There are 44 Republicans in the Senate not named Ted Cruz or Mike Lee. By and large, they have been quiet during the various twists and turns in the effort to defund Obamacare. This week, they'll speak.
Cruz and Lee took to the Sunday shows to advocate a complex plan under which Senate Republicans would filibuster the House-passed continuing resolution that also denies funds to Obamacare. Of course, that is the very bill Cruz and Lee asked the House to pass. But under the new scenario, filibustering the House bill would somehow pressure Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to grant concessions that would allow Republicans to successfully defund Obamacare. So Cruz and Lee advocate filibustering the bill to "preserve" it.
All that might take time, Cruz and Lee concede, and the clock is ticking toward a possible government shutdown. So in the interim, instead of closing the government, they want the House to pass a number of spending measures to keep agencies up and running.
It is a very far-fetched scenario. The question now is how many Republicans will go along with it.
In July, Lee circulated a letter asking his fellow GOP senators to pledge to "not support any continuing resolution or appropriations legislation that funds further implementation or enforcement of Obamacare." Just a dozen --- out of a total of 46 Republicans in the Senate --- chose to sign. Since then, a couple more have come along.
But the bottom line is that about one-third of the Republican caucus has signed on to the plan. That's a minority of the minority in the Senate.
Ask defunding advocates about the letter today, and they get a little irritated. "The letter is irrelevant," says one GOP aide who supports the defunding strategy. "It is totally meaningless. It was simply a signal to our leadership of what we intended to do."
Maybe so. And perhaps there are many more Republican senators who are on board with the plan. But there's a strong possibility that lots of Republicans will choose not to go along with Cruz and Lee's complicated bank-shot strategy. They are all opponents of Obamacare and all support defunding Obamacare, but they don't want to be involved in a gambit they believe will result in failure and possibly a government shutdown.
The Cruz-Lee plan suffered an enormous blow Monday with the news that neither Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell nor Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, will support the filibuster strategy. "Cornyn will not vote with Cruz on this," says a well-informed Senate source. "It doesn't make any sense. He [Cruz] has lost the messaging war on this. He has lost the strategy. We're not going to go along with this."
Both McConnell and Cornyn oppose Obamacare and want to see it defunded. It's just that the filibuster strategy appears doomed to failure. And both would find it difficult to explain blocking a bill that actually defunds Obamacare.
And then there's the House. Since it is the only chamber under GOP control, the Cruz-Lee scenario looks to the House to keep things moving in the event Senate Republicans temporarily stop the Obamacare defunding measure. Specifically, if the defunding continuing resolution is stuck in the Senate, "then the house should pass smaller CRs one at a time, starting with the military," Cruz wrote Monday, to keep the government going.
Not so fast, say some House Republicans. "The ball is in the Senate Republicans' court right now," says one plugged-in House GOP aide. "Because if they do not succeed, there is no imaginable situation where Congress can pick and choose which parts of the government are open or closed."
Translation: Cruz shouldn't expect any more help from the House, especially since some House Republicans suspect Cruz plans to blame them if --- or when --- the whole scheme collapses. Whatever happens, it seems unlikely House Republicans would jump again simply on Cruz's urging. If a filibuster ties up a government funding measure past Oct. 1, there will be no cavalry to save the day.
However the situation plays out, the defunding fight has sown bitterness and resentment among GOP lawmakers. Republican senators --- all of whom would defund Obamacare if they could --- believe Cruz and Lee have raised the hopes and expectations of millions of conservatives for something that can't be done, given Democratic control of the Senate. That, those senators believe, will lead to more division and cynicism among the conservative Republicans who make up the most activist segment of the party's base. And that is a lose-lose scenario.