Ted Cruz Takes the Floor, but Don’t Call It a Filibuster (Updated)

Posted September 24, 2013 at 3:40pm

Updated 5:38 p.m. | Sen. Ted Cruz kicked off what’s already become a lengthy floor speech on Tuesday afternoon without any hope of seriously delaying the Senate’s proceedings.

The Texas Republican says he will hold the Senate floor until he can’t stand any longer, but if he really goes on long enough, it’ll be the job of the presiding officer to stop him. That’s because a new day will begin at noon on Wednesday and the Senate will adjourn, somewhat magically.

The vote to limit debate on the motion to proceed to the fiscal 2014 stopgap spending bill — including for the moment the defunding of the 2010 health care law that Cruz supports — will occur no later than 1 p.m. Wednesday, according to a senior Democratic aide.

Cruz gained recognition at 2:41 p.m. Tuesday, aiming, perhaps, to best the nearly 13 hours of floor control that Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., had earlier this year in protest of the Obama administration’s drone policy. In Paul’s case, however, the Senate was not yet operating under a pending cloture motion, meaning that his long speech actually did delay Senate proceedings. (Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., couldn’t file a cloture motion until after Paul stopped.)

Cruz has already gotten some assistance: Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, David Vitter, R-La., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., have been in the chamber with Cruz to ask questions. A senator may ask a particularly long-winded “question” in order to give Cruz a break from speaking without him losing control of the floor.

Rep. Paul Broun has also been seen sitting in the rear of the Senate chamber. The Georgia Republican has long been aligned with the effort to defund the health care law. He’s running for Senate in a contested Georgia GOP primary.

Paul showed up on the floor at around 5:30 p.m. to both give Cruz some advice and to ask a few questions. In response to Paul’s earlier suggestion that Cruz wear comfortable shoes to give the extended speech, Cruz said he wanted to make an “embarrassing admission.”

Cruz said that he superstitiously wore his black ostrich “argument boots” for every major courtroom or Senate event he has attended until Tuesday. “I took the coward’s way out,” Cruz said. “I went and purchased some black tennis shoes.” He likened them to the same shoes often worn by fellow GOP Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah.

In the first few hours, Cruz made no shortage of cultural references, particularly to food, including the burgers from the White Castle restaurant chain. He also talked about his favorite book from childhood, by Dr. Seuss.

Cruz was referencing his father’s work in a restaurant, where he got promoted to cook after gaining some mastery of English.

“I will credit my father, he invented — this wasn’t for the restaurant, but he did it anyway — but he invented green eggs and ham. He did it two ways. The easy way was he would put green food coloring in eggs. ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ was my favorite book as a little boy. You can actually do it,” said Cruz. “The food coloring is a little bit cheating, but if you take spinach and mix it into the eggs, the eggs turn green.”

Though Cruz’s speech has so far taken some interesting turns, he began this way: “I rise today in opposition to Obamacare. I rise today in an effort to speak for 26 million Texans and for 300 million Americans. All across this country, Americans are suffering because of Obamacare. Obamacare isn’t working, and yet fundamentally there are politicians in this body who are not listening to the people,” Cruz said in opening his remarks. “They’re not listening to the concerns of their constituents. They’re not listening to the jobs lost, to the people forced into part-time work, to the people losing their health insurance, to the people who are struggling. A great many Texans, a great many Americans feel that they don’t have a voice. And so I hope to play some very small part in helping provide that voice for them.”

Despite the length of the speech, Majority Leader Harry Reid has been insistent (and correct, under the rules) that Cruz and his supporters aren’t really filibustering anything.

“I want everyone — as I said on the floor — to be very clear, there is no filibuster going on now. People can come and talk, but they can’t do anything to change when we vote on the next vote,” the Nevada Democrat told reporters outside the chamber as Cruz went to the floor.

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson shed a little more light on this point on Twitter.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is not backing Cruz’s strategy, said that speaking only for himself, he hopes time will get yielded back to give Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and his House Republicans more time, rather than be handed a continuing resolution on Sept. 30 with a government shutdown looming at midnight.

The Kentucky Republican notes that a vote to limit debate on the House-passed CR is a vote in favor of a policy that Republicans agree to. The actual “filibuster” from Cruz and his allies would come if they cajole their colleagues into derailing that vote, an increasingly long-shot possibility.