Senator Ted Cruz strolled into the Senate chamber alone at around 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, carrying a large binder and ready to make his case to the American people via an informal filibuster, still ongoing at the time of this article’s publication. Mike Lee (R., Utah) would join him moments later, but not after the majority of their Senate colleagues had already thwarted their efforts to block a vote on a House-passed continuing resolution (CR) that would strip funding for Obamacare.
“I think we’d all be hard pressed to explain why we’re opposed to a bill we’re in favor of,” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after a GOP lunch meeting at the Capitol. “Invoking cloture on a bill that defunds Obamacare, doesn’t raise taxes, and respects the Budget Control Act, strikes me as a no-brainer.”
Cruz and Lee had pushed for months to win a vote on a must-pass government-funding bill that also defunds Obamacare, but are now filibustering that very bill, which passed the House this week. They’re trying to block passage of the measure they wanted in an effort to prevent Senate majority leader Harry Reid from amending it to restore Obamacare funding, which Reid can do with 51 votes and plans to do as soon as the measure is brought to the floor on Wednesday.
Cruz’s plans to mount a talking filibuster were rendered moot when enough GOP senators said they would vote to invoke cloture Wednesday and proceed to a final vote on the funding bill. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said the “vast majority” of Republicans agreed that a filibuster was a misguided strategy. Even Senator Rand Paul, who has often allied with Cruz against party leadership, was reportedly not on board at the meeting (though he has now joined Cruz and Lee at the rostrum).
“First of all, there’s no end result other than shutting the government down, for which Republicans are going to be blamed by the illustrious media in this country,” Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah told reporters outside the Senate chamber. “I just don’t believe anybody benefits from shutting the government down. It’s just that simple.”
Republicans even discussed the possibility of further expediting the voting process in the Senate, in order to give the House more time to act before government funding runs out at the end of the month. McConnell said he was worried that, if the Senate adhered to standard procedure, House leadership might be put “in a tough spot.” If the Senate waits until Sunday to pass the amended resolution and send it back to the House, Speaker John Boehner would have just two days to take up the bill and add amendments (the CR expires on Monday, the end of the federal government’s fiscal year).
However, speeding up the process would require unanimous consent, meaning that Cruz or Lee could foil the plan by withholding support. “There wasn’t agreement to do it at this point, but there could be,” said Senator John Hoeven (R., N.D.).
GOP aides noted that Harry Reid has all but agreed to accept the existing, sequestration funding levels in the continuing resolution, which should be considered a win for Republicans. They are also optimistic about winning some additional concessions on Obamacare — an individual-mandate delay or a repeal of the medical-device tax, for example. The cracks are already beginning to show, one aide said, refererring to comments from Democratic National Committee chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who cautioned Democrats to “not treat every minute provision in the law as sacred.”
Whatever the end result, a handful of vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection will once again have to go on record supporting an unpopular law, or risk being painted as flip-floppers. (And all but three Senate Democrats will have to support the measure to reinstate Obamacare funding.)
“We’re in the minority. We have to find a way of standing up for our principles without immolating ourselves in front of everybody,” Hatch told reporters, just moments before Ted Cruz took to the Senate floor to stand up for his principles.
— Andrew Stiles and Jonathan Strong are political reporters for National Review Online.