The intergenerational warfare inside the GOP spilled onto the Senate floor on Wednesday.
After freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) wrapped up a 21-hour marathon speech in opposition to funding Obamacare, the 77-year old Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) stood up to scold his brazenness.
The exchange revealed what everyone knows: The Republican party has split between an old guard that plays by 20th century rules and a new generation elected in a digital era where heated rhetoric and ideological stands are prized more than compromise.
McCain’s words crystallized the difference: Old guard Republicans still value deferring to the majority, while the new breed considers that majority to be a force that must be resisted at all costs.
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McCain had fought against the 2010 Affordable Care Act, but he stressed that the American people had returned President Obama to the Oval Office last year. Their vote counted as evidence that the nation was accepting of the health insurance coverage mandated under Obamacare.
“In every single campaign rally, I said we have to repeal and replace Obamacare,” McCain said. “Well, the people spoke. Much to my dismay, but they spoke. And they reelected the president of the United States.
“Elections have consequences,” McCain said. “All of us should respect the outcome of elections that reflect the will of the people.”
Just last Friday, at Cruz’s behest, House Republicans passed a stopgap measure to fund the government through the middle of December, but the bill stripped all financing from Obamacare programs.
The Senate this afternoon unanimously approved the first of two procedural cloture votes to debate the spending bill, which the Democratic majority will amend to preserve Obamacare funding. Unless both chambers of Congress agree to a temporary spending measure before Oct. 1, much of the government will shut down.
Cruz stuffed his anti-Obamacare speech with all kinds of comparisons. Professional wrestling, children’s books, the moon landing, and Nazis were all used during the remarks that began Thursday afternoon.
As an attack on critics who have blasted his strategy, Cruz equated his effort to stop the 2010 law to resisting Nazi Germany.
"If you go to the 1940s, Nazi Germany," Cruz said. "Look, we saw in Britain, Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people, 'Accept the Nazis. Yes, they'll dominate the continent of Europe but that's not our problem. Let's appease them. Why? Because it can't be done. We can't possibly stand against them.'"
As far as metaphors go, it was extreme. The comment enraged McCain.
At first, the Arizona senator and 2008 GOP presidential nominee approached Cruz in private with equating the health care law to the murderous reign of Adolf Hitler, who sent millions to death camps and plunged Europe into an all-consuming war.
Cruz privately told McCain that his comments only referred to pundits who objected to his strategy of using a continuing resolution to keep the government open as the means to stop Obamacare, which will open its health insurance exchanges at the start of next month.
“I resoundingly reject that allegation,” McCain said. “That allegation in my view does a great disservice, a great disservice for those brave Americans, those who stood up and said what’s happening in Europe cannot stand.”