Senators spar at hearing as Democrats fume over Trump picks

Sen. Al Franken speaks on Capitol Hill
Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee member Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, during the committee's executive session on the nomination Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos.
Alex Brandon | AP

Updated: 2:07 p.m. | Posted: 10:36 a.m.

Partisan tensions flared in the usually decorous Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, evidence of the simmering anger as Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to block President Donald Trump's Cabinet picks.

The sparring pitted Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota against Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas just before the panel voted to approve Sen. Jeff Sessions' nomination to be attorney general. Franken gave a lengthy speech in which he accused Cornyn's Texas colleague, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, of misrepresenting remarks he'd made in Sessions' hearing several weeks earlier.

Cruz wasn't present for Franken's speech, and Cornyn interrupted him twice to object and say it was unfair to disparage Cruz when he wasn't there. He said Franken was acting "untoward and inappropriate."

Franken shot back that he wasn't at the earlier hearing when Cruz "personally went after me, he personally impugned my integrity." Angrily pointing at Cornyn, he asked him, "You didn't object then, did you?"

Cornyn said he wasn't sure he was there when Cruz spoke. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, tried to referee, asking Franken to "leave personalities out of it," and "let it go." But he said he'd prefer not to rule him out of order.

Franken didn't back down, and continued his speech. Cruz arrived at the meeting after Franken had moved on to a different subject, and the two didn't appear to exchange words.

At issue was Franken's line of questioning at Sessions' confirmation hearing in early January. Franken questioned the Alabama senator, a longtime member of the panel, over whether he'd exaggerated his role in several civil rights cases that Sessions had listed in a nominee questionnaire. Franken quoted attorneys who had challenged the depth of Sessions' involvement.

Later in the day, Cruz criticized Franken for the line of questioning and suggested it was inappropriate and incorrect, calling into question the veracity of one of the lawyers.

"It is unfortunate to see members of this body impugn the integrity of a fellow senator with whom we have served for years," Cruz said then.

Shortly after the dustup, the panel approved Sessions' nomination along party lines, 11-9.

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