Responding to sharp criticism from Sen. Ted Cruz, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he voted to protect the country from default when he cast the decisive vote advancing the suspension of the debt limit this week.
"My job is to protect the country when I can, and step up and lead on those occasions when it's required," McConnell told reporters at a campaign event in Kentucky on Friday. "That's what I did."
McConnell said the Senate had only two choices after House Republicans were unable to coalesce around any strategy for attaching policy provisions to the debt limit hike: "a clean debt ceiling in the Senate or default."
But before and after Wednesday afternoon's contentious cloture vote that saw six GOP senators switch their votes , Cruz argued that if Republicans held firm, the Democrats would be forced to the bargaining table, despite insistence by Democrats on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue that they would not negotiate a "ransom" over the full faith and credit of the United States. McConnell touted his role as a problem solver in Washington, D.C.
"Every time we've been confronted with a potential crisis, the guy you're looking at is the one who's stepped up to solve the problem, whether it was the fiscal cliff deal at the end of 2012 when everybody's taxes were going up, whether it was last October and the 16th day of the government shutdown, or ... when it was clear that we needed to produce enough procedural votes to get to a debt ceiling vote in order to avoid a default," McConnell said Friday, as WHAS-TV in Louisville reported .
WHAS has also posted raw video of McConnell's brief news conference.
McConnell certainly has a track record as the Republican who steps in to make a deal in times of crisis, even if the circumstances in the chamber made it look like McConnell was reluctant to reprise that role this week. Since casting the "yes" vote, he has faced a new round of criticism from his Republican primary challenger, Matt Bevin, and the outside groups backing his effort.
The Kentucky Senate race is rated Leans Republican by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
McConnell's comments in Kentucky came one day after Cruz, the vice chairman for grass-roots outreach at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, torched fellow Republicans on conservative talk show host Mark Levin's radio program, for trying to have it both ways on the debt ceiling vote. When it came time for final passage, the dozen GOP senators who voted to block Cruz's filibuster attempt voted against the final bill.
"An awful lot of the Republicans wanted exactly what Barack Obama wanted … which was to raise the debt ceiling [without reining in spending], but they wanted to be able to tell what they view as their foolish, gullible constituents back [home] they didn’t do it and they’re mad because by [my] refusing to consent to that they had to come out in the open and admit what they are doing and nothing upsets them more,” Cruz said.