After more than 21 hours on the Senate floor, Sen. Ted Cruz wrapped up his marathon speech against ObamaCare at noon on Wednesday -- though, as expected, it did not stop the chamber from proceeding to a controversial test vote.
The speech amounted to a final act of political theater before the vote. As he concluded, Cruz said to the American people: "This debate's in your hands." He told reporters afterward that the debate isn't about the bill itself but about "whether Washington was going to listen to the American people."
Cruz had attracted a rotating set of supporters by sunrise, as they joined him on the floor in blasting the health care law.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was less amused, taking the floor to describe Cruz's address as a "big waste of time," with a government shutdown looming unless lawmakers can resolve their dispute over the health care law.
"With all due respect, I'm not sure we learned anything new," Reid said.
The Senate is about to hold a test vote on a bill that would both fund the government past Sept. 30 and defund the health care law, though Reid is expected to quickly strip the ObamaCare language.
Cruz, R-Texas, had declared Tuesday afternoon that he intended to speak in opposition to ObamaCare "until I am no longer able to stand."
"ObamaCare isn't working," he said. "There are politicians in this body who are not listening to the people."
The feisty senator spoke through the night. His topics ranged from the American revolution and the Washington establishment to his Cuban-born father and the impact of the health care law.
As his speech neared its sixth hour, Cruz took an odd turn by reading his young daughters a bedtime story via the Senate floor cameras. Cruz said his book of choice, Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham," was a favorite of his as a child.
The speech was reminiscent of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., earlier this year staging an old-fashioned filibuster to voice his concerns over drones.
Paul joined Cruz on the Senate floor for a time, telling his colleague to make sure he is wearing comfortable shoes for the long night ahead and saying "we're asking for a dialogue" on ObamaCare.
"How do we get the dialogue unless somebody's willing to stand up and say enough's enough?" Paul asked.
Cruz, with the help of Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and others, surpassed the length of Paul's nearly 13-hour filibuster at about 3:30 a.m. EDT Wednesday.
Cruz's address on the Senate floor was not technically a filibuster like Paul's because he is not technically able to stop the Senate from holding a test vote on Wednesday. Democrats say that vote is happening no matter what.
Cruz has taken a curious position on that vote. Though he supported a House-passed bill that both funds the government past Sept. 30 and de-funds ObamaCare, he has urged his colleagues to block the bill in the Senate -- out of concern that Reid will add an amendment stripping out the ObamaCare provision.
Since Monday, however, Cruz has lost the support of many of his Republican colleagues. GOP leaders want to defund the law, but don't think stalling the bill in the Senate is the best way forward. For some, the position Cruz wants lawmakers to take is counterintuitive.
"We'd all be hard-pressed to explain why we were opposed to a bill we were in favor of. And invoking cloture that defunds ObamaCare, doesn't raise taxes, and respects the Budget Control Act strikes me as a no-brainer," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.
Some Republicans also are openly dubious that the push to defund ObamaCare has any chance of succeeding -- and worry that Republicans will take the blame if lawmakers are deadlocked and the government shuts down on Oct. 1.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Republicans surely would be blamed for a shutdown, in part because of media bias against his party.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the effort is hopeless. "It will be a cold day in Arizona when we defund ObamaCare," he said. "I know how this movie ends. I don't know all the scenes before it ends, but I know how it ends. We don't defund ObamaCare."
Some GOP leaders, though, are still urging moderate Democrats to join them in voting against the health care law. Their hope is to advance the bill in a test vote on Wednesday, then convince enough senators to block any effort to fund the law. That's an uphill climb.
And Reid said Democrats aren't budging. "The Senate will not pass any bill that defunds or delays ObamaCare," he said.
Despite the divide in the GOP, though, there's no guarantee that lawmakers can reach common ground and pass a budget bill by the time funding runs out on Oct. 1.
If Reid musters the votes to strip the ObamaCare language, he'd likely have to clear one more 60-vote hurdle before passing the bill and sending it back to the House. If the House, then, tries to change the Senate bill, lawmakers could easily miss the end-of-the-month deadline.
Reid claimed Tuesday that any effort by the House to modify the bill would be a "surefire way" to shut down the government.
To make the pill a bit easier to swallow, Reid said he was changing the budget bill so it only lasts through Nov. 15, as opposed to Dec. 15. The move, though, would virtually guarantee another showdown in November.