Sen. Ted Cruz, known as a lightning rod freshman in Congress, might have outdone even himself Wednesday in grabbing the spotlight.
No stranger to headlines for his knack for pushing boundaries, Cruz embarked on a marathon speech on the Senate floor to assail President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
As he usually does, Cruz sparked strong reactions with his speech, which ran 21 hours and 19 minutes.
Conservatives, including Tea Party groups, lauded Cruz for his in-your-face fight against the president’s health care plan. Many admire Cruz’s willingness to go against even his own party when he has felt that they have not held their ground against certain bills.
But others, including Democrats and some Republicans, expressed exasperation over Cruz’s speech, saying it changed nothing and amounted only to theatrics.
Tea Party Express, the nation’s largest Tea Party political action committee, praised Cruz for representing conservative constituents.
“This speech wasn't just historic — what Ted Cruz did was epic,” said Amy Kremer, chair of the organization, in a written statement. “He made good on his promises and displayed courage rarely seen in modern politics.”
“Cruz's commitment to conservative principles is why he is one of the leading conservative voices in America today. We're urging Tea Party supporters everywhere to stand with Ted Cruz and his fellow Senators who support a NO vote on cloture this Friday.”
The all-night self-emulation is energizing the grass-roots conservatives that already helped Cruz rise from electoral longshot to national star, and may prove a boon for other tea party-backed candidates waiting to follow in his footsteps.
While no one is expecting an army of Cruz clones to emerge, he may be a model for a certain type of confrontational conservatism back home. And the implications will stretch far beyond its own borders since Texas is the nation's richest GOP donor state and repeatedly has been a cradle for Republican presidential candidates — perhaps even Cruz himself in 2016.
"You can feel the Cruz effect all over the state," said Konni Burton, a Fort Worth tea party Republican who is running for a Texas Senate seat
The Senate's top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid, did a Twitter version of an eye-roll over the Cruz speech.
"For lack of a better way of describing this, it has been a big waste of time," tweeted Reid as soon as Cruz finished.
Dr. Jane Delgado, president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, based in Washington D.C., said Latinos need the Affordable Care Act because a third of the community is uninsured.
“We’re the group least likely to have health insurance,” Delgado said. “Any step in the direction of getting our children and working adults insured is a step in the right direction.”
“A lot of Hispanics work in jobs where employers do not provide health insurance, a lot of them are independent workers, so the idea of buying insurance in an exchange is really important,” she said. “They work hard, but because they work they don’t qualify for any state program.”
As for Cruz’s comparison of the health care reform law to Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs And Ham,” which he read aloud on the Senate floor, Delgado said: “It was an abuse of Dr. Seuss.”
What does she think Cruz accomplished?
"He got a lot of attention," she said.
In a reflection of the limited GOP support for Cruz' effort, no members of the Senate leadership came to the Texan's aid.
Cruz said he has learned that defying party leaders is "survivable," adding, "Ultimately, it is liberating" and that his long evening involved "sometimes some pain, sometimes fatigue."
But he added, "You know what? There's far more pain in rolling over. ... Far more pain in not standing up for principle."
The Senate promptly advanced legislation required to avert a partial government shutdown at midnight Monday, and is expected to strip from that crucial bill the provision to defund Obama's law.
Since Tuesday afternoon, Cruz — with occasional remarks by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and other GOP conservatives — controlled the Senate floor with his war on so-called Obamacare. When he finally sat down, Cruz and his allies had talked for more than 21 hours, the fourth-longest Senate speech since precise record-keeping began in 1900.
That exceeded March's 12-hour, 52-minute speech by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., like Cruz a tea party lawmaker and potential 2016 presidential contender, and filibusters by such Senate icons as Huey Long of Louisiana and Robert Byrd of West Virginia.
Cruz actually joined every other senator in a 100-0 procedural vote to allow the measure to officially go before the Senate. He says Republicans should rally against the measure in a vote scheduled Friday or Saturday on whether to cut off a filibuster on the measure itself, a vote that promises to give Democrats controlling the chamber a procedural edge if Cruz is not successful in blocking them.
Cruz wants to derail the spending bill to deny Democrats the ability to strip a "defund Obamacare" provision out, a strategy that has put him at odds with other Republicans who fear that the move would spark a shutdown.
After the vote, Cruz told reporters he hopes "that Republicans will listen to the people, and that all 46 Republicans come together. Coming into this debate we clearly were not united, there were significant divisions in the conference. I hope those divisions dissolve, that we come together in party unity."
Republican leaders and several rank-and-file GOP lawmakers had opposed Cruz's time-consuming effort with the end of the fiscal year looming. Both Democrats and Republicans say they want to speed Senate action so that that the GOP-controlled House would have enough time to respond to the Senate's eventual action.
Two financial deadlines loom — keeping the government operating after Oct. 1 and raising the nation's borrowing authority. In a letter to Congress on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said the government will have exhausted its borrowing authority by Oct. 17, leaving the United States with just $30 billion cash on hand to pay its bills.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.