WASHINGTON — It was a rare display of Senate unanimity this afternoon following an especially divisive 24 hours in which Sen. Ted Cruz, with respites from a handful of colleagues, talked for 21 hours and 19 minutes against Obamacare.
After he ceded the floor, the chamber voted 100-0 to move forward with consideration of the House continuing resolution that defunds the Affordable Care Act. Democrats are eager to introduce amendments to strip the Obamacare language, and the House is reportedly gearing up to have the bill in their lap again at conference as the clock ticks toward the Sept. 30 government shutdown deadline.
What could come out of that is compromise language on elements of the healthcare law, such as a possible yearlong delay on the individual mandate like that granted to businesses.
“Basically, this law is a mess,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who took the floor alongside his home-state colleague Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) after today’s cloture vote. “So for all those Democrats who shanked it in 2009, here’s your mulligan. Here’s your chance to finally get on the same page with the American people. Because they overwhelmingly oppose this law. And you can’t open a newspaper these days without being struck by some new reason you should too.”
For most of the night, Cruz and his partner in the effort, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), spoke to a mostly empty chamber except for a handful of House supporters, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.). Freshman Democrats were assigned to take two-hour shifts overnight as presiding officer, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
“Walking into Capitol to take 11-1 shift presiding over the Senate for this pointless fairy tale non-filibuster,” Murphy tweeted moments before he went on duty.
Cruz read a Dr. Seuss tale, Green Eggs and Ham. Lee confessed that “regardless of how long I might serve in the United States Senate I hope one day to be granted a letter of marque and reprisal so that I could become a pirate as I longed to be as a child.” Cruz compared his supporters to the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars and compared his speech to the Bataan Death March.
Republicans Jim Inhofe (Okla.), David Vitter (La.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Pat Roberts (Kansas) and Paul joined Cruz and Lee in speaking against Obamacare during the all-nighter. Two Democrats showed up to debate Cruz: Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who also spoke during the Paul filibuster, and Tim Kaine (Va.), who decided to jump into the debate after his presiding shift.
Late in the evening of Paul’s filibuster against the John Brennan nomination over domestic drone concerns, Senate GOP leaders including McConnell felt the pressure and walked into the chamber to say a few words in support of the libertarian Republican. That didn’t happen with the Cruz/Lee effort, though most Republicans who spoke on the floor today offered polite words of admiration to the junior senators for their determination.
This afternoon, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) criticized Cruz for leaving the upper chamber’s lights on all night.
“That same senator who kept people here all night, kept the lights lit, cost the taxpayers I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars at least, imagine my surprise when he voted for the very bill he was talking against. A 100-0 vote today,” Harkin said. “Some things are really hard to grasp around this place.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) held a media availability just to talk about Cruz’s speech, saying “what he accomplished was that he alienated many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle and he showed the American people what he was up to, which is basically holding them hostage because he thinks he is right and no one else has the knowledge that he has.”
“I was appalled by a couple of things: the analogy to World War II and Hitler was way out of line. And then when he cited Green Eggs and Ham, I don’t know if he read it, because Green Eggs and Ham has a moral: don’t criticize something, don’t reject something until you actually try it,” Schumer said. “Sam said he didn’t like green eggs and ham for a long time. And then when he finally tried it, he liked it. Maybe Ted Cruz, once Obamacare occurred, might actually like it. But certainly the moral of the story is don’t reject something until you’ve tried it. And so I thought that was — it sort of was nice that he was reading to his daughters, but he certainly picked the wrong book.”
“But our basic view is very simple, and that is there ought to be no riders; they ought to pass the CR, fund the government for a few months and then we could discuss the issues where we might come to agreement and not,” the New York Dem continued. “Many of us think that sequestration is really hurting the American people. It’s hurting the road worker; it’s hurting the defense worker; it’s hurting our military; it’s hurting just about every part of America, and we’d like to negotiate to get the number higher.”
“But that’s not now. That is after a CR passes.”
Cruz repeatedly called out vulnerable red-state Dems in his speech, suggesting that they come over to his side.
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who faces a re-election fight next year, told Fox News that he gives Cruz credit for being “very passionate about his views and issues.”
“As I’ve looked into it last night and this morning and every senator has their views on certain issues. He obviously has one here. But, the fact is we have to move forward,” Begich said.
“We have only four or five days left. This is ridiculous. The market already responded in a negative way and what they’re watching Congress do. I get there are people who are passionate about this issue, let’s figure out how to fix it. Quit complaining; let’s move forward.”