WASHINGTON — Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are the odd men out in the Senate — to both Republicans and Democrats.
The GOP's frustration with the tea party conservatives was on full display Thursday in a remarkable, rhetorical smackdown on the Senate floor moments after Democratic leader Harry Reid -- with the agreement of both parties -- tried to move up the votes on a temporary spending bill.
Reid wanted the votes on Thursday night, and so do Republicans who want to get the spending bill back to the House to give Speaker John Boehner more time with a government shutdown looming on Tuesday. Reid is slated to strip the bill of a provision unraveling President Barack Obama's health care law and the House GOP is pressing for a counteroffer.
But Lee objected, and the votes will occur as planned on Friday.
Why? Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee told colleagues that Cruz and Lee had notified conservative activists telling them to make sure and watch the vote on Friday. He questioned their rationale as only a gentleman of the Senate would.
"It's my understanding again, relative to this vote tonight happening tomorrow instead, is that my two colleagues, who I respect, have sent out emails around the world and turned this into a show possibly, and therefore, they want people around the world to watch them and others on the Senate floor," Corker said. "And that is taking priority over getting legislation back to the House so they can take action before the country's government shuts down."
Corker didn't let up in gently excoriating Cruz and Lee, stars of summertime ads by the Senate Conservatives Fund that have put incumbent Republicans on the defensive even though they have consistently opposed the health care law.
Cruz had waged a 21-hour, 19-minute filibuster to delay action on the temporary spending bill, then turned around and voted with 99 other senators Wednesday to allow the bill to move forward.
"I don't think we've had a 21-hour filibuster and then the person carrying out the filibuster voted for the issue they were filibustering," Corker said. "I don't think that's happened in the history of our country."
Cruz responded that Corker was wrong, that the Texas freshman had said the critical vote was not the first one but rather the next one which would make clear where senators stood on the health care law and could stop Reid from removing the health care language.
"We are not going to be complicit in giving Harry Reid the ability to fund Obamacare," Cruz said.
Corker has been one of several Republicans, including party leaders, critical of the tactics by Cruz and Lee. Many Republicans have said the effort was futile and self-serving, designed to boost their public profile. Cruz has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.
During the Cruz and Corker exchange, Reid and Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Chris Coons simply sat and watched.
Reid complained that the delayed votes were "senseless" and a "big, big stall."
Durbin complained about the Republican delay. Corker corrected him, saying it was just two -- Cruz and Lee.