Washington • Just after 3 a.m. Wednesday, Sen. Mike Lee had some burning questions for the man who by then had been holding the Senate floor for some 12 hours.
How long was the 100-year war? Where do Chinese gooseberries come from? Where are Panama hats made? What color is an airplane’s black box?
These weren’t the result of sleep deprivation, but queries aimed at driving home the point that things aren’t always what they seem. (A black box, for example, is actually orange.) The kicker? That the Affordable Care Act is anything, the senator argued, but affordable.
Armed only with a stack of papers, a dark suit, yellow tie and a microphone, Lee came to Sen. Ted Cruz’s aid through the night as the Texas Republican held the mostly deserted Senate floor for more than 21 hours in a last-ditch stand against the health care law better known as Obamacare.
Having already lost the battle to halt a vote on funding the government past Monday’s midnight deadline, Cruz’s prolonged lecture was purely symbolic, but Lee, among other senators, was there to help prop up his tea-party buddy as the hours crawled by.
"We want to stand with the American people," Lee said at 6:48 p.m. Eastern time.
"I’ve come with some updates from the outside world," Lee told a relieved Cruz at 10:20 p.m.
At 2:14 a.m., Lee talked about listening to a popular song with his sons and balking at the "not wholesome" lyrics. Just after 3 a.m., Lee started the planned question-and-answer period with Cruz, who by then had been giving a marathon speech with brief interruptions by his tag team of friends long enough to grab a snack or a swig.
For the record, Chinese gooseberries come from New Zealand. Ecuador makes Panama hats and the 100-year war actually ground on for 116 years.
It seemed about that long by the time Cruz wrapped up his pseudo-filibuster that was doomed to end at noon anyway. His tie loose, his voice raspier and his arms firmly lodged on the desk that held him up, Cruz hadn’t broken the record for the longest Senate talk — but he was close. The distinction still belongs to former South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond for his 24-hour, 18-minute performance in 1957.
At the onset and the close of his anti-Obamacare diatribe, Cruz had noted that Utah’s Lee was the one who had started the fight to use a possible government shutdown as leverage to force Democrats to cut funding for their signature health law.
"Senator Lee has shown visionary leadership in standing and taking the mantle of leading the effort to defund Obamacare and to challenge this train wreck of a law, and Senator Lee has been repaid at times with vilification from official Washington," Cruz said. "In my judgment, there is no senator in this body, Republican or Democrat, who is more principled, who is more dedicated, who is more fearless and willing to fight for the principles that make this nation great than is Senator Mike Lee."
While Cruz got most of the spotlight, Lee was rewarded with the Texan’s unmitigated praise and a small, but national, C-SPAN audience to talk about the more esoteric powers of Congress, including its ability to issue a letter of marque (essentially a get-out-of-jail card) for pirates, while waxing on about how he wanted to be an authorized bandit on the high seas.
And best of all for the Utah Republican who lives to quote the Constitution, he got to talk as long as he wanted about James Madison and Federalist 62.
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