You know the U.S. Senate is getting perilously close to Too Hot for C-SPAN territory when the presiding officer must stop everything and remind everyone that chamber rules require lawmakers to “address each other in the third person."
On Thursday, Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who earlier this week joined Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in a 21-hour protest speech against the 2010 federal health care law, objected when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moved to fast-track a spending measure that would nix Tuesday's looming government shutdown.
The reason? Because viewers at home were expecting the vote to occur on Friday or Saturday — and he didn’t want them to miss it.
Reid exploded as he took to the Senate floor.
“This is not the House of Representatives,” he said from the floor. “We have rules here!"
It's those very rules that keep business in the chamber moving at a snail's pace. Thursday's inaction means that even if the Senate moves ahead Friday, the House would not receive the bill until Sunday, Sept. 29, at the earliest.
That would give negotiations between the chambers, which are controlled by opposing parties, essentially one day to figure out how to agree to keep the federal government running.
Furious on the floor, Reid then mocked Cruz, who was standing near him, for his daylong protest speech the day before.
“Maybe I’ll give this great speech that will turn the world around,” Reid fumed. “This is senseless.”
Reid asked Lee to revoke his objection to holding a vote that night, but he refused.
Then, in a rare move of bipartisanship, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican, took the Democrats’ side against Cruz and Lee. He implored the duo to reconsider their objection and accused them of stalling simply because they sent emails to supporters telling them to tune in to C-SPAN on Friday to watch the vote, as if it were some kind of prime-time lineup.
“It just doesn't seem to me that that's in our nation’s interest,” Corker said. “Nor is it, candidly, in the interest of those who want to see good policy on the conservative side."
Cruz and Corker then spent several minutes arguing about Cruz’s strategy to threaten a government shutdown unless Obamacare is defunded until the presiding officer had to cut them off.
The exchange between Corker and Cruz was emblematic of growing frustration between many Republicans and the new Texas lawmaker. For weeks, Cruz has antagonized members of his own party with ads claiming that any vote to fund the government that includes money for the health care law is equivalent to supporting the law itself. In the past few days, Cruz has called on his colleagues to join him in blocking a final vote on a bill to avoid a government shutdown, but he appears to have won few converts, and even fewer friends within the party.
Most Senate Republicans are expected to rebuke his strategy on Friday when the Senate votes.
But at least lots of Cruz’s fans will be watching, which for this ambitious outsider, is exactly what he wanted.