By David Morgan and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz ripped into his party's establishment on Friday, calling Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell a liar during an unusual public attack on the floor of the Senate.
Amid intense maneuvering over an ambitious $340 billion transportation bill, Cruz railed that McConnell and the Senate's new Republican majority were serving the interests of big money lobbyists and corporations, because of a move to offer an amendment to reauthorize the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
Cruz, a fiery first-term Senator who helped shut down the federal government in 2013, is among 16 presidential candidates vying for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. He has also used his Senate