"I just don't believe anybody benefits from shutting the government down, and certainly Republicans don't," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "We learned that in 1995."
Cruz took the floor at 2:41 p.m. Tuesday, vowing to speak until he's "no longer able to stand." He filled the time in a largely empty chamber, criticizing the law and comparing the fight to the battle against the Nazis. He talked about the Revolutionary War, the Washington ruling class and his Cuban-born father who worked as a cook.
Missing from the debate were top Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Cruz's home-state GOP colleague John Cornyn, both of whom say they will vote later this week to cut off debate on the funding bill. That "cloture" vote is crucial because it would allow top Senate Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada to kill the Obamacare provision on a simple majority vote instead of the 60 votes often needed for victory in the Senate.
Democrats control the chamber with 54 votes.
"I think we'd all be hard-pressed to explain why we were opposed to a bill that we're in favor of," McConnell told reporters Tuesday. "And invoking cloture on a bill that defunds Obamacare ... strikes me as a no-brainer."
If Cruz employs all of the delaying tactics at his disposal, the Senate might not vote to pass the measure until Sunday. But with the fiscal year set to expire at midnight Monday, McConnell warned that extended delays could hamper the GOP-controlled House's ability to send a pared-down measure back to the Senate in time to try to salvage some kind of victory, perhaps on a bipartisan proposal to eliminate a new Obamacare tax on medical devices.
The overnight debate included some diversions.
Lee discussed a childhood accident in which his foot was run over by a car driven by his father. Cruz recalled his first Christmas dinner with his future wife's vegetarian parents, which he described as "just like any other Christmas dinner except the entree never comes."
Despite his tenacity, it seemed Cruz would not surpass the longest Senate speech on record, a 24-hour, 18-minute filibuster by South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond against the civil rights act in 1957.
Senate rules required the chamber to have an initial vote on the spending bill by early Wednesday afternoon - a roll call that would end Cruz's remarks short of the record.