(CNN) — As he hit the 18-hour mark on the Senate floor Wednesday morning, Sen. Ted Cruz compared his anti-Obamacare effort to “Star Wars.” And he tried out his vocal impression of Darth Vader.
Referring to having heard someone use the phrase “rebellion against oppression,” Cruz said those words “conjured up to me the rebel alliance fighting against the empire. The empire being the Washington, D.C., establishment.”
“And indeed immediately on hearing that phrase I wondered if at some point we would see a tall gentleman in a mechanical breathing apparatus come forward and say in a deep voice, `Mike Lee, I am your father.’ “
Sen. Mike Lee is one of several Republicans who have taken turns at the microphone, giving their colleague a break.
Cruz and a few others in the Republican caucus want to prevent the Senate from taking up the government funding bill passed last week by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. The Democratic-controlled Senate plans to strip a provision that removed funding for Obamacare.
Cruz’s remarks do not constitute a filibuster and won’t block a key procedural Senate vote, still scheduled for 1 p.m. ET Wednesday.
But Sen. Rand Paul credited Cruz with starting a rebellion. “Hopefully a rebellion against coercion. A rebellion against mandates. A rebellion against everything that says when big government wants to shove something down your throat and said take it or you go to jail,” Paul said.
Cruz said his effort “is a fight to restore freedom to the people. This is a fight to get the Washington establishment, the empire, to listen to the people. And just like in the ‘Star Wars’ movies the empire will strike back. But at the end of the day I think the rebel alliance, I think the people will prevail.”
Those remarks came at about 8:40 a.m. Cruz began speaking at about 2:40 p.m. Tuesday.
‘Green Eggs and Ham’ gets a reading
“I intend to speak in support of defunding Obamacare until I am no longer able to stand,” Cruz vowed Tuesday. “All across this country, Americans are suffering because of Obamacare. Obamacare isn’t working.”
At one point Tuesday night, the senator from Texas read the Dr. Seuss children’s classic “Green Eggs and Ham” to his daughters.
At 9 a.m. Wednesday, Cruz was alone on the floor, except for the presiding officer, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois.
There were no spectators in the general public’s area of the balcony.
Cruz showed no sign of stopping. Earlier Wednesday, he said there will come a point when he can’t, “but we have not yet reached that ponit.”
Just a bit earlier, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas took the microphone and asked Cruz how he’s doing.
“I am doing fabulous,” Cruz replied.
Two sides battle it out on social media
Firing a warning shot at his fellow Senate Republicans, Cruz told CNN’s Dana Bash on Monday, “Any senator who votes (to move forward with debate on the House bill) is voting to give Harry Reid the authority to fund Obamacare.”
He added, “This fight is not about any member of this body. This fight is not about personalities. Look, most Americans could not give a flying flip about a bunch of politicians in Washington. Who cares? Almost all of us are in cheap suits with bad haircuts! Who cares?”
Supporters cheered him on through social media, and #StandWithCruz became one of the most popular hashtags on Twitter.
But supporters of the health care law made themselves heard as well. On Wednesday morning, the two sides were battling it out in the top trending topic in the United States: “Obamacare.”
After he began Tuesday afternoon, Cruz was alone for nearly an hour. Then Lee joined him. The tea party allies engaged in an extended dialogue.
Cruz was also joined briefly by other Republican senators: Paul of Kentucky, another tea party favorite, and David Vitter of Louisiana.
“How many more Americans will have to see their wages or their hours cut as a result of this ill-conceived law before we do something about this?” Vitter asked.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a fellow Republican, took the floor for a time Wednesday morning, ostensibly offering lengthy answers to Cruz’s rhetorical questions about how Obamacare may affect the Hispanic community, and whether the law has “made it easier or harder to achieve the American dream.”
Cruz had one sharp exchange with Durbin, the first Democrat to question him.
Key Republicans critical of Cruz strategy
But he is also the target of criticism by some top Republicans.
GOP infighting over how best to prevent a government shutdown while defunding Obamacare escalated further Tuesday as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, publicly dismissed Cruz’s more confrontational strategy.
“I don’t think that filibustering a bill that defunds Obamacare is the best route to defunding Obamacare,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “All it does is shut down the government and keep Obamacare funded, and none of us want that.”
Cruz’s GOP critics believe his strategy is politically suicidal, arguing there is no way to stop Obamacare as long as Democrats maintain control of the Senate and Obama is in the White House.
They believe that trying to do so by forcing a shutdown — or preventing an increase in the debt ceiling next month — will backfire by harming the economy and damaging the Republican brand.
Some Republicans, such as McConnell, would at least like the opportunity to force vulnerable Democrats to cast a politically tough vote on the House plan.
Republicans have “a rare opportunity to defund this law with a simple majority,” McConnell added. “We should have that vote.”
It remains to be seen how much pressure Cruz and his tea party backers will ultimately put on other Republicans. McConnell is up for re-election in 2014, and his conservative GOP primary challenger wasted no time Tuesday blasting the minority leader for opposing Cruz’s stance.
“Like so many other crucial fights, Mitch McConnell has caved to Harry Reid on Obamacare and is refusing to fight to defund this disastrous legislation,” Matt Bevin said.
“I am proud to support conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz in his fight to defund Obamacare, and I promise the people of Kentucky: I will never cave to Harry Reid.”
For his part, Reid argued on the Senate floor that “just as the economy begins to gain steam, some Republicans in Congress seem determined to derail four years of progress.”
“They’re obsessed with defunding health care,” he said. “They’re pushing us closer and closer to a government shutdown that would tank the economy.”
CNN’s Paul Courson, Virginia Nicolaidis, Ted Barrett and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.
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