U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet excoriated U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in an impassioned speech on the Senate floor Thursday, dismissing as "crocodile tears" the Texas Republican's attempt to pay Coast Guard members while leaving the rest of the partial federal government shutdown in effect.
“I have worked very hard over the years to work in a bipartisan way with the presiding officer, with my Republican colleagues, but these crocodile tears that the senator from Texas is crying for first responders are too hard for me to take,” said the typically mild-mannered Colorado Democrat after Cruz described the Republican legislation.
“Because when the senator from Texas shut this government down, my state was flooded. It was underwater. People were killed. People’s houses were destroyed. Their small businesses were ruined forever," Bennet said, his voice rising.
Bennet was referring to the 2013 government shutdown spearheaded by Cruz and other Republicans in an attempt to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
That shutdown, which lasted 16 days, took place in the aftermath of devastating flooding in northern Colorado that left eight dead.
Bennet continued: "And because of the senator from Texas, this government was shut down. For politics. Then he surfed to a second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, but were of no help to the first responders, to the teachers, to the students whose schools were closed with a federal government that was shut down because of the junior senator from Texas." (In fact, Cruz, who sought the GOP nomination for president in 2016, won the Iowa caucus that year, but lost the nomination to Donald Trump.)
After Bennet finished speaking, Cruz responded: "There's an old saying among Texas trial lawyers — if you have the facts, you bang the facts. If you have the law, you bang the law. If you don't have either one, you bang the table. We've seen a whole lot of table-banging right here on this floor."
The exchange took place shortly before the Senate voted on two ultimately unsuccessful measures to reopen portions of the federal government that have gone unfunded since Dec. 22. The impasse has resulted from Democrats' rejection of Trump's demand of $5.7 billion for a border wall with Mexico.
In his fiery speech that lasted more than 20 minutes, Bennet derided Republican allegations that Democrats favor open borders as "gibberish" and ripped the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus as a "minority of tyrants" who have wielded a veto over legislation passed by the Senate.
Noting that he was a member of the Senate's bipartisan Gang of Eight, the architects of 2013 immigration reform legislation opposed by Cruz, Bennet said: "In 2013, we passed a bill here in a bipartisan way. It got 68 votes. It had $46 billion in border security in it. Forty-six! Not five billion for his rinky-dink wall (President Trump) is talking about building. Forty-six billion dollars of border security! It had, to be precise about it, 350 miles of what the president now refers to as steel slats."
Bennet added that the 2013 bipartisan bill, which ultimately died after the then-GOP-controlled House refused to consider it, doubled the number of border agents, allocated billions of dollars for drone technology and beefed up domestic immigration enforcement "so that small businesses and farmers didn't have to be the immigration police."
It also included provisions to crack down on the 40 percent of undocumented immigrants who enter the United States illegally but overstay their visas, Bennet said.
"We still can't do that in America," an exasperated-sounding Bennet said. "Because that bill passed the Senate but couldn't get a vote in the House because of the stupidest rule ever created, the 'Hastert rule,' named after somebody who's in prison!"
The rule, adopted by House Republicans, required that a majority of GOP lawmakers support a bill before it could be voted on by the full chamber. It's named after former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the Illinois Republican who pleaded guilty in 2015 to crimes surrounding hush-money payments made to conceal his history of sexually assaulting teenage boys when he was a coach. Hastert was released from federal prison in July 2017 after serving 13 months.
Bennet, who has said he's considering a run for the presidency in 2020, also charged that countries around the world are delighting in the U.S. government's apparent inability to accomplish much while rivals, including China, surge ahead with technological advances.
"I'm not going to stand here and take it from somebody who shut the government down while my state was flooded, from a president who says he wants $5 billion to build some medieval, antiquated wall that he said Mexico would pay for, when I helped write and voted for a bill that actually would have secured the border of the United States of America, that would have secured our internal defenses as well. This is a joke!" Bennet thundered.
After Bennet's speech, which drew attention on social media and from national news sources, Cruz also accused Bennet of spending "a great deal of time yelling" and "attacking me personally."
Cruz also said: "I will say, in my time in the Senate, I don't believe I have ever bellowed or yelled at one of my colleagues on the Senate floor, and I hope that in my time before me, I don't ever do that."
"I didn't think I was yelling," Bennet said on the Senate floor moments later.