesday morning I got word that this was going to happen and that Ted could use the moral support, so I just wanted to be there for those truly serving as a voice for millions of Americans."
"The fact that the closest friends of this administration and Congress get special privileges and waivers makes the program all the more sinister," Gohmert continued, adding, "When this administration illegitimately wields the power to choose who must comply with the Obamacare law and who is exempt, it fundamentally means this is un-American since they can help their cronies get preferential treatment when rationing healthcare inevitably occurs. We cannot stop speaking the truth about it until fundamental fairness is achieved.”
Senate conservatives, such as Cruz and Lee, support a bill passed by the House that would fund all of the government functions except Obamacare. The strategy is to make Democrats either give up on funding Obamacare or allow the government to be shut down.
"We should not shut down the government," Cruz said. "We should fund every bit of the government. Every aspect of the government. One hundred percent of the government except for Obamacare."
"I sincerely hope that Sen. Reid and President Obama did not force a government shutdown simply to force Obamacare on the American people."
McConnell and other establishment Republicans fear they would take the blame for any government shutdown.
Complicated strategy: Block vote on bill he supports
Cruz and Lee and are confident the American public will not blame them for a government shutdown if the House strategy is clearly explained to them: The GOP is seeking to stop a health-care plan most Americans do not support while keeping the rest of the government funded.
Right now, it's a complicated parliamentary situation.
Cruz is trying to block an upcoming vote on the House bill he actually supports.
First there will be a motion to proceed – a vote on whether to take a vote – which will undoubtedly pass.
The next vote, Friday or Saturday, Cruz said, is "the vote that matters."
That's a vote on cloture, a proposal to cut off debate, and it will determine whether there will be a 50- or a 60-vote threshold for making changes to the bill.
If it passes, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could easily add language to the bill restoring funding for Obamacare, because he would need only 50 votes. Republicans have only 46 votes in the Senate, Democrats have 52 and there are two independents. Cruz wants to make sure the threshold to change the bill would be 60 votes.
Cruz said, if the GOP goes along with Democrats and votes for cloture it will doom the effort to defund Obamacare.
Republicans could then vote on a motion to defund Obamacare, but it would be a measure with no chance of passing.
Cruz said it would be "like a wrestling match where outcome is pre-determined – it's a show vote."
"How is McConnell going to explain that his vote to support cloture on the House bill, which he claims is a vote to support defunding Obamacare, is also going to be backed by all 54 Democrats?" a Senate aide who supports defunding told WND.
"Does he think (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid and (Sen.) Chuck Schumer also support defunding?" the aide asked rhetorically.
Cruz said it his job is to fight for the will of his constituents, and they tell him of their frustration because "the men and women in Washington aren't listening."
"Why don't they hear what we have to say?"
Media reports had played up friction between Cruz and McConnell, with Fox News even reporting a source close to Cruz said the senator felt like he was “stabbed in the back.”
But Cruz himself made a point of downplaying any friction with colleagues early in his speech, saying the issues before the Senate were not personal matters but are all about what is best for the American people.
"It is my hope, my fervent hope, that the voices of dissension within the Republican caucus will stop firing at each other and start firing at the target," Cruz implored.
It's up to the American people
Another key Senate staff member told WND that those supporting defunding went into this venture knowing they did not have the votes, initially, to stop Obamacare.
But, the aide noted, it is still early in the game, and the outcome is really all up to the American people. They can stop Obamcare by calling and/or emailing their senators, signing the online petition to defund Obamcare or by speaking their minds on Twitter.
In fact, the Twitter universe is already on fire with positive reaction to the protest by Cruz and Lee.
Americans can go to #StandWithCruz, already one of the top trending hashtags, to have their say and see what their fellow citizens are saying about the effort to defund Obamacare.
This part of the Cruz and Lee strategy seems to be working. FreedomWorks is reporting, "We're hearing that the phone lines on Capitol Hill are jammed and that activists are flooding the voicemail boxes of key senators."
FreedomWorks has also posted a list of the Twitter handles of key Republican senators and suggested, "Tell them that you support Senator Ted Cruz and that you want to #MakeDCListen and protect Americans from ObamaCare. #KeepCruzing Ted, we're behind you!"
