The Senate’s Republican leadership rhetorically took Sen. Ted Cruz to the woodshed Sunday for calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar last week on the chamber’s floor.
Cruz was unbowed, firing back soon after leaving the Senate floor and accusing Senate Republican leaders of marching in lockstep with Senate Democrats on such things as funding the Affordable Care Act, funding Planned Parenthood and refusing to tie an Iran nuclear deal to Iran’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
“They operate as a team, expanding Washington and undermining the liberty of the people,” the Texas Republican said of Senate Democratic and Republican leaders.
“We’ve just seen something extraordinary on the Senate floor. The American people elected a Republican majority believing that a Republican majority would be somehow different from a Democratic majority in the United States Senate. Unfortunately, the way the current Senate operates, there is one party, the Washington party.”
The admonishment of the 2016 Republican presidential candidate came as a prelude to a series of votes that advanced language to revive the Export-Import Bank, moved the chamber closer towards passing a highway funding bill, and once again rejected a measure to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The Senate opened the rare Sunday session in a highly unusual manner: with a warning.
“The chair reminds all senators of the following paragraph from Rule 19 of the Standing Rules of the Senate … ‘No senator in debate shall directly or indirectly by any form of words impute to another senator or to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator,’” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the chamber’s president pro tempore, sternly read.
That was a response to Cruz, who last Friday accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,of lying about whether he made a deal to have the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank attached to a highway legislation that senators must pass by this coming Friday.
“What we just saw today was an absolute demonstration that not only what he told every Republican senator, but what he told the press over and over and over again, was simply a lie,” Cruz said in the fiery speech Friday. “We know now that when the majority leader looks us in the eyes and makes an explicit commitment, that he is willing to say things that he knows are false.”
Cruz and other conservatives oppose the Ex-Im bank, which for decades provided loans, credit insurance and loan guarantees to U.S. exporters and foreign buyers to finance the export of U.S. products. Its charter expired June 30.
McConnell didn’t respond to Cruz Friday. He did Sunday, noting that, “I’ve said publicly for months that the Ex-Im supporters from both parties should be allowed a vote.”
Hatch, in a lengthy speech on decorum, lashed out at Cruz Senate-style – without mentioning his name.
“We treat each other with honor, even when we feel another has perhaps not accorded us the same esteem,” Hatch said. “Squabbling and sanctimony may be tolerated on the campaign trail but not (in) here.”
He said that too often the Senate floor has been used “as a tool to advance personal ambitions, a venue to promote political campaigns, and even a vehicle to enhance fund-raising efforts, all at the expense of proper functioning of this body.”
“The Senate floor has even become a place where senators have singled out colleagues by name to attack them in personal terms, to impugn their character, in blatant disregard of Senate Rules,” Hatch said.
Cruz thanked Hatch for his speech, then said he was merely being honest in his remarks about McConnell and the Ex-Im bank on Friday.
“I would note that it is entirely consistent with decorum and with the nature of this body traditionally as the world’s greatest deliberative body to speak the truth,” Cruz said on the Senate floor.
He said that McConnell, Hatch, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., didn’t dispute his claim about the Ex-Im bank in their remarks.
But Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, Cruz’s Texas colleague, said “there was no misrepresentation made by the majority leader on the Ex-Im Bank.”
“If, in fact, the majority leader had somehow misrepresented to 54 senators what the facts are with regard to the Ex-Im bank, I suspect that you would find other voices joining that of the junior senator, but I hear no one else making such a similar accusation,” Cornyn said.
Following the floor fireworks, senators voted 67-26 vote to move forward toward an eventual vote to add the Ex-Im bank’s reauthorization to the highway bill.
And lawmakers turned down an appeal by Cruz to have his amendment to keep sanctions against Iran in place until the Tehran government recognizes Israel’s right to exist reconsidered. The amendment was ruled out of order last week.
While at least two senators may have raised their hands Sunday to second Cruz’s motion, Senate rules require a minimum of 11 senators for a sufficient second. The Senate’s presiding officer determined that “There is not a sufficient second” and Cruz’s appeal was denied.
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story did not fully explain the circumstances as to why Cruz’s motion to have his Iran sanctions amendment reconsidered failed. While at least two senators may have raised their hands to second the motion, Senate rules require a minimum of 11 senators to do so for a sufficient second.