The End of the Beginning

by Jonathan Strong

One got the distinct sense, talking to other senators in the Capitol, that they were a little jealous about the Ted Cruz show.

“I mean, it was his choice. He didn’t have to! He could go to the bathroom, he could eat, he could do whatever he wanted. The vote was at 1:00 p.m. I think he knew,” said Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. “He’s not engaged in a debate. This isn’t a debate. This is a made-for-TV political opportunity for him. This is nothing to do with the substance of his arguments, it has nothing to with the substance of the bill, this is a made-for-TV movie starring Ted Cruz,” she added.

“Madam President, first of all, this is not a filibuster. This is an agreement that he and I made, that he could talk,” said Senate majority leader Harry Reid on the Senate floor. As Reid launched into a speech denouncing him, Cruz reclaimed control of the floor and refused to let the powerful Nevada senator badger him, saying he wouldn’t be muzzled.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, sitting next to Reid, audibly mocked Cruz, repeating the word “muzzled” with utter disdain and muttering colorful sentiments beneath his breath.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, Cruz’s chief Republican rival, feigned complete lack of interest. When I asked him what he thought of Cruz’s speech, he shrugged his shoulders. “It’s his privilege,” he said. “It is what it is. People are exercising their rights,” he said later, looking bored. 

“If he wants to stay awake, he can stay awake. Most of my constituents are getting up and are concerned about whether they can send their kids to college or [whether] the roads and bridges and highways are safe. They’re not concerned about whether he can stay awake,” said Senator Patty Murray, Washington Democrat.

A few minutes after finishing his marathon speech on the Senate floor — longer than all but three of the longest filibusters in history — Cruz emerged into a hallway to a crush of reporters dwarfing even the largest scrums of day-to-day life in the Capitol. He promised to be “very brief” but spent a long five minutes repeating the same things he’d been repeating 20 hours on the Senate floor.

“What this debate fundamentally was about, wasn’t a continuing resolution, it wasn’t the budget, it wasn’t even Obamacare. This debate was whether Washington is going to listen to the American people,” he said.

Leaving the horde of print reporters and still cameras behind, Cruz walked down a set of stairs to a group of television cameras waiting for their own special interview with the Texas Republican. After repeating himself yet again, he finally left the building.  

The spotlight is putting a lot of focus on an unpopular law, which in turn forces red-state Democrats like McCaskill on defense. 

“I would be willing to talk to anybody about making it work better. But they’re not interested in that. They want to use it as a political 2×4. They don’t have anything to replace it with.” 

But asked about delaying the individual mandate, McCaskill said, “I don’t think we should delay the opportunity to get what they’ve been waiting for, and that is affordable health insurance.” On the “medical-device tax,” another unpopular provision, McCaskill said, “I think we have to really be careful about going back on the way that we have funded the bill so that it remains fiscally responsible.” 

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