The Senate held a rare Sunday session to cast key votes, but the real drama was several of the chamber’s senior Republicans chastising fellow GOP Sen. Ted Cruz for criticizing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
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.
Cruz, from Texas and a 2016 presidential candidate, was never mentioned by name but was clearly the focus of the senators’ remarks.
"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 then defended himself for making the accusation that McConnell had lied when he denied striking a deal to allow the vote to revive the Export-Import Bank.
"Speaking the truth about actions is entirely consistent with civility," he said while also acknowledging that he agreed with Hatch's calls for civility and that he was "not happy" about giving the floor speech Friday.
The drama preceded the upper chamber defeating a procedural vote to repeal ObamaCare and taking a step toward reviving the federal Export-Import Bank, both amendments on a must-pass highway bill.
Cruz also reiterated his complaint about McConnell.
"No member of this body has disputed that promise was made and that promise was broken," he said.
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 whom the appear to think has gone from being an occasional nuisance to a threat to the Senate's ability to function with order.
Another one of the votes Sunday defeated Cruz’s attempt to overturn a ruling made Friday that blocked him from offering an amendment related to Iran.
McConnell has said that given support for the Export-Import Bank, no "special deal" was 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. They won an early round, when congressional inaction allowed the bank to expire June 30 for the first time in 81 years.
But on Sunday, senators voted, 67-26, to advance legislation to revive the bank across a procedural hurdle, making it likely that it will be added to the highway bill.
The bill was introduced by GOP Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk and North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. A vote on final passage could come as early Monday.
On a separate vote, the legislation to repeal ObamaCare failed to advance over a procedural hurdle. Sixty votes were needed but the total was 49-43.
The action came as the Senate tries to complete work on the highway bill 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.
With the Export-Import Bank likely added, the highway legislation faces an uncertain future in the House, where there's strong opposition to the bank as well as to the underlying highway measure.
The Senate's version of the highway bill sets policy and authorizes transportation programs for six years.
The House has passed a five-month extension of transportation programs without the Export-Import Bank included, and House leaders of both parties are reluctant to take up the Senate's version.
Complicating matters, Congress is entering its final days of legislative work before its annual August vacation, raising the prospect of unpredictable last-minute maneuvers to resolve the disputes on the highway bill and the Export-Import Bank.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.