After more than 21 hours and no bathroom break, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ended his talk-a-thon against Obamacare at high noon on Wednesday.
The conservative firebrand's marathon speech against health care reform ended as the Senate calendar moved to a new day's business for procedural purposes. Though he had the option to speak until 1 p.m. ET, Cruz ended his speech after hours on his feet, clocking in at 21 hours, 18 minutes and 59 seconds. Cruz's speech is now the fourth longest in the history of the body. The record for longest speech on the Senate floor is still held by Sen Strom Thurmond (D-SC) in 1957, when he spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
Cruz finished – in black sneakers bought specially for the occasion – after taking no bathroom breaks and eating no food beyond a few nibbles throughout the night. He occasionally paced the floor to stretch his legs after yielding to some helpful Republican colleagues for a question. Those pauses allowed him to take a break from speaking, if not standing.
But Cruz's speech, as long as it was, did not have the effect of stalling a planned vote to formally take up legislation passed last week by the House that would fund the government past Sept. 30, but also strip funding for the Affordable Care Act. That vote was still set to move forward on Wednesday afternoon.
But Cruz nonetheless spoke thousands of words – including a rendition of Dr. Seuss's "Green Eggs and Ham" Cruz read as a bedtime story over television to his children – before finally resting. He professed his love for White Castle burgers, talked about Star Wars, and even commended actor Ashton Kutcher for a recent award show speech. Between the padding, the freshman senator dipped into long monologues about his fierce opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care law.
He even sought to speak a bit more, apologizing to nonpartisan Senate staff for having to endure his “Bataan Death March” of a speech. He first took control of the floor at 2:41 p.m. on Tuesday.
"There is still, at least, strength in my legs to stand a little longer," he said late Wednesday morning. After engaging in a procedural back-and-forth with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Cruz eventually said he would wrap up his effort at noon.
Democrats were largely dismissive of Cruz's effort, noting that it was not a formal filibuster since it had no effect of delaying or preventing a vote on the House-passed legislation. And Reid even noted that he and Cruz had previously agreed to set aside time for the Texas senator's lengthy screed.
"This is an agreement that he and I made that he could talk," Reid said.
But for all the posturing, his effort amounts to little more than a very, very long speech. But Cruz gained in some regards by endearing himself to conservatives who regard Obamacare as anathema. That enthusiasm could prove useful come 2016, should Cruz decide to wage a bid for the Republican presidential nomination – an action for which Cruz has already begun preparing.
Cruz did succeed in rallying some Republicans to his cause throughout the evening, though. Republican Sens. Mike Lee, David Vitter, Pat Roberts, Jeff Sessions, Marco Rubio, Jim Inhofe, and Mike Enzi had visited the Senate floor to ask their colleague a question, a tactic that allowed Cruz a temporary break from speaking. Though he didn’t appear on the floor during Cruz’s speech, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hailed the Texas senator’s antics after they had concluded.
Those other Republicans’ words of praise underscore the political value of the lengthy speech for Cruz. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul – who appeared on the floor to assist Cruz – waged his own, formal filibuster against President Barack Obama’s national security practices and use of drone strikes in March. That filibuster made Paul, another freshman Republican with designs on the presidency, a hero to many grassroots conservatives.
"We saw something incredible happen at that time...and it transformed the debate," Cruz said Tuesday, commending Paul's effort.
Still, the Senate was set to move forward with its business as planned once Cruz had concluded.
Ironically, after exhausting virtually all the time allowed for senators to debate the legislation on funding the government and gutting Obamacare, Cruz called for limiting the amount of time for debate before a final vote. Cruz argued it would be better for a vote to be held on Friday so that the public would more likely tune in; on Saturday, the Texas senator reasoned, many Americans might be distracted by college football games.
The shorter time-frame for the next vote, though, also serves a shared purpose for lawmakers in the House. They need the Senate to return the legislation to them -- which will have the provision to defund Obamacare stripped from it -- as soon as possible. That would give the House GOP more leeway to craft a counter-offer to send back to the Senate before the deadline at the end of Monday night, at which point the government would cease all but its most essential operations.
Because of the peculiarities of Senate procedure, Cruz was actually preventing the chamber from taking up the very legislation to fund the government that he and other conservatives favor. He was arguing against efforts to take up that bill because Democrats have the necessary votes to strip the measure to defund Obamacare from the underlying legislation.
Carrie Dann, Andrew Rafferty, Frank Thorp and Kelly O'Donnell contributed to this story.
First published September 25 2013, 11:33 AM