Reid had a sour reaction to the efforts of Cruz and Lee.
“There will be no filibuster today,” he said on the Senate floor.
“Filibusters stop people from voting, and we are going to vote tomorrow," Reid said. "Under the rules no one can stop that.”
And, it is true, Cruz and Lee will can only speak until the 30-hour clock runs out for cloture.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, outlined the strategy to defund Obamcare in detail to WND: Put the fate of the unpopular health-care law in Reid’s hands and force him to make the crucial decision to either go along with the Republican plan to defund Obamacare or take the blame for shutting down the government.
“Now the ball is in Reid’s court. He’ll either pass the House bill or threaten shutting down the government,” Lee told WND.
As Lee outlined to WND in July, the idea is to make Reid face 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.”
That may help explain why Reid went ballistic on the tea party on the Senate floor Monday.
As WND reported, Reid began furiously tearing into Republican lawmakers, warning that no defunding of Obamacare will ever happen while Barack Obama is president and he is majority leader.
“Mr. President, inside the House Republican bubble, the crowd cheered a plan to deny health insurance to tens of millions of Americans. Outside the House Republican bubble, reaction was altogether different,” Reid insisted, even though polls show most Americans disapprove of Obamacare.
The majority leader mocked the plan as outside the mainstream and dividing even Republicans, even though 227 GOP members in the House voted for the bill, with just one voting against it.
“We’re not going to bow to tea-party anarchists who deny the mere fact that Obamacare is the law. We will not bow to tea-party anarchists who refuse to accept that the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare is constitutional,” he said. “And we will not bow to tea-party anarchists in the House or in the Senate who ignore the fact that President Obama was overwhelmingly re-elected a few months ago.”
His rhetoric only grew more heated as he went on.
“Are Republicans so intent on undermining President Obama and the signature health-care law that they’re willing to inflict severe damage to our economy in the process? If Democrats don’t bow to every demand they have, we’re going to go right over the cliff … Americans will know exactly who to blame – Republican fanatics in the House and Senate.”
Even though Reid and his fellow Democrats insist it is the GOP threatening to shut down the government, Lee told WND that is precisely backward.
“The only party that has acted to avoid a government shutdown has been the Republican Party,” he said. “The Senate has done nothing to prevent a last-minute crisis. It is time for Harry Reid and the Senate to act.”
Lee also told WND ordinary Americans can play a key role in stopping Obamacare and pointed out how they are the ones who got the bill this far, by pressuring House leaders to bring it to the floor for a vote.
“It has been the voices of the American people that pushed the House to do the right thing,” he said. “It will be their voices that force the Senate to act. We need people out talking about this effort in their communities and with their neighbors.”
Lee and Cruz have been harnessing the power of public opinion to persuade lawmakers with an online petition drive to defund Obamacare called “Don’t Fund It!”
As of Tuesday, the petition has amassed more than 1.6 million signatures.
WND asked Lee why he has said it is particularly important for voters in red states to contact their Democratic senators.
“I am confident that there are some Democrats who will eventually side with us and protect the American people from Obamacare,” Lee observed, but, “[T]hey need to hear from their constituents.”
“With your help we can win,” Lee insisted.
The Tea Party Express issued a statement that said: "We have less than 24 hours to MAKE DC LISTEN to the American people. This could be our very last chance to Defund Obamacare."
The statement notes Sens. McConnell and John Cornyn, R-Texas, of the GOP leadership are working against the efforts to defund Obamacare and stated: "We need to let them know we will not stand for this anymore. We are tired of them working against us. They work for us and need to be reminded we employ them."
However, the Tea Party Express reported: "Senators McConnell and Cornyn have shut down their DC phones. You cannot even get through to their office because they don't want to hear from us."
So, the statement included all contact info for those two senators, as well as contact information for what it called five other key senators.
Concerned individuals may contact what the Tea Party Express call the key senators:
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas
DC PHONE: 202.224.2934
SAN ANTONIO: 210.224.7485
Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho
DC PHONE: 202.224.2752