Declaring himself the voice of average Texans and Americans fed up with Washington, Sen. Ted Cruz took to the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon to try to talk President Obama’s health care law to death.
The effort was doomed from the start — votes to fund the law are locked in, and even his own party’s leaders in the Senate have said they are unlikely to win the fight — but Mr. Cruz said the battle was worth it, no matter the pain it caused his colleagues.
“The American people want Obamacare stopped,” Mr. Cruz said. “And yet this Senate is not listening to the American people. We need to make D.C. listen.”
He took the floor at 2:41 p.m. and vowed to remain “until I am no longer able to stand.” He was still going strong eight hours later, talking about topics that included health care policy and the sluggish economy — even pausing at 8 p.m. to read bedtime stories to his two young daughters watching him on C-SPAN from their home in Texas.
Mr. Cruz read from children’s Bible stories and then read “Green Eggs and Ham,” meaning the classic Dr. Seuss rhyme is now a permanent part of the Congressional Record.
His Twitter account, @SenTedCruz, posted highlights of his remarks, tagging them with #MakeDCListen, a slogan he repeated throughout.
His ostensible target was the health care law, but his opponents were his colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, who were standing in the way of defunding Obamacare with just a week to go before the law’s health care exchanges open.
Joined by a handful of allies inside the Senate and urged on by conservative groups outside the Capitol, Mr. Cruz said he wanted to “speak for 26 million Texans and 300 million Americans” who will suffer if the health care law takes effect.
While occasionally sipping water and stretching his legs, Mr. Cruz talked about small-business owners he met at a roundtable in Kerrville, Texas, who said they would not grow because of Obamacare. He also pointed to a member of his staff who chose to retire when she found out congressional aides would have to buy insurance in the exchanges, like many other Americans.
Inevitably, there were comparisons to Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster this year, where the Kentucky Republican held the floor for nearly 13 hours to protest the Obama administration’s drone policy.
Mr. Paul successfully delayed a vote on confirmation of a CIA director, and his effort forced the Justice Department to clarify its drone policy.
By contrast, Mr. Cruz’s effort appeared doomed to defeat even before it began. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, locked in a series of votes that will occur no matter what Mr. Cruz does.
Mr. Reid, who held a nine-hour filibuster in 2003, even chided Mr. Cruz, making clear that what he was doing shouldn’t be called a filibuster.
“There’s no filibuster going on now. People can come and talk. But they can’t do anything to change when we vote — the next vote,” he said.
He seemed to be trying to puncture some of the hype around Mr. Cruz’s effort, which has won support from tea party supporters desperate to score a victory.
Judson Phillips, leader of Tea Party Nation, said Mr. Cruz’s filibuster goes to the heart of an issue that’s dear to the conservative rebellion.
“When the tea party got started, Obamacare along with spending were the most the significant issues. Drones was not, and is still not,” he said. “Obamacare is a lightning-rod issue, and now that people are standing up, it is electrifying the base.”
Drew Ryun, political director of the conservative Madison Project and former deputy director of the Republican National Committee, said the health care issue has a broader resonance than Mr. Paul’s drone fight.
“Even people who are Democrats or apolitical are getting the letters from their employers that their coverage is being cut and their premiums are skyrocketing,” he said. “This is something that must be blocked, and the only way to do it is before it takes root.”
But in terms of theater and delivery, observers said, Mr. Paul’s filibuster was better.
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said Mr. Cruz’s effort was “a pale imitation.”
“The novelty seems to have worn off for the American people and even many Republicans,” he said.
Jim Manley, a former senior aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Mr. Reid, said there wasn’t any excitement.
“As far as the Senate goes, at least what Sen. Paul did had a bit of drama and excitement. This is about as boring as watching paint dry,” he said. “If Senator Vitter is one of your only colleagues to help you out on the floor you know you are in big trouble.”
Mr. Manley was referring to Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican who was one of a handful of senators to come to the floor to help Mr. Cruz carry the speaking burden in the early hours of the affair.
Under the rules of the Senate, Mr. Cruz was required to stand the whole time to signify he had control of the floor, but he could yield to colleagues for questions, and they often asked minutes-long questions in order to give him a brief breather.
Indeed, during Mr. Paul’s filibuster this year, his colleagues competed to help him, egged on by a “Stand with Rand” campaign launched over Twitter.
Mr. Cruz was one of those who helped Mr. Paul, and the senator from Kentucky returned the favor Tuesday, coming to the floor to ask questions of Mr. Cruz and to offer advice.
Mr. Cruz said he had taken to heart some of Mr. Paul’s advice, particularly about wearing comfortable shoes — so much so that he ditched his usual lucky ostrich-skin boots for sneakers.
“I took the coward’s way out,” he confessed to his C-SPAN audience.