TED CRUZ: “You know, Washington is an amazing place. When somebody stands up and lies to you and someone else points out that they lied…”
CHUCK TODD: “He lied to you. You still stand by…”
CRUZ: “Every word I said there was true and accurate. No one has disputed a word I said. The reaction in the Senate is how dare you say that out loud? They’re not upset that somebody lied to them.”
— Exchange during NBC News Town Hall, Buffalo, April 14, 2016
It’s not every day that a senator calls the leader of his party a “liar.” But that’s what Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) did on July 24, 2015, claiming he had been misled by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about whether there was a secret deal to pave the way for renewal of the Export-Import Bank.
Cruz’s angry speech on the floor of the Senate, attacking McConnell, is one reason why the presidential hopeful has so few supporters in the body, even though he might still thwart Donald Trump’s path to the nomination. Despite suggestions from fellow senators that he apologize to McConnell, he has refused.
Still, given the uproar over Cruz’s remarks, we were curious about his claim that “no one has disputed a word I said.” Is that really the case?
In order to understand this, we’re going to have to wade through some legislative weeds. At issue were critical votes on the Ex-Im Bank — which conservatives wanted to shut down — and so-called Trade Promotion Authority, necessary for President Obama to finish negotiations on an Asian trade pact.
The Democrats seeking to preserve the Ex-Im Bank demonstrated that they had the votes if it came to a vote. McConnell has signaled that although he opposed the bank, he would not stand in the way of a vote if supporters could demonstrate their clout.
“I personally think the Ex-Im Bank has outlived its usefulness and ought to go away,” he told the Wall Street Journal in mid-April 2015. “But I’m not going to prevent a vote from occurring on it.” On May 19, he told a news conference: “I’m not in support of Ex-Im, but what I’ve said was that I think they’re entitled to a vote, and we’ll be working with the supporters of the Ex-Im Bank to make sure they have an opportunity to see where the votes are in the Senate.”
On May 21, when the Senate voted for Trade Promotion Authority, McConnell was seen huddling with key Democrats when the vote got stuck at 54 votes. Rumors spread that McConnell had agreed to allow a vote for the Ex-Im Bank in exchange for getting the approval of Trade Promotion Authority.
In Cruz’s telling, he publicly confronted McConnell at a GOP luncheon the next day. This is how he described the scene in his speech on June 24:
They huddled on this floor and negotiated a deal in front of C-SPAN and in front of the world. Then, when they had their deal, TPA had the votes to pass.
Shortly thereafter, we had a Senate Republican lunch, where I stood and asked the majority leader, very directly: What is the deal that was just cut on TPA and was there a deal for the Export-Import Bank? It was a direct question I asked the majority leader in front of all of the Republican Senators. The majority leader was visibly angry with me that I would ask such a question, and the majority leader looked at me and said: “There is no deal. There is no deal. There is no deal.” Like Saint Peter, he repeated it three times.
He said: “The only thing I told the proponents of the Export-Import Bank is, like any other Senator in this body, they could offer any amendment they liked on any amendable vehicle, but I gave them nothing.”
Following that public discussion, Senator Mike Lee and I approached the majority leader afterward, in which he emphasized: “There is no deal. I will do nothing. I oppose the Export-Import Bank. All I said is they can offer an amendment like any Senator can to any bill.”
Cruz recounted this story because he felt betrayed by McConnell. That morning, McConnell had brought up a transportation bill for a vote, along with a vote to renew the Ex-Im Bank and one to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.
Opponents of the Ex-Im Bank had come armed with amendments to make it difficult for supporters, such as capping the size of loans so that companies such as Boeing would no longer benefit. They had hope, through legislative maneuvering, of getting a vote on the Obamacare repeal that would only require 50 votes for passage, not the normal 60. (Not to get too technical, but others in the Senate dispute this would have been possible.)
But McConnell used a maneuver known as filling the amendment tree to block all but two amendments—the Ex-Im Bank and the Obamacare care amendment requiring 60 votes. So Cruz and his allies were blocked from doing anything more. (McConnell had indicated he would limit the use of this tactic, but he had already done it a number of times before that morning, according to a Congressional Research Service report.)
The “deal,” Cruz alleged, allowed the proponents to get a clean shot at passing the Ex-Im bill—which they did. The allegation was that McConnell, by calling up the amendment and blocking others, fulfilled his end of a secret bargain.
The majority leader looked me in the eye and looked 54 Republicans in the eye. I cannot believe he would tell a flat-out lie, and I voted based on those assurances that he made to each and every one of us. 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 a simple lie.
McConnell has never commented on Cruz’s accusations, but afterward Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) made speeches decrying Cruz’s tone and lack of decorum. Cruz countered that no one disputed what he said:
Neither the majority leader, nor the Senator from Utah, nor the Senator from Tennessee has disputed that the majority leader, in front of every Republican Senator, made that promise, looking me in the eyes—namely, that there was no deal on the Export-Import Bank, that its proponents could offer it in the regular order and there would be no special preferences whatsoever. We saw on Friday that promise was false.
That’s when Cruz’s Texas colleague, Sen. John Cornyn, stood up. He said the Cruz was “mistaken,” that “there was no misrepresentation made by the majority leader on the Ex-Im Bank.” As he put it:
First of all, if, in fact, the majority leader had somehow misrepresented to the 54 Senators what the facts are with regard to the Ex-Im Bank, I suspect we would find other voices joining that of the junior Senator, but I hear no one else making such a similar accusation. Secondly, I would just say to my colleague that there is an alternative explanation. As the majority leader has said time and time again, anytime 65 Senators want to do something here in the Senate, sooner or later they are going to get their way. Indeed, that represents the vote in support of the Ex-Im Bank—something I will end up voting against but where I realize that majorities will carry the day eventually.
More recently. Hatch has called on Cruz to apologize. “It’s always helpful when you admit you’re wrong,” he said.
We challenged the Cruz campaign to provide an example of a senator backing of Cruz’s version of events. They pointed us to a statement made by Sean Hannity during a radio interview with Cruz on July 27:
“Did Mitch McConnell make you the promise that you said he made? Now, Mike Lee says he did, and two senators, two of your fellow senators told me privately that, in fact, yes they heard three times Mitch McConnell say that to you. That there was no deal made but they don’t want to say it publicly.”
The only name mentioned was Lee. We asked his office if Lee had ever backed up Cruz’s description of McConnell as a liar. Spokesman Conn Carroll responded: “Mike Lee did not call anyone a liar.” But Carroll also provided a statement directly from Lee: “Ted Cruz tells the truth.”
The Pinocchio Test
The emotions surrounding the Ex-Im vote apparently are still raw. But Cruz cannot easily claim that no one disputed his version of events. Cornyn clearly said Cruz was mistaken and that there was an alternative explanation. (We acknowledge that Cornyn did not deal with the accusation that calling up the amendment as McConnell did left no options for opponents of Ex-Im Bank.) Hatch also, with fewer specifics, has said Cruz was wrong, though he did not directly say that at the time.
Meanwhile, Lee’s statement, in a backhanded way, supports Cruz’s version of events. But it is fair to say Cruz did not have much public support. Cruz may have some cause for anger at how the legislative maneuvering unfolded, but he cannot easily assert that “no one has disputed a word I said.”
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