Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout to include reaction to Cruz's speech.
For more than 21 hours, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz spoke about why the nation should defund the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as "Obamacare." And although his floor speech might not succeed in accomplishing that policy goal, the national spotlight is squarely on the freshman senator from Texas who is considered a possible presidential contender in 2016.
Cruz, who began his remarks at 2:41 p.m. Washington time on Tuesday, vowed to speak until he could no longer stand in his effort to block passage of a federal budget that would not defund federal health reform. At noon on Wednesday, he was cut off by the Senate's Democratic leadership, who took advantage of Senate rules that allowed them to start a new legislative day in the Senate, forcing Cruz to pause his marathon speech. After the Senate officially started its legislative day with a prayer and the pledge of allegiance, Cruz had the right to pick up his speech again until a vote scheduled for 1 p.m. Washington time, an option Cruz said he would decline. (Read the transcript of his overnight remarks here.)
“He’s now going to be the leading national politician fighting Obamacare, and that’s extraordinarily valuable territory to own,” said Republican political consultant Matt Mackowiak of Austin. “We have some strong conservatives for 2016, but few of them have fought for something in a meaningful way.”
Cruz argued during his speech that premium rates would ultimately be higher because of Obamacare and that businesses would cut back on employee hours or cut existing health benefits. He also used his time to talk about his father, who came to Texas from Cuba with $100 sewn into his underwear, and to read Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham to his daughters in Texas.
"Obamacare is the biggest job killer in this country," Cruz said. "The American people want to stop this madness, and so do I."
He repeated several times during his remarks: "We need to make D.C. listen." His supporters used the hashtags #makeDClisten, #StandWithCruz and #DefundObamacare on Twitter.
Cruz’s argument to defund Obamacare even at the cost of shutting down the federal government drew widespread criticism from members of his own party as well as from Democrats.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa called Cruz’s move “a ridiculous and shameful attempt to force a government shutdown.”
“What Cruz is doing has caused a civil war among Republicans, and leads to an outcome that would harm Texans and our economy,” Hinojosa said in a statement.
"While I remain committed to defunding Obamacare, I'm also committed to avoiding a government shutdown," Cornyn told reporters Wednesday in a conference call.
Cornyn praised Cruz for bringing attention to the "debacle" of Obamacare and said that all Texas Republicans in Congress are united in opposing the health law.
"There have been some differences within the family on tactics, on how to accomplish that goal," Cornyn said. "That's all the differences are."
Cruz’s speech – technically, not a filibuster – didn’t beat the Senate record, held by Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes in 1957 against the Civil Rights Act, according to The Associated Press. The world record for the longest filibuster was set by Bill Meier in 1977, who spoke for 43 hours on the floor of the Texas Senate.
Cruz's address drew comparisons to Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis’ 11-hour filibuster earlier this year to fight some of the nation’s strictest abortion regulations (she stood on her feet for 13 hours). The Fort Worth Democrat succeeded in temporarily blocking the restrictions, but the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature eventually passed them.
State Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, called Cruz a "Wendy wannabe" but said there was a key difference between the two speeches.
"Wendy Davis filibustered for women's health," she told reporters on Wednesday. "Sen. Cruz filibustered against people having health care."
Mackowiak said the speeches by Davis and Cruz were similar in that both involved procedural deadlines, compelling policy issues and physical exhaustion. Davis, however, had her party united on her side.
“They’re either both grandstanders or they’re both heroes,” Mackowiak said.
Aman Batheja contributed reporting.
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