Known for his typically calm composure, Colorado Democratic Senator Michael Bennet broke out of his shell on Thursday to deliver an impassioned speech railing against Republicans, in particular Texas Senator Ted Cruz, over the partial government shutdown.
Accusing Cruz of crying "crocodile tears," Bennet struck out at the Republican senator after Cruz blamed Democrats for Coast Guard workers going unpaid during the shutdown.
"It is not right that we aren't paying the Coast Guard," Cruz had said. "Right now, every other military branch is being paid. The Army's being paid, the Navy's being paid, the Air Force is being paid, the Marines are being paid, but the Coast Guard is not being paid."
The Republican then sought to lay blame on Democrats over Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's decision to block a request to pay the Coast Guard after Republicans refused to open the rest of the federal government, leaving hundreds of thousands of federal workers without pay.
Taking to the Senate floor with his arms crossed, a visibly upset Bennet noted that he was "seldom" known to "rise on this floor to contradict somebody on the other side."
"I've worked very hard over the years to work in a bipartisan way with the presiding officer, with my Republican colleagues," Bennet said. "But these crocodile tears that the senator from Texas is crying for first responders are too hard for me to take."
The Democrat then laid into Cruz over his role in the 2013 government shutdown, which was sparked over Republicans' demand that any spending bill passed at the time delay the rollout of the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act. Cruz was at the front lines of the effort to keep the government shuttered for 17 days, going so far as to famously occupy the Senate floor for a marathon 21-hour speech that included a reading of Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham.
Reflecting on the 2013 shutdown, which took place in the wake of the 2013 Colorado floods, Bennet said Cruz's "crocodile tears" were "too hard for me to take, because when the senator from Texas shut this government down in 2013, my state was flooded.
"It was underwater," Bennet said, his voice rising. "People were killed. People's houses were destroyed. Their small businesses were ruined, forever! 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—a word 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.
"Now, it's his business, not my business, why he supports a president who wants to erect a medieval barrier on the border of Texas, who wants to use eminent domain to build that wall, who wants to declare an unconstitutional emergency to build that wall—that's the business of the senator from Texas," Bennet said.
"I can assure that in Colorado, that if a president said he was going to use eminent domain to erect a barrier across the state of Colorado, across the rocky mountains of Colorado, he was going to steal the property of our farmers and ranchers to build his medieval wall, there wouldn't be an elected leader from our state who would support that idea."
Continuing his emotional speech, Bennet said "how ludicrous it is that this government is shut down over a promise that the President of the United States couldn't keep, and that Americans are not even interested in having him keep.
"This idea that he was gonna build a medieval wall across the southern border of Texas, take it from the farmers and ranchers that were there, and have the Mexicans pay for it isn't true!" Bennet exclaimed, hands raised. "That's why we're here. Because he's now saying the taxpayers have to pay for it."
Bennet, 59, has represented Colorado in the U.S. Senate since 2009, when he was appointed to the seat after Ken Salazar resigned to become secretary of the interior.
He was chief of staff to then–Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, and also worked as superintendent of Denver Public Schools.
In an interview following his fiery speech, Bennet told CNN's Erin Burnett that the current situation, with the record-breaking federal government shutdown entering its 35th day on Friday, is "ridiculous."
"I also think that it's ridiculous that we're even having this conversation, because they haven't spent the money that's been appropriated for the wall. There was $1.6 billion that hasn't yet been spent building any of the wall," Bennet said.
The government has been shut down for more than month after Trump triggered the federal closures on December 22, refusing to sign a stopgap measure to keep the government running if it did not include the $5.7 billion he had demanded in funding for the construction for his long-promised border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
A poll conducted earlier this month by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs suggested that support for Trump's border wall has waned in the years since he vowed to erect it during his 2016 presidential campaign.
The poll, which included 1,019 participants and was conducted between January 11 and 13, found that 55 percent of Americans did not want to see the wall built, while 41 percent said they were in favor of the plan.
The poll also found that support for the expanded border wall between the U.S. and Mexico had dropped by 7 points since summer 2016, with 48 percent of people having supported the plan at the time.