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Ted Cruz had just finished a 21-hour speech on the Senate floor in protest of the federal health care law when he was bombarded by a pack of eager reporters waiting for him outside the chamber. As though he were back on the floor, the Texas lawmaker kept right on speaking.
“I hope over the course of this filibuster, the issues that were the heart of this debate were put on front and center for the American people,” he said. “Obamacare isn’t working.”
Even exhaustion can’t take Cruz off his talking points.
Cruz’s marathon protest speech, which he compared to the Bataan Death March, began on Tuesday afternoon, continued on through the night and ended at noon on Wednesday. During his time on the floor, Cruz read letters from constituents, took questions from other Republicans who joined him and conducted actual debates with Democrats, and he peppered his remarks with pop-culture references.
The purpose, as Cruz explained, was to persuade other Republicans to join him in blocking Senate Democrats from adding funding for the Affordable Care Act back into a government funding bill after House Republicans stripped it out last week.
Congress must agree to federal funding levels by Oct. 1, or the government will shut down. Cruz and his small cadre of allies in the Senate see the bill as a final opportunity to cripple the Democrats’ health care overhaul three years after it passed and was signed into law.
While he might not be successful in Washington — key senators have rebuked his tactics — the effort will endear Cruz to key portions of the Republican Party’s conservative base. Cruz’s refusal to compromise will allow him to stand out in a competitive field of young Republican up-and-comers.
Senate Democrats, who dispatched a well-rested Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin to challenge Cruz to a debate after he had been speaking for more than 20 hours, wasted no time in criticizing Cruz. As soon as Cruz finished and the Senate chaplain opened the new session with a prayer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took the floor.
“This has been a big waste of time,” Reid said, while Cruz was still on the floor shaking hands with Republicans. “It’s a shame.”
Cruz left the chamber, freshened up and went outside to speak to the press, where he took one final parting shot to Republicans who oppose his filibuster strategy.
“Coming into this debate, we clearly were not united. There were significant divisions in the conference. I hope those divisions dissolve. That we come together in party unity and that all 46 Republicans vote against cloture on the bill,” he said. “Any senator who votes with Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democrats to give Majority Leader Harry Reid the ability to fund Obamacare on a pure 51-vote party vote has made the decision to allow Obamacare to be funded.”
As he walked away, a reporter asked him how he was feeling.
“Terrific,” he said, before adding, perfectly on message, “that the American people have had a chance to engage in this debate."