UPDATE (12:15 p.m.): At noon today, Sen. Ted Cruz ended his marathon anti-Obamacare soliloquy by simply walking off the Senate floor and returning to his seat. The speech lasted 21 hours and 19 minutes, the fourth longest since the Senate began keeping tabs.
EARLIER STORY: WASHINGTON—At 2:41 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz, the freshman Republican from Texas, stood on the Senate floor and said, “I intend to speak in support of defunding Obamacare until I am no longer able to stand.”
When the sun rose on Wednesday morning, Cruz was still standing, pulling a rare Senate all-nighter on behalf of grassroots conservatives who are worried about the nation’s economic landscape under the new healthcare law that goes live on Oct. 1.
“All across this country, Americans are suffering because of Obamacare,” Cruz said. “Obamacare isn’t working.”
Cruz’s speech, nearing 20 hours as of 10:41 a.m., is so far the fourth longest Senate speech since record keeping began in 1900. It surpasses the nearly 13-hour speech Rand Paul, R-Ky., gave in March over his objection to President Barack Obama’s drone policy. Cruz also has spoken longer than the late Sen. Robert Bryd’s 1964 filibuster, when the Democrat from West Virginia spoke against the Civil Rights Act.
But Cruz is not expected to match the 1957 record of Sen. Strom Thurmond, who at the time was a Democrat from South Carolina. Thurmond’s filibuster against a civil rights bill ran for 24 hours and 18 minutes. Before Cruz hits that mark, the Senate rules state he must yield the chamber for a roll call vote scheduled for early Wednesday afternoon. But Democrats, who control the chamber, may let Cruz speak longer if they fear cutting him short would lead to an outcry.
Cruz’s speech marathon is not technically a filibuster under Senate rules. He does not have the power to block senators from voting later today on measures to advance a government-funding bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is expected to take the short-term spending bill passed by the House and advance it on a simple majority vote, after detaching the measure that defunds Obamacare.
“The place I am in now is that we are on automatic pilot,” Reid said before Cruz began his talkathon. “People can talk all they want. There is no way we can be prevented from having that vote. So we will have conversation, but there will not be any filibusters, because under the rules, the time is for talking. But it does not delay anything.”
Cruz, who objects to Reid’s move to protect Obamacare, is one of the architects of a conservative strategy to stage a last-ditch effort to stop the healthcare law by stripping it of its funding through a must-pass bill to keep the government running. Some Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, object to this tactic, suggesting the delays will not stop Democrats and will give House Republicans less time to deal with any Senate-passed measure before the midnight deadline on Oct. 1.
But Cruz was undeterred by opposition from either party and pressed forward with his near soliloquy on how “Obamacare is a train wreck that is killing jobs.” Saying, “I don’t particularly enjoy cocktail parties, anyway,” Cruz shrugged off criticism from the Washington political class.
“Look, most Americans could not give a flying flip about a bunch of politicians in Washington,” he said. “Who cares? Almost all of us are in cheap suits with bad haircuts! Who cares?"
A smattering of like-minded senators did join Cruz on the Senate floor at various times throughout the night and early morning. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, partnered with Cruz late into the night while Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., helped spell Cruz by speaking on the floor during the 6 a.m. hour. Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Rand Paul also came to the floor to support Cruz and attack Obamacare.
The tactic may fail when it comes to defunding Obamacare, but it has provided Cruz and his allies an uninterrupted platform, broadcast live on C-SPAN2, to make a case for their vision of conservative government, take jabs at Washington elites, and rally opponents of Obamacare from all political stripes.
“The political establishment in Washington protects itself, maintains its power, and entrenches its power,” Cruz said. “If enough people speak up then every member of this body at some point is compelled to listen to the constituents he or she represents.”
Cruz’s Twitter followers have skyrocketed during his performance. He spent most of the night reading Twitter messages written by Americans worried about Obamacare and asked viewers to follow on Twitter using the hashtag #makeDClisten. Cruz also repeatedly read from a letter written by the leaders of the nation’s top unions—Obama’s allies—warning that Obamacare will “destroy the foundation of the 40-hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.”
His speech occasionally veered away from Obamacare. He described his first Christmas dinner with his wife’s parents, who are vegetarians. He talked about his love of White Castle, the fast-food hamburger joint. Cruz said he “took the coward’s way out” by wearing black tennis shoes for his marathon appearance instead of his preferred footwear—black ostrich “argument boots.”
On Tuesday night around 8 p.m., Cruz also read his two daughters bedtime stories from Proverbs and Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham (see video below), making his own edits to the classic tale.
“When Americans tried it, they discovered they did not like green eggs and ham and they did not like Obamacare, either,” Cruz said. “They did not like Obamacare in a box, with a fox, in a house or with a mouse. It is not working.”
It wasn’t his only pop-culture reference. Cruz, on Wednesday morning, quoted from Star Wars, using the movie trilogy to hit Washington’s political class.
“This is a fight to get the Washington establishment—the Empire—to listen to the people,” Cruz said. “And just like in the Star Wars movie, the Empire will strike back. But at the end of the day I think the rebel alliance, I think the people, will prevail.”