Politics

Behind Ted Cruz’s 21-Hour, GOP-Bashing, Anti-Obamacare Crusade

In the sequel to Rand Paul’s filibuster, Cruz spent a day calling out his colleagues and exposing deep rifts in the GOP. He knew exactly what he was doing.

Cruz speaks to the press after leaving the U.S. Senate Chamber after a marathon attack on Obamacare. Jason Reed / Reuters

WASHINGTON — When Sen. Rand Paul filibustered for 13 hours back in March in protest of President Obama’s drone policy, he did so in what he described as a very uncomfortable pair of shoes.

Ted Cruz made sure not to repeat the mistake.

When the Texas senator decided to stage a protest of Obamacare funding with a 20-hour-plus speech on the Senate floor, he ditched the ostrich-skin cowboy boots he has worn throughout his legal career during big court arguments, and bought some shoes that could support what he knew would be a very, very long day.

“I will embarrassingly admit, I took the coward’s way out. And so I went and purchased some black tennis shoes,” Cruz said, noting they were the same model worn regularly by Orrin Hatch, the 79-year-old senator from Utah. “So I am not in my argument boots, and I’ll confess I really do feel embarrassed by that.”

With his comfortable shoes on, a small amount of water, and long stretches of help from a handful of Republican colleagues, Cruz blasted Obamacare on the floor for more than 20 hours.

But while Cruz may have taken cues from Paul’s footwear, that’s where the similarities end. The Kentucky Libertarian’s anti-drone filibuster united most of his GOP colleagues, earned him kudos from several Democrats, and turned him into the leader of a national conversation about an issue that defies partisanship. Cruz’s protest, meanwhile, has mainly served to highlight divisions within the Republican Party over strategy and amplified grumbles from his peers who think he’s all about self-promotion.

Cruz’s speech seemed, at times, like an unsatisfying sequel to a blockbuster.

For one thing, the Texas senator wasn’t technically filibustering, or delaying, any piece of legislation: Due to Senate rules, he could only speak for a specified — albeit long — amount of time. Paul was holding up the confirmation of CIA Director John Brennan and could speak for however long he was able. Cruz negotiated the time he’d be able to come to the floor in advance with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Paul had a small window in which he was able to seize the floor, and surprised everyone when he did it.

And while Senate GOP leaders rallied around Paul, rushing to the floor to make sure it was noted they had assisted him, none of them did the same for Cruz. Several conservative senators (Paul included) came out to give Cruz breaks by asking him questions, but Mitch McConnell and his leadership team were not among them.

Cruz spent a significant chunk of his speech taking his Republican colleagues to task for what he considers their squishy opposition to Obamacare. At one point he even appeared to compare them to Nazi appeasers.

“If you go to the 1940s, Nazi Germany,” Cruz said. “Look, we saw in Britain, Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people, ‘Accept the Nazis. Yes, they’ll dominate the continent of Europe but that’s not our problem. Let’s appease them. Why? Because it can’t be done. We can’t possibly stand against them.’”

And, making his mark in the history books by surpassing the length of Paul’s filibuster by several hours, Cruz seemed satisfied with the rift he’s caused within his party.

“My observations right now that there are some Republicans that would like a symbolic vote and would like to lose so that they don’t have any risk of it actually being defunded, I promise you, those comments are not getting me invited to any cocktail parties in Washington anytime soon,” Cruz said. “And that’s perfectly fine. I don’t particularly enjoy cocktail parties anyway.”

Multiple Republican senators have criticized Cruz’s effort, despite their own opposition to the law.

“Tactics and strategies ought to be based on what the real world is, and we do not have the political power to do this,” said Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn on CBS this past Sunday. “We’re not about to shut the government down over the fact that we cannot, only controlling one house of Congress, tell the president that we’re not going to fund any portion of this. Because we can’t do that.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came to floor after Cruz had yielded, and said that repealing Obamacare was a cause that “united all Republicans.” But McConnell has said he will vote for cloture on the House bill — whereas Cruz is asking all Republicans to oppose it so Reid would not be able to strip out the defunding language.

Cruz had been preparing for his speech for several days, his aides said. When it became clear Reid had locked in the timing for a vote to move forward with the House bill, Cruz privately approached the majority leader to request a time to speak. And when no other senator objected, Reid allowed it.

And so from Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday morning, Cruz covered a lot of ground. He read supportive messages from Twitter, and talked about Duck Dynasty, White Castle, his dad, pig roasts at Christmas, Ashton Kutcher, and horror films. He read a passage from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, and hit the political press for writing too much about “personality” and being gossips.

But his primary focus was to highlight opposition to the law, and call out his colleagues who weren’t joining him.

“Senators should not be asleep when the nation is undergoing a nightmare” he said.

Senators supportive of his strategy arrived on the floor throughout the speech to come to his aid. Marco Rubio, another potential 2016 contender, spoke for a time, as did Paul, Senators Mike Enzi, Pat Roberts, David Vitter, Jim Inhofe, and Jeff Sessions. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah was the most constant presence, speaking multiple times and then at length early into Wednesday morning. For hours, Cruz and Lee went back and forth with questions.

There were lighter moments too. At one point, Cruz said his two daughters were watching him on television, and he declared that he would read them some bedtime stories. He read a story from the Bible, followed by the Dr. Seuss classic Green Eggs and Ham.

His dedicated staff excitedly delivered printed out tweets for the senator to read aloud. They watched from the gallery, as several House conservatives showed up to watch from the floor, and Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, until at least 5 a.m. in solidarity. At around 7 a.m., Cruz acknowledged that he was in fact, “a little bit tired,” but more backups arrived to carry him through until noon.

“The pleas from the American people, I can tell you in Texas, are deafening. The frustration that the United States Senate doesn’t listen to people is deafening,” Cruz said as he concluded his remarks. “So I would call on all 46 Republicans to unite, to stand together and to vote against cloture on the bill…because otherwise if we vote with the majority leader and with the Senate Democrats, we will be voting to allow the majority leader to fund Obamacare on a straight party-line vote.”

“The American people will understand that,” he said.

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