Updated 5:05 p.m. | The Senate opened Sunday with a reading by the Senate President Pro Tem Orrin G. Hatch of the Senate's rules of decorum, in an apparent rebuke of Sen. Ted Cruz calling Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar on Friday. And things got more personal from there.
Shortly thereafter, McConnell defended his actions setting up a vote to revive the Export-Import Bank, even though he opposes it — and other top Republicans rebuked Cruz on the floor even as the Texas Republican defended his comments in an extraordinary speech of his own.
The back and forth between Hatch, Cruz and Cruz's senior Texas colleague, Majority Whip John Cornyn, made for an extraordinary sequence. Hatch went on at length about senators treating each other with respect and not impugning their integrity and maintaining decorum and civility, and, while not specifically calling out Cruz, said too much of what has happened on the Senate floor has been about fundraising and political grandstanding.
"Most egregiously, Mr. President, the Senate floor has even become a place where senators have singled out colleagues by name to attack them in personal terms and to impugn their character — in blatant disregard of Senate rules, which plainly prohibit such conduct," Hatch said.
Immediately after Hatch spoke, Cruz said he agreed with his call for decorum and civility. But, he said, "speaking the truth" is "entirely consistent with civility."
Off the floor, Cruz held firm to the Cruz v. Washington Cartel narrative, at one point saying Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and McConnell "operate as a team." He was unapologetic about his criticism of McConnell from Friday that had led to Hatch delivering the reminder about decorum.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, another institutionalist, said he had never seen anything quite like Cruz's Friday speech.
"I only came to the Senate in 1967 for the first time, so I can't recollect anything in my experience. I wasn't elected. I was a staff member then," Alexander said. "Back in the 19th century, you know, people used to say pretty awful things about each other and shoot each other and sometimes hit each other with a sword — or a cane. I thought we had pretty well gotten over that."
Cruz's presidential campaign has sent out a fundraising email from Cruz about the exchange saying he was "betrayed" by the majority leader and urging people to send him a donation.
Later, Cornyn said Cruz was mistaken about McConnell, and implied the majority leader was simply bowing to the will of the Senate, where a clear supermajority backs the Ex-Im Bank. And he warned that Cruz's effort to overturn the ruling of the chair and have his own amendment made in order would cause chaos and destroy Republicans' ability to control the schedule.
McConnell himself strongly defended his decision to grease the skids for adding the Ex-Im Bank to the highway bill.
"Mr. President, 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," he said. "This is the United States Senate, after all, where we debate and vote on all kinds of different issues."
Cruz, on Friday, said McConnell had specifically looked him in the eye to say there was no deal for Ex-Im, which he said amounted to "a simple lie."
The Senate Conservatives Fund, an outside group that tried to upend McConnell in a GOP primary last year in Kentucky, tweeted that if Hatch really believed Cruz had lied about McConnell, he would have made a formal objection under Rule XIX.
Matthew Fleming contributed to this report. Related:
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