WASHINGTON — Senior Senate Republicans lined up Sunday to rebuke Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz for attacking Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, an extraordinary display of intraparty division played out live on the Senate floor.
As the Senate met for a rare Sunday session, Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and John Cornyn of Texas each rose to counter a stunning floor speech Cruz gave on Friday accusing McConnell, R-Ky., of lying.
None of them mentioned Cruz by name but the target of their remarks could not have been clearer.
"Squabbling and sanctimony may be tolerated in other venues and perhaps on the campaign trail, but they have no place among colleagues in the United States Senate," said Hatch, the Senate's president pro tempore. Cruz is running for president.
"The Senate floor has even become a place where senators have singled out colleagues by name to attack them ... and impugn their character in blatant disregard for Senate rules."
"Such misuses of the Senate floor must not be tolerated," Hatch said.
After Hatch spoke, Cruz rose to defend himself for making the accusation that McConnell had lied when he denied striking a deal to allow a vote to revive the federal Export-Import Bank.
He said he agreed with Hatch's calls for civility but declared, "Speaking the truth about actions is entirely consistent with civility."
Around 20 senators of both parties were on the floor watching some of the speeches. Cruz's floor speech Friday had brought nearly unheard-of drama and discord to the Senate floor. But the responses to it were just as remarkable, as senior Republicans united to defend an institution they revere and take down a junior colleague of their own party who's gone from being an occasional nuisance, to a threat to the Senate's very ability to function with order.
For his part, McConnell said that given support for the Export-Import Bank, no "special deal" is needed to bring it to a vote.
The little-known bank is a federal agency that helps foreign customers to buy U.S. goods. Conservatives oppose it as corporate welfare and are trying to end it.
The Senate was meeting Sunday to vote on the bank as well as on a repeal of President Barack Obama's health care law. Both are amendments to a must-pass highway bill that the Senate is trying to complete ahead of a July 31 deadline. If Congress doesn't act by then, states will lose money for highway and transit projects in the middle of the summer construction season.
Associated Press writer Joan Lowy contributed to this report.