WASHINGTON — Filibuster or no, Sen. Ted Cruz's marathon speech on the Senate floor made one point: Obamacare had to go. But when the freshman senator finally stopped talking Wednesday after 21 hours and 19 minutes, he was no closer to killing President Barack Obama's signature health care law.
The Senate promptly advanced legislation required to avert a partial government shutdown at midnight Monday, and is expected to strip from that crucial bill the provision to defund Obama's law.
Weary after a day and night on his feet, Cruz simply sat down at noon on Wednesday, the predetermined time for the Senate to adjourn, as several of his colleagues applauded. Senate Republicans and some House members congratulated the Texas freshman.
Cruz actually joined every other senator in a 100-0 procedural vote to allow the measure to officially go before the Senate. He says Republicans should rally against the measure in a vote scheduled Friday or Saturday on whether to cut off a filibuster on the measure itself, a vote that promises to give Democrats controlling the chamber a procedural edge if Cruz is not successful in blocking them.
Cruz wants to derail the spending bill to deny Democrats the ability to strip a "defund Obamacare" provision out, a strategy that has put him at odds with other Republicans who fear that the move would spark a shutdown. After the vote, Cruz told reporters he hopes "that Republicans will listen to the people, and that all 46 Republicans come together. Coming into this debate we clearly were not united, there were significant divisions in the conference. I hope those divisions dissolve, that we come together in party unity."
The Senate's top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid, shrugged off Cruz's effort.
"For lack of a better way of describing this, it has been a big waste of time," said Reid, D-Nev.
Since Tuesday afternoon, Cruz — with occasional remarks by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and other GOP conservatives — has controlled the Senate floor and railed against Obamacare. When he finally sat down, Cruz and his allies had talked for more than 21 hours, the fourth-longest Senate speech since precise record-keeping began in 1900.
That exceeded March's 12-hour, 52-minute speech by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., like Cruz a tea party lawmaker and potential 2016 presidential contender, and filibusters by such Senate icons as Huey Long of Louisiana and Robert Byrd of West Virginia.
The filibuster is a time-honored delaying tactic to prevent the Senate from passing legislation. However, Reid and others disputed that Cruz's speech was a real filibuster because the procedural vote forced an automatic end to the debate.
With no food or restroom breaks, his tie finally loosened, Cruz was helped by eight of his conservative allies who gave him brief respites by asking lengthy questions as permitted under Senate rules, though he was required to remain on his feet.