Sen. Ted Cruz tore into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor Friday, repeatedly accusing his fellow Republican of lying and charging lawmakers in both parties of being under the grip of K Street lobbyists.
The scathing intraparty diatribe – a rare display in a place where courtesy and good manners often mask brimming tensions beneath the surface – may have violated chamber rules on decorum. The floor speech was triggered when Cruz believed McConnell had blocked several amendments Cruz and other Republicans offered to a highway funding bill, while simultaneously clearing a path for an amendment supported by Democrats to revive the Export-Import Bank, which is expected to pass.
“Today is a sad day for this institution. The Senate operates based on trust. Whether we are Democrats or Republicans, these 100 senators have to be able to trust that when a senator says something, he or she will do it. Even if we disagree on substance, that we don’t lie to each other,” Cruz said.
Cruz said McConnell had promised he had not cut a deal to allow a vote on the bank, an institution Cruz believes is corrupt.
“If he was telling us the truth that there was no deal, why would he do what he just did?” Cruz asked. “We now know that when the majority leader looks us in the eyes and makes an explicit commitment that he is willing to say things that he knows are false.”
Cruz said he had pressed McConnell several times if he had promised bank supporters an upcoming amendment vote in return for their votes on the Trade Promotion Authority bill, which McConnell supported and that narrowly passed the Senate last month.
“Shortly thereafter, we had a Senate Republican lunch where I stood up and I asked the majority leader very directly what was the deal that was just cut on TPA and was there a deal for the Export-Import Bank,” Cruz said. “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 St. Peter, he repeated it three times.”
“He’s lying to you,” Cruz recounted his staff members telling him after the lunch. “We have been around the Senate a long time. He is not telling you the truth.”
Cruz’s highly-charged comments could run afoul of Senate Rule 19, which states: “No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form or words, impute to another senator or to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator.” Under Senate rules, either the presiding officer or another senator would have to step forward and make the case that Cruz violated the rules, which did not happen.
There was no response from McConnell, who has a right under the same rule to ask for Cruz’s words to be stricken from the record, assuming they are determined to be in violation of the rule. McConnell’s office declined to comment on the matter later Friday.
Anger over McConnell’s leadership
Cruz, who has made several high-profile challenges to McConnell and other GOP senators in his two years and a half years, then turned his anger toward the way McConnell has run the Senate since Republicans took charge at the beginning of the year. He said McConnell’s decision to block amendments was in keeping with the way Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid ran the chamber when he rarely allowed amendments.
He was furious that McConnell would use his unique authority to force a vote on the Export-Import Bank while leaving behind amendments desired by Republicans, like his amendment that would force Iran to formally recognize Israel before getting sanctions relief as part of the Iran nuclear deal.
“There is profound disappointment among the American people because we keep winning elections and they keep getting leaders who don’t do anything they promised,” Cruz said.
He said McConnell had pushed through massive government spending bills, approved funding for Obamacare, and got Loretta Lynch confirmed as attorney general.
“Which of these decisions would be one iota different if Harry Reid were still majority leader?” Cruz said. “Not a one.”
Cruz blamed “the Washington cartel of the lobbyists on K Street, of the big money and big corporations” for pushing for the revival of the Export-Import Bank, which helps American corporations by financing purchases of their goods by foreign companies. He said most Americans would not know what the bank is, much less see it as a high priority for the Senate.
“The giant corporations that are getting special favors from the taxpayers hire an army of lobbyists that write campaign checks after campaign checks,” Cruz said. “It is career politicians in both parties that are kept in office by looting the taxpayer to benefit wealthy, powerful corporations.”
“You know who doesn’t have lobbyists? A single mom waiting tables. You know who doesn’t have lobbyists? A teenage immigrant, like my father was, washing dishes, making 50 cents an hour, struggling to achieve the American dream,” Cruz said.
Cruz singled out Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, as the exception.
“I’ll give credit to Senator Sanders for standing up against corporate welfare,” he said.
The Senate will be in session Sunday to continue work on the highway bill. In addition to voting on the Export-Import Bank amendment, McConnell unexpectedly lined up a vote to abolish Obamacare.
Cruz criticized Obamacare move as a “cynical amendment” designed to placate Republicans who can’t get votes on the amendments they want even though it is known the Obamacare amendment can’t get the 60 votes it would need to pass.
“It is empty showmanship,” Cruz offered. “It will be an exercise in meaningless political theatre.”
Before he finished his speech, Cruz tried to get a vote on his Iran/Israel amendment. But the presiding officer ruled it was not in order because McConnell had blocked all other amendments.
Cruz appealed the ruling of the chair and a full Senate vote on the appeal will take place Sunday, just after the Export-Import Bank vote.