Editor's note: This story has been updated.
WASHINGTON - Boiling partisan temperatures on Capitol Hill brought to the fore Wednesday a rare sight: a public display of loyalty between the state’s two U.S. senators.
The inciting incident came at the hand of a prominent Democrat, U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, who lashed into U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting. Cruz’s Texas colleague, U.S. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn interjected, leaping to Cruz’s defense.
The Franken salvo was a return of fire at Cruz for remarks Texas' junior senator made during the committee's confirmation hearing for U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions to be U.S. Attorney General earlier this month.
At issue was Sessions' testimony from over 30 years ago during his failed federal judicial confirmation. Cruz accused Franken of using the incident to “undermine [Sessions'] character and integrity.”
“It is unfortunate to see members of this body impugn a fellow senator with whom we have served for years,” Cruz said. “It is particularly unfortunately when the attack is not backed up by the facts.”
During a Judiciary committee meeting Wednesday, at a point in which Cruz wasn't in attendance, an irked Franken revisited Cruz's remarks and accused Cruz of mischaracterizing a witness from Sessions' 1986 hearing.
“When describing this history, Sen. Cruz misrepresented what happened,” Franken said. “So, I’d like to take the opportunity to set the record straight.”
Cornyn, a senior member of the committee, interrupted and defended Cruz, a scene that was significant given that the pair are widely viewed as one of the most disconnected state pairings in the U.S. Senate.
“I object to the senator disparaging a fellow member of the committee here in his absence,” Cornyn said.
“Well, he should be here first of all,” Franken responded. “Secondly, he disparaged me, senator.”
“I object to the senator,” Cornyn continued. “We’re here to talk about the president’s nominee and not a colleague.
“And I object to disparaging, disparaging a colleague on this committee and particularly, in the colleague’s absence. It’s untoward and it’s inappropriate. And I object.”
The committee ultimately approved sending Sessions' nomination to the full senate in an 11-9 vote along party lines.
- For most of Cruz's freshman term, his relationship with Cornyn has been widely perceived as disconnected.
- In September, Cornyn declined to endorse Cruz for re-election in 2018.
- Cruz and Cornyn clashed on the Senate floor in 2015.