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Ted Cruz scolded by fellow Republicans for politicizing Senate

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, may have taken a step too far against his Republican colleagues in the Senate over the weekend. He was slapped down by Republican leaders - verbally and legislatively - in a rare Sunday Senate session.

"The Senate floor has too often become a forum for partisan messaging" conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, lamented during Cruz's antics. Hatch kept going, calling the Senate floor a "misused as a tool to advance personal ambitions, a venue to promote political campaigns, and even a vehicle to enhance fund-raising efforts, all at the expense of proper functioning of this body."

The conflict came during debate over highway transportation funding, which is due to run out this week. Cruz wouldn't let up his opposition to an amendment to the highway bill, which would resurrect the Export-Import Bank. The bank's charter expired June 30, when Congress let it lapse. While the bank -- which provides loans to other countries to help them buy American goods and services -- is favored by Democrats and some Republicans, conservatives like Cruz deride it as corporate welfare.

The fight began Friday morning when Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, stood on the Senate floor and took the unusual step of calling Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar, saying he couldn't be trusted.

"It saddens me to say this. I sat in my office, I told my staff 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," Cruz said.

"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," Cruz said.

McConnell's "lie," said Cruz, was the promise that there was no "special deal" to resurrect the bank. In fact, the Senate did hold a vote on the bank Sunday, and a strong bipartisan contingent of 67 senators passed the amendment reauthorizing the bank.

But McConnell dismissed the idea that any sort of "special deal" was behind bringing the amendment to the floor. "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.

Other Republican leaders, like Cruz's fellow Texan, Sen. John Cornyn, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and Hatch were incensed by Cruz's accusations, and they rose to defend McConnell on the floor.

"There was no misrepresentation made by the majority leader on the Ex-Im Bank," Cornyn said.

Hatch attacked Cruz - without naming him - for what he deemed to be a flagrant violation of Senate rules and decorum.

"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 Sunday.

Cruz would not apologize, though, and said he had not violated the rules.

"I would note that it is entirely consistent with decorum and with the nature of this body traditionally as the world's greatest deliberative body, to speak the truth," Cruz said. No one in the Senate spoke out to defend Cruz.

And the Senate wasn't done with Cruz yet. The Texas senator was trying to hold a vote on an amendment to prevent the Senate from lifting sanctions against Iran, until Iran met certain conditions (recognizing Israel's right to exist and freeing four captive Americans).

In a startling legislative rebuke, the Senate refused to allow Cruz the roll-call vote on his amendment. He needed 10 other senators to raise their hands to allow the vote, and he was only able to muster three.

Later, an amendment from one of Cruz's few friends in the Senate, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to cut off federal funds to Planned Parenthood, met a similar fate.

The only other amendment McConnell allowed to be considered on the highway bill was an amendment to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That failed 49 to 43, mostly along party lines, with eight senators not voting.

The Senate is expected to vote on final passage of the highway bill and the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank this week.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.