Cruz-ing for a bruising

WASHINGTON — A couple of hours before Sen. Ted Cruz launched his doomed filibuster, his Republican colleagues staged an intervention.

They called him to the Strom Thurmond Room off the Senate floor, named after the late lawmaker who was famous for his filibusters against civil rights. They pleaded with their junior colleague to reconsider his plan to block a vote on legislation that would keep the government open. The filibuster, ostensibly in opposition to Obamacare, would do nothing to halt the hated health care reforms, they said. It would make Republicans look foolish. It would leave House Republicans with too little time to avoid a shutdown. And it could cause Republicans to be blamed for that shutdown.

Cruz heard them out and then told them to take a hike. “I intend to speak in support of defunding Obamacare until I am no longer able to stand,” he announced as he launched his marathon filibuster.

His action hurt his fellow Republicans without doing anything to abolish Obamacare. But the filibuster did achieve something: It gave Cruz more TV exposure and further endeared him to the tea party. And for the ambitious senator from Texas, the most important thing has always been Ted Cruz.

As he brought the Senate to a halt, Cruz told his captive audience many salient facts:

He likes pancakes.

He’s “a big fan” of White Castle.

His father liked to watch movies three times.

“‘Green Eggs and Ham’ was my favorite book when I was a little boy.”

His parents were small-business owners.

Their business went bankrupt.

He thinks fact-checkers (who often point out Cruz’s falsehoods) are a “pernicious” form of “yellow journalism.”

On and on he went, hour after hour. He spoke about Obamacare but also about his daughters, his wife, his travels, his footwear, his staff and his father’s underwear. With a fixed look of earnest sorrow, the balding lawmaker returned again and again to his favorite topic: himself.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Cruz’s filibuster was how much of a solo act it was. There were cameos in the early hours by Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, David Vitter, R-La., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and others, but in contrast to the team effort toward Paul’s filibuster in March, this was all about Cruz.

More than once he remarked on the empty chamber. “Anyone who wants to know why this body is held in low esteem only has to look out to the empty chairs,” he said. “What is the United States Senate doing to listen to you?” he asked his C-SPAN audience.

He didn’t seem to grasp that the chamber was empty because most of his colleagues didn’t want to stand with him. Privately, Republican senators spoke of their distaste for their self-aggrandizing colleague. There was speculation that the defund-Obamacare effort would get more votes if it weren’t identified with Cruz.

Their complaints were similar to those of House Republicans who branded Cruz a “fraud” for demanding that the House send the Senate a bill defunding Obamacare and then, once they committed to doing so, announced that he didn’t have the votes for Senate passage.

Even Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, normally frightened of Cruz’s tea-party support, stood in opposition. “I just don’t happen to think filibustering a bill that defunds Obamacare is the best route to defunding Obamacare,” McConnell said on the floor Tuesday. “All it does is shut down the government and keep Obamacare funded.”

If this were the Roman senate, they would have had a phrase for what is happening to Cruz: Sic semper sui amatoribus. Thus always to self-lovers.

Democrats, of course, were delighted with the Republicans’ bickering. President Obama was on the world stage, giving an address to the United Nations that included a passionate defense of why he believes the United States is the indispensable nation. “Some may disagree, but I believe America is exceptional,” Obama said.

Republicans, by contrast, were arguing about “cloture” and “post-cloture” votes to defund Obamacare. Is there any doubt about who will win the coming showdown?

Cruz tried to cast his quest in the loftiest terms, saying those who resist his bid to defund Obamacare are like those who appeased the Nazis. But before long, he was back to his favorite topic.

He spoke of the black ostrich cowboy boots he likes to wear on the Senate floor but said he was “embarrassed” to admit that he bought black tennis shoes for his filibuster.

Good to know his feet are comfortable. But how long until this self-promoting Texan gets the boot?

Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist.

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