Instead, the freshman senator took the floor Tuesday afternoon promising to speak “until I am no longer able to stand.” His effort to block the legislation had almost no chance of success, as the series of votes advancing it are locked in and most of his fellow Republicans have abandoned him in the effort.
The Cruz talkathon was the latest example of the increasingly stark division among Republicans, both on Capitol Hill and nationally. The Texas newcomer, just 42 and nine months into office, is carrying the banner for conservatives urging a take-no-prisoners approach in confronting the president, even if it means shuttering the government.
“A great many Texans, a great many Americans feel they do not have a voice, and so I hope to play some very small role in providing the voice,” Cruz declared.
But the move angered senior Republicans, who complained that Cruz and the junior senators pushing this strategy did not understand the wounds the GOP suffered during the mid-1990s shutdown battles with President Bill Clinton. Back then, the party controlled both the House and Senate, a luxury when compared to its tenuous majority in the House today.
“I just don’t believe anybody benefits from shutting the government down, and certainly Republicans don’t. We learned that in 1995,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), the dean of the GOP caucus. “We’re in the minority. We have to find a way of standing up for our principles without immolating ourselves in front of everybody, in a way when we don’t have the votes to do it.”
Some suggested that this was the latest example of a party adrift, both on policy and strategic thinking. “We haven’t had much of a strategy on anything to this point. Everybody’s shooting from the hip,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).
Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) originally preferred a different approach that would have required Democrats to vote for the health-care funds, while GOP senators could have symbolically opposed.
Cruz played a leading role, along with outside conservative groups, in pushing House Republicans to take a harder line. House Republicans relented and on Friday passed a bill exactly as Cruz wanted.
“We don’t need fake fights. We don’t need fake votes. We need real change. We need a better economy. We need more jobs,” Cruz said early Tuesday afternoon, rejecting the original Boehner-McConnell plan.