McConnell Allies Strike Back Against Cruz

Alexander, Hatch, Cornyn take on the Texan for his suggestion that the Majority Leader lied about the Ex-Im Bank.

Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah, speaks in his Washington D.C. office at the Capitol. (National Journal)

Allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell struck back Sunday against Sen. Ted Cruz, two days after the firebrand freshman accused McConnell of lying on the Senate floor.

"We are not here on some frolic or to pursue personal ambitions," Sen. Orrin Hatch, the most senior Republican in the body, said during a rare Sunday session. "We serve the people, not our own egos."

Hatch also read aloud from Senate Rule 19, which broadly prohibits one Senator from criticizing or questioning the motives of another on the floor.

"I would have to say that he's mistaken," Sen. John Cornyn, the Republican whip, said of fellow Texan Cruz.

At issue is Cruz's assertion Friday that McConnell told a "flat-out lie" to his colleagues and the press "over and over and over again" that there wasn't a special deal during last month's trade debate to reauthorize the Export-Import bank, which lost its charter to back new loans due to conservative opposition. But it's broadly popular and received the support of 67 senators on a procedural vote later Sunday.

"When there is overwhelming bipartisan support for an idea, even if I oppose it, it doesn't require some 'special deal' to see a vote occur on that measure," McConnell, who personally opposes the Ex-Im Bank, said on the floor Sunday.

Cruz fought back against charges that his accusations breached the Senate's code of conduct. "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," he said.

McConnell's allies also charged Sunday that Cruz doesn't fully appreciate not only how the Senate works in behavior, but also in procedure. Cruz wanted this weekend to vote on his amendment prohibiting the president from providing sanctions relief to Iran until it recognizes Israel's right to exist — an amendment many Republicans would agree with in principle. But the way in which he would have gone about doing so would have set a standard for lowering most Senate action from a supermajority to a simple majority, which Cornyn said would cause "chaos" and the majority party leadership to "lose all control of the Senate schedule."

"The Senate will be saying that a majority can routinely change Senate rules and procedures any time it wants on any subject it wants in order to get the result it wants," Sen. Lamar Alexander added. "The problem with that, as former senator Carl Levin of Michigan said once, is that a Senate that changes its rules any time a majority wants is a Senate without any rules."

But despite his colleagues' harsh words, Cruz remained unbowed. After his Iran amendment failed via voice vote and another to defund Planned Parenthood failed to get a vote, Cruz left the chamber and talked to reporters for about 13 minutes, calling McConnell the "so-called Republican leader" and one half of a "McConnell-Reid leadership team," referring to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

"They operate as a team, expanding Washington and undermining the liberty of the people," said Cruz.

This article has been updated.