Leading Senate Republicans swung back at Sen. Ted Cruz on Sunday after the Texas Republican accused Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) of lying to his caucus over the process for handling the proposed federal highway bill.
"We serve the people, not our own egos," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a 39-year veteran of the chamber, said in remarks delivered as the 2016 Republican presidential candidate sat nearby waiting his turn to speak.
The extended speech, which also took swipes at Cruz's other Senate rivals for the GOP presidential nomination, Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rand Paul (Ky.), came a few minutes after Hatch opened the Sunday session to consider the proposed three-year highway bill and the inclusion of an amendment extending the life of the Export-Import Bank.
In his capacity as Senate president pro tempore, a constitutional office that places him fourth in the line of presidential succession, Hatch issued a stern reminder that chamber rules forbid senators from accusing their colleagues of "conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator."
Buffeting Cruz's remarks, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) rejected his home-state colleague's assertion that McConnell lied to the Republican caucus when he said there was no "deal" assuring that in exchange for securing the votes to advance President Obama's trade agenda, a clutch of Democrats were guaranteed passage of Ex-Im legislation.
"He is mistaken," Cornyn said of Cruz, reiterating McConnell's remarks that he only assured Ex-Im supporters of a chance to offer an amendment to the next must-pass legislation. "There was no misrepresentation made by the majority leader."
It marked the next turn in Cruz's long-running feud with McConnell and his leadership team, which have become the first-term senator's foils on the campaign trail as he rages against the "Washington cartel," his euphemism for what he contends is a bipartisan consensus of maintaining the status quo.
Despite his colleagues' pleas for civility, Cruz declined to apologize or back down. "Speaking the truth about action is entirely consistent with civility," he said, speaking in between admonitions from Hatch and Cornyn.
Although he studiously avoided using the word "lie," Cruz reiterated his accusation that behind closed doors McConnell had assured Republicans that there was no deal with Democratic supporters of the Ex-Im Bank. In making that assurance, Cruz said Sunday, McConnell said that any senator would have a chance to offer amendments to the highway bill.
On Friday, McConnell closed off the amendment process on the highway bill, but for a symbolic vote on Obama's health-care law and one that extends the loan agency's authorization. In Cruz's telling, those actions paved the way for Sunday’s 67-to-31 vote that extended Ex-Im’s charter and, therefore, proved that McConnell had made such a deal with Democrats.
"We saw on Friday that promise was false," Cruz said.
Hatch declined to address the specifics of Cruz's allegations, instead focusing on his role as the leading institutional supporter of the Senate's traditions. He bemoaned the younger generation of senators for using their floor speeches to create "a forum for advancing personal ambition."
In May, just as Paul began a lengthy floor speech opposing anti-terrorism laws, the senator's presidential campaign sent out fundraising alerts to supporters that were in sync with precisely what his official speech would outline. And some senior senators think Rubio's advancement of an amendment to compel Iran to recognize the state of Israel was merely a bid to gain favor with Republican mega-donors who are strong supporters of the Jewish state.
"This is a high and holy calling, it is not something to take for granted," Hatch said, lecturing his junior colleagues, each of whom is running for president in his first term in the Senate.
Without naming Cruz, Hatch singled him out for the deepest criticism, suggesting that his remarks Friday were "in blatant disregard for Senate rules" and created a forum for "bickering" rather than legislating.
"Deliberation without decorum is not deliberation at all," Hatch said.