Cruz Marathon Against Obamacare Widens Rift Among Senate Republicans

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas talks to reporters as he emerges from the Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept 25, 2013, after his overnight crusade railing against the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as "Obamacare." Cruz ended the marathon Senate speech opposing President Barack Obama's health care law after talking for 21 hours, 19 minutes.
National Journal
Michael Catalin
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Michael Catalin
Sept. 25, 2013, 4:25 p.m.

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.”

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