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Republican infighting on full display on U.S. Senate floor

U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) (R) speaks to reporters in Washington September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) (R) speaks to reporters in Washington September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

By Rachelle Younglai

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican infighting took a nasty turn in the U.S. Senate on Thursday with Senator Bob Corker accusing fellow conservative Ted Cruz of using the looming fiscal deadline for self-promotion and to endear himself further with Tea Party groups.

Congress has four days left to pass a spending bill to keep the government running. But traditional arguments between Republicans and Democrats, and bickering within the Republican Party have delayed action for days.

While the unusual floor fight between senators from the same party focused on one temporary spending bill, it highlighted the intra-party fights raging among Republicans over everything from national security surveillance to immigration reform and how deeply to cut into government social safety-net programs.

Corker, a Tennessee Republican, accused Cruz and fellow conservative Tea Party-backed Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah of not wanting to vote on legislation on Thursday night because they wished to maximize their public exposure on Friday.

They "have sent out emails around the world and turned this into a show possibly, and therefore they want people around the world to watch maybe them and others on the Senate floor," Corker said on the Senate floor.

"That is taking priority over getting legislation back to the House so they can take action before the country's government shuts down," Corker said.

Cruz's office defended the delay and said it was better that the debate play out in the full light of day so the American people know exactly what is happening.

"America will be watching closely which senators vote to allow Democrats to fully fund Obamacare, and the vote should be carried out in the open for all to see," Cruz's office said.

Earlier this week, Cruz, a first-term senator from Texas, spent 21 hours and 19 minutes talking on the Senate floor in what many Republican lawmakers viewed as a publicity stunt to rail against President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, popularly known as 'Obamacare.'

Although Cruz repeatedly warned his Republican colleagues that a vote to advance the Senate's budget bill was akin to supporting Obamacare, he later voted in favor of advancing the legislation.

DISAGREEMENT OVER STRATEGY

Corker questioned Cruz's marathon anti-Obamacare speech, which looked like a filibuster that senators normally use to block legislation.

"I don't think ever in the history of the Senate that we've had a 21-hour filibuster and then the person carrying out the filibuster voted for the issue they were filibustering," said Corker.

Many Republicans disagree with Cruz's and Lee's strategy of using the threat of a government shutdown to stop funding Obamacare, since they do not have the votes to approve the bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate and Obama has said he will veto it.

But pressure from the two senators as well as outside groups affiliated with the conservative Tea Party movement led the Republican-led House to pass a spending bill that included a provision to defund Obamacare.

"It's my understanding that the reason you don't want to send a bill over to the House who could possibly put in place some very good policies for us here, is that you want the American people and the outside groups that you've been in contact with to be able to watch us tomorrow," Corker said.

The Senate is expected to vote on Friday on a bill to keep the government funded through mid-November. The legislation will then go back to the House where Republicans are expected to attach other Republican-friendly provisions.

(Reporting by Rachelle Younglai; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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