WASHINGTON (AP) — The tea party is teeing off on Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
Matt Bevin, who is challenging McConnell in the GOP primary in Kentucky, seized on the senator's vote Wednesday to move ahead on legislation to increase the nation's debt limit, describing it as a blank check for President Barack Obama. The tea party-backed businessman and conservative groups signaled they won't let Senate Republican incumbents forget the vote this election year.
"Kentucky and America can literally no longer afford such financially reckless behavior from the likes of Mitch McConnell," Bevin said in a statement.
Setting the vote in motion was one of McConnell's Republican colleagues — Texan Ted Cruz, the tea party darling who has caused heartburn for his GOP colleagues in his year in the Senate.
Cruz insisted on a 60-vote threshold for the Senate to proceed to must-pass legislation to allow the government to borrow money to pay its bills. House and Senate Republicans had decided against another round of brinkmanship and let it be known that they were ready to let Democrats deliver the votes on the debt bill after the House had passed it Tuesday.
Not Cruz, who along with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, precipitated the 16-day government shutdown last October over their demands that Obama gut his health care law.
Instead of going along with a simple majority vote, Cruz showed no mercy in forcing Republican leaders to cast a tough vote to clear a filibuster hurdle, exposing them to widespread criticism from primary challengers and outside groups.
After what seemed like an eternity, a grim-faced McConnell finally voted yes. An equally grim-faced Sen. John Cornyn, the party's No. 2 leader and Cruz's Texas colleague, changed his vote from no to yes. Sen. John McCain rallied other Republicans to vote yes, providing a show of political support for the leaders. The 67-31 tally advanced the bill to a final vote.