WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) ended his symbolic filibuster Wednesday as Senate rules forced him to stop talking. Senators then voted to push ahead with the bill to fund the government that the Texan and his allies had tried to stall all night long.
Cruz quit at noon to a smattering of Republican applause, ceding the floor at the technical start of a new legislative day after holding forth for more than 21 hours. He could have spoken longer, but had to stop for good at 1 p.m. for a vote to proceed with debate on the spending bill.
The Senate voted unanimously to do so, including Cruz.
Cruz is trying to block the spending bill, already passed by the House last week, even though it contains the provisions he requested to defund President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. Money to keep the government open runs out Sept. 30, and Cruz is seeking to block the bill because he doesn't want Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to have the opportunity to amend the measure.
The Texas senator has pointed to the next procedural vote in the process on Friday or Saturday -- to end debate -- as the key one in the fight. After that, Reid would be able to amend the bill with just 51 votes.
But killing the legislation in the Senate would guarantee a government shutdown, and senators on both sides of the aisle would prefer to move the spending portion quickly, in hopes of leaving enough time to work out some sort of deal with the House.
Still, Cruz, aided by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and several other senators, talked through the night, hoping to stall the process.
Cruz spoke at seemingly infinite length, comparing his desire to defund Obamacare to the battle against the Nazis, the American Revolution, and other moments that he said were similar in that people said some fight couldn't be won.
He resorted to many well-worn talking points against the health care law, and also sprinkled in the sorts of odd references that can crop up when someone talks for so long, reading Green Eggs and Ham to his daughters via C-Span, claiming that his dad invented that dish, and even channeling Darth Vader in response to a line from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
"I will confess that that phrase, a 'rebellion against oppression,' conjured up to me the rebel alliance fighting against the empire, the empire being the Washington, D.C., establishment," Cruz said on Wednesday morning. "I wondered if at some point we were going to see a tall gentleman in a mechanical breathing apparatus come forth and say in a deep voice, 'Mike Lee, I am your father.'"
"This is a fight to restore freedom to the people," he added, completing the analogy. "This is a fight to get the Washington establishment -- the empire -- to listen to the people."
Cruz's talkathon would have constituted the fourth longest filibuster in modern history, but Democrats have been calling it a "faux filibuster" because it had no chance to stop the vote, which was already determined under the chamber's rules.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) emerged shortly after Cruz yielded the floor to commend the Texas senator for holding the floor "for nearly a day, speaking passionately about an issue that unites every single Republican."
But McConnell had been noticeably absent from Cruz's talkathon after stating Tuesday that he disagreed with his colleague's approach, which he said would put House Republicans in a "tough spot."
The biggest opposition to Cruz's tactics came from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has butted heads with the junior senator all year. In a lengthy floor speech ahead of the vote, McCain dubbed Cruz's marathon a case of "extended oratory."
"I can't call it a filibuster because filibusters delay passage of legislation," McCain said.
He added that Obamacare was "a major issue in the  campaign."
"I campaigned all over America for two months everywhere I could, and in every single campaign rally I said, 'And we have to repeal and replace Obamacare,'" McCain said. "Well, the people spoke. They spoke, much to my dismay, but they spoke and they reelected the president of the United States."
"Now, that doesn't mean that we give up our efforts to try to repeal and replace Obamacare, but it does mean that elections have consequences," he added.