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Cruz: Speech to last until I can't stand
02:58 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Cruz in marathon protest speech on Senate floor

McConnell rejects Cruz strategy for government funding and Obamacare

Cruz wants to stop Senate votes on House plan, knowing Democrats will amend it, fund Obamacare

Harry Reid says the Senate's first key procedural vote will occur on Wednesday

Washington CNN  — 

Republican Ted Cruz of Texas took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to discuss the shutdown debate in remarks that headed deep into the night – a dramatic step in defense of his high profile and controversial plan to prevent any funding for Obamacare.

“I intend to speak in support of defunding Obamacare until I am no longer able to stand,” he said. “All across this country, Americans are suffering because of Obamacare. Obamacare isn’t working.”

Cruz, who began speaking shortly after 2:40 p.m. ET, was alone for nearly an hour before being joined by Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican.

The tea party allies engaged in an extended dialogue that was part stamina test for Cruz and part political theater for the rest of Capitol Hill.

Cruz was later briefly joined by other Republican senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky, another tea party favorite, David Vitter of Louisiana, and Sen. Marco Rubio spoke as well.

“How many more Americans will have to see their wages or their hours cut as a result of this ill-conceived law before we do something about this?” Vitter asked.

As Cruz got going, he raised a number of points about the issue at hand.

“This fight is not about any member of this body. This fight is not about personalities. Look, most Americans could not give a flying flip about a bunch of politicians in Washington. Who cares? Almost all of us are in cheap suits with bad haircuts! Who cares?” he said.

He also read from the Dr. Seuss children’s classic “Green Eggs and Ham” to his daughters as the night wore on.

There was also a sharp exchange with Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who was was the first Democrat to question Cruz during his remarks.

Cruz’s comments were not – in and of themselves – a filibuster, a practice made famous by Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” when Senate business was brought to a halt through one lengthy, uninterrupted speech.

They were, however, part of an ongoing attempted filibuster by some Senate conservatives. Cruz and a few others in the Republican caucus are trying to prevent the Senate from taking up the government funding bill passed last week by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

Cruz and his tea party allies support the House bill, which removes funding for the implementation of President Barack Obama’s health care law, but don’t want to give Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Senate Democrats a chance to amend the measure by restoring Obamacare funding.

Reid had filed a motion to break the filibuster before Cruz rose to speak. The clock was already ticking on the Senate’s first key procedural vote on the matter, which will take place shortly after 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday regardless of what Cruz does.

Reid needs 60 votes in order to break the attempted filibuster and formally kick off debate on the House bill. There are 54 members of the Democratic caucus, which means the support of at least six Republicans will be required.

Once the formal debate has started, however, Reid will only need 50 votes to make changes to the House measure.

“Any senator who votes (to move forward with debate on the House bill) is voting to give Harry Reid the authority to fund Obamacare,” Cruz told CNN’s Dana Bash on Monday, firing a warning shot at his fellow Senate Republicans.

GOP infighting over how best to prevent a government shutdown while defunding Obamacare escalated further on Tuesday, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, publicly dismissed Cruz’s more confrontational strategy.

“I don’t think that filibustering a bill that defunds Obamacare is the best route to defunding Obamacare,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “All it does is shut down the government and keep Obamacare funded, and none of us want that.”

Cruz’s GOP critics believe his strategy is politically suicidal, arguing there is no way to stop Obamacare as long as Democrats maintain control of the Senate and Obama himself remains in the White House.

They believe that trying to do so by forcing a shutdown – or preventing a hike in the debt ceiling next month – will backfire by harming the economy and damaging the Republican brand.

Some Republicans, like McConnell, would at least like the opportunity to force vulnerable Democrats to cast a politically tough vote on the House plan.

Republicans have “a rare opportunity to defund this law with a simple majority,” McConnell added. “We should have that vote.”

It remains to be seen how much pressure Cruz and his tea party backers will ultimately put on other Republicans. McConnell is up for reelection in 2014, and his conservative GOP primary challenger wasted no time Tuesday blasting the minority leader for opposing Cruz’s stance.

“Like so many other crucial fights, Mitch McConnell has caved to Harry Reid on Obamacare and is refusing to fight to defund this disastrous legislation,” Matt Bevin said.

“I am proud to support conservatives like Senator Ted Cruz in his fight to defund Obamacare, and I promise the people of Kentucky: I will never cave to Harry Reid.”

For his part, Reid argued on the Senate floor that “just as the economy begins to gain steam, some Republicans in Congress seem determined to derail four years of progress.”

“They’re obsessed with defunding health care,” he said. “They’re pushing us closer and closer to a government shutdown that would tank the economy.”

CNN’s Ted Barrett and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report