Sen. Ted Cruz's talk marathon on the Senate floor has done little to ease the fraught relationship between the junior senator from Texas and the rest of his Republican conference. In fact, comments from a number of GOP senators Wednesday suggested the rift between the tea-party wing and the rest of the caucus is growing.
"The senator from Texas made a big point that members of Congress, in his opinion, were not listening to the American people," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. "I have a lot experience at listening as a physician. That's what I got paid to do. I think what Senator Cruz and some of his allies in the Senate "¦ their tactics are tremendously erroneous, in my opinion."
Others said Cruz's tactic — urging Republicans to block Senate debate on a House budget bill to defund Obamacare that many of them support — had muddled the issues for Congress and the public.
"There's been some significant disagreement about where this debate will take us," said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who pivoted quickly away from the subject of Cruz. "What can we do to make this process better understood by the American people?"
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., flatly rejected Cruz's arguments that Congress is ignoring public opposition to the health care reform law.
"The people spoke," McCain said. "They spoke, much to my dismay, but they spoke and they reelected the president of the United States. Now that doesn't mean that we give up our efforts to try to replace and repair Obamacare, but it does mean that elections have consequences and those elections were clear [in that] a significant majority of the American people supported the president of the United States and renewed his stewardship of this country."
Cruz seemed undeterred by the push-back from his colleagues. He walked off the Senate floor Wednesday, after 21 straight hours on his feet, looking fresh. Without a crack in his voice, he told reporters that he hopes some senators have changed their minds about voting to move the House bill to fund the government to the floor, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is likely to strip it of the provision to defund Obamacare.
"There were significant divisions in the conference," Cruz said. "I hope those divisions dissolve, that we come together in party unity, and that all 46 Republicans vote against cloture on the bill on Friday or Saturday, whenever that vote occurs."
But not long after he made that appeal, Cruz went on conservative talk radio and blasted his fellow Republicans for disagreeing with the approach to defunding the Affordable Care Act that he and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, have been pushing for weeks.
"Mike Lee and I have been attending the meetings with Republican senators for months and asked, "˜Does anyone have a plan?' There's never been a plan," Cruz told Rush Limbaugh on the air. "I will tell you the single biggest surprise in arriving to the Senate is the defeatist attitude here."
After Cruz's overnight speech ended, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who earlier this week rejected Cruz's call to vote no on cloture on the House's continuing resolution, took to the floor and tried to recast the debate Cruz spent nearly a day dominating. McConnell called on Senate Democrats to split from their leader on final passage.
"All we need are five Democrats to show enough courage to stand against their party and with the American people on this vote," McConnell said.
Cruz all but rejected that scenario as unlikely and stepped up his threats to brand his colleagues as Obamacare funders.
"I will say this: Any senator who votes with Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democrats to give Majority Leader Harry Reid the ability to fund Obamacare ... has made the decision to allow Obamacare to be funded," Cruz said.
Despite the divisions among GOP senators, some conservatives are rallying around Cruz. Groups like the Club for Growth and Heritage Action have taken Cruz's side in the internal conflict, and so has a potential 2016 presidential candidate, pushing the party farther right heading into the next national election.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who is a potential 2016 contender and who filibustered President Obama's nominee to lead the CIA for 13 hours back in March, was skeptical of Cruz's gambit earlier this week. But that was before Paul spelled Cruz — himself a possible candidate for the White House — at various points Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Paul said he'll vote no on a cloture motion that would enable the Senate debate on the House bill to proceed.
Asked what he thought about being outdone on the floor by Cruz, Paul neither hesitated nor took an opportunity to engage a possible political rival. "Congratulations," he said. "It takes some stamina."