Despite what you see on C-SPAN2, or what you read on Twitter, Ted Cruz is not filibustering Obamacare. The Republican senator from Texas is speaking on the Senate floor for what is expected to be a very long time — asked by reporters when he’d stop, he replied, “We shall see” — but it’s not a filibuster in the sense of actually stopping the upper chamber’s proceedings. Instead, Cruz’s stand is purely symbolic.
In a real talking filibuster, as famously portrayed in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a senator occupies the Senate floor indefinitely so as to block the chamber from taking up any other business. In Cruz’s case, Senate rules limit his time, and he’ll have to cede the floor by Wednesday morning at the latest. That’s a long time, but the Senate will have to wait whether Cruz speaks or not. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday morning, “I want to make sure everyone understands: There is no filibuster today.”
Democrats already have the 60 votes needed to initiate cloture and break an actual Republican filibuster, so the rest of the timing is essentially on “autopilot,” as Reid said, because on Monday he initiated the complicated series of procedural moves to cut off debate.
Note for nerds: Sen Cruz may use lots of floor time under Rule 22 re Obamacare. It WON’T be a talking filibuster unless 41 sens deny cloture— Todd Zwillich (@toddzwillich) September 24, 2013
… and the chances of that are increasingly remote. What Cruz will do is time-limited and by definition not a talking filibuster.— Todd Zwillich (@toddzwillich) September 24, 2013
Cruz is not the first senator to give a non-filibuster “filibuster.” Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont spent hours on the Senate floor giving a speech in 2010 that was later made into a book, but it was not actually a filibuster.
The Washington Post‘s Paul Kane has a day-by-day breakdown of how that timing will play out between now and next Tuesday, when the government runs out of money. Nowhere along the way — unless all 41 Republicans unite behind Cruz’s effort, which seems unlikely — is there an opportunity for a real filibuster. But that won’t stop Cruz from talking.