After speaking for 21 hours and 19 minutes, Sen. Ted Cruz told reporters that any Republican who didn't back his strategy to defund the Affordable Care Act, "has made the decision to allow Obamacare to go on."
Cruz then joined all 99 of his colleagues in voting to open debate on the House's continuing resolution, which would block the ACA's funding. The true test vote, he said in his speech, will come later in the week -- perhaps as early as Friday -- when the Senate votes whether to end debate. Cruz is demanding Republicans vote against advancing the House GOP's resolution unless Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agrees to subject an amendment afterward that would strip the anti-ACA portion to a 60 vote threshold. Reid has indicated that he will, as per Senate rules, hold a simple majority vote instead.
Does that sound confusing? Many of Cruz's Republican colleagues feel the same way. The Texas senator was already asking them to take the political risk of shutting down the government in order to block the health care law's implementation. Now he's asking them to block the very defunding bill he demanded the House pass.
"I just don’t happen to think filibustering a bill that defunds Obamacare is the best route to defunding Obamacare," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.
In the meantime, the unanimous decision to proceed with the debate underscored the symbolic nature of Cruz's long speech, which was not actually designed to delay the scheduled 1 p.m. vote. In fact, Reid went out of his way to stress that Cruz's actions did not affect the timing.
"This is not a filibuster," Reid said on the Senate floor. "This is an agreement he and I made where he could talk."
Declaring he would speak "until I am no longer able to stand," a tireless Cruz compared his critics to Nazi appeasers and lambasted the Affordable Care Act throughout, pausing at one point to recite Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham for his daughters at home. At the end of it, he thanked the lawmakers and aides who had stayed awake for his "Bataan death march," a reference to a forced march of American and Filipino POWs during World War II by Japanese soldiers, killing thousands along the way.
Cruz said afterward that he hoped his overnight speech "helped frame this debate for Americans" as he sought grassroots support for his defunding strategy.
However, his suggestion that his foes would have facilitated Hitler's rise irked Sen. John McCain, a longtime Cruz critic, who took the floor after to condemn the comparison.
"I do not begrudge Sen. Cruz or any other senator who wants come and talk as long as they want to," he said Wednesday. "But I do disagree strongly to allege that there are people today who are like those who, prior to World War II, didn't stand up and oppose the atrocities that were taking place in Europe."
Despite his hard work, Cruz's goal to shut down the government until Democrats agreed to defund the ACA is not looking good. He spent months goading House Republicans into passing a continuing resolution that would achieve his aim, which they finally did after abandoning a non-binding defunding resolution floated by House leaders. But rather than a triumphant moment for conservatives, the House bill turned into a coming out party for Cruz's critics who demanded the Texas senator prove his plan wasn't a pandering stunt by rounding up the votes in the Democratic Senate to pass their defunding resolution. As they predicted, no Democrats have come out in favor of Cruz's effort. The result is that Cruz and his fellow Republicans are devoting more energy to battling each other than Obama.
"There's an alliance between the Democrats...and many of the Republicans who are scared of this fight," Cruz told Rush Limbaugh after his speech on Wednesday, complaining of a "defeatist attitude" within his party.