Washington (AFP) – Most senators expect to pass a stopgap spending bill this week, but one lawmaker is so against it he took to the Senate floor for a marathon 21 hours.
Few knew when Republican Senator Ted Cruz started speaking Tuesday afternoon that he would still be engaged in his talkathon, much less awake, on Wednesday morning to oppose the temporary budget.
But such is his fierce opposition to President Barack Obama’s signature health care law — funding for which is included in the budget bill — that he held the floor through the night, delivering one of the longest Senate speeches since precise time-keeping began in 1900.
The conservative first-term lawmaker from Texas, who often is discussed as a likely presidential contender in 2016, significantly boosted his profile with his marathon speech, which was carried as a top item on many American news broadcasts.
Cruz voiced what he said is Americans’ deep discontent for the law known as “Obamacare,” and aimed to unite Republicans in opposition to passing a spending bill that does not defund the health care law.
“Why won’t they listen to me?” he asked a nearly empty chamber late Tuesday, speaking of the refusal by Washington’s “ruling class” to hear his complaints and those of their constituents.
Over the hours, Cruz answered questions by at least 10 other senators, including fellow conservatives Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Mike Lee, who back his effort to stall the legislation even at the risk of forcing a government shutdown.
Many Republicans have expressed opposition to the strategy, warning it could backfire and not leave the House of Representatives enough time to consider the Senate measure and either pass it or send back a counteroffer.
But Cruz, a conservative Republican with Tea Party sympathies, pressed on with his talkathon.
“While the Senate slept, men and women of America didn’t get a respite from the nightmare of what is causing them to lose their jobs and never to get hired,” he said.
When Cruz began at 2:41 pm Tuesday, he said he intended to speak “until I am no longer able to stand.”
That carried him into the night, when he gave a dramatic reading of the classic children’s book “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss, as his young daughters back home in Texas were preparing for bed.
Americans, he said, “did not like green eggs and ham, and they did not like Obamacare either. They did not like Obamacare in a box, with a fox, in a house, with a mouse.”
The longest Senate speech on record was a filibuster by Senator Strom Thurmond in 1957, who spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act.
The most recent lengthy filibuster, a procedural tactic aimed at blocking legislation from moving in the Senate, was by Senator Rand Paul, who in March spoke for nearly 13 hours against US drone policy.
Even though Cruz called his speech a filibuster, technically it is not considered one, because his effort will not delay legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blasted the oratory as “wasting time.”
“The American people know that every hour that he has spoken… pushes us another hour closer to a Republican government shutdown,” Reid said.
According to Senate procedure, lawmakers voted at 1:00 pm Wednesday to move forward with the temporary budget resolution.
That meant that Cruz — unlike in a true filibuster — was forced to yield the floor, although he looked physically fit enough to have carried on beyond Thurmond’s record.
When the curtain finally came down on his talkathon, at 21 hours and 19 minutes, Senate aides erupted in applause.
Cruz finally sat down, but within moments he was compelled to rise again for a prayer by the Senate chaplain ushering in a new legislative session.
Outside the Senate, Cruz said his speech was invigorating.
“I’m feeling terrific,” he told reporters.
Paul, for his part, looked exhausted after his filibuster months ago, and said at the time that he stopped in part to yield to the call of nature.
How did Cruz manage to not require the men’s room for nearly a full day? “Drinking very little water.”