Senate GOP Divide on Display in Shutdown Fight

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, have made waves in the GOP lately. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, have made waves in the GOP lately. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The normally sleepy Senate chamber crackled with drama on Thursday.

Sen. Bob Corker got so frustrated with Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee on the Senate floor Thursday that the presiding officer—Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin—admonished members that rules require them to refer to each other in the third person.

"It's my understanding that the reason you don't want to send a bill over to the House who could possibly put in place some very good policies for us here … is that you want the American people and the outside groups that you've been in contact with to be able to watch us tomorrow," Corker said.

The offending remarks were calling a colleague "you," but the real offense, in Corker's view, is one the Senate has been grappling with since Cruz's 21-hour talk-a-thon in opposition of Obamacare.

Corker is one of a number of Republican senators who all but pulled their hair out over Cruz and Lee's tactics aimed at defunding Obamacare through a stopgap funding measure.

Cruz and Lee want Republicans to vote against cloture on a bill they actually support because that will allow Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to strip the Obamacare language and change a date in the bill. Their strategy assumes that after the government shuts down, the public will grow angry at Obama and Democrats over Obamacare and force them to repeal it.

Corker has compared Cruz and Lee's strategy to walking into a "box canyon" from which there's no escape, and he argued that because Democrats control the Senate and the White House, it's impossible to expect them to be persuaded.

The scene began over an arcane but common Senate procedure: a unanimous consent request, which in English is a petition to proceed on a measure without having to tally votes. As the name suggests, it means that no senator objects, and if one senator does, then the request is denied.

Here's what happened:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., asked to move up a cloture vote and final votes on the House's funding resolution to Thursday night. He reasoned that the sooner the House got the bill back, the sooner it could act.

Lee, with Cruz seated nearby, stood to object. He reasoned that most Americans expected the vote on Friday or Saturday.

"The American people are paying attention to this. The American people are watching this," Lee said.

What's the difference between a vote tonight and tomorrow, Lee asked.

Reid called their strategy a charade, and soon after that, Corker joined in on the floor, sparring with Cruz over his vote on a procedural vote on a motion Wednesday.

"I don't think we've had in the Senate where we had a 21-hour filibuster and then the person carrying out the filibuster voted for the issue they were filibustering," Corker said.

Cruz shot back he voted how he said he would. It's the second cloture vote he opposes.

"I appreciate the senator from Tennessee's comments supporting the majority leader and I know the senator from Tennessee is learned on the Senate procedures, so that I know he must have made a misstatement when he moments ago suggested that those of us who participated in the filibuster the other day somehow changed our position," Cruz said.

After some more back and forth, Corker laid in.

"It's my understanding again, relative to this vote tonight happening instead of tomorrow, is that my two colleagues, who I respect, have sent out emails around the world and turned this into a show possibly, and therefore they want people around the world to watch maybe them and others on the Senate floor. And that is taking priority over getting legislation back to the House," he said.

Cruz then said maybe Reid is confused because he would be voting with Corker on the bill. Corker to Cruz: Well, why did you vote with Reid on Wednesday?

After more sparring, Baldwin banged the gavel when the time ran out, and reminded members that they are to refer to one another in the third person.

Reid left the floor, then returned.

"I'm sorry we're going to have to vote tomorrow and not today," he said.

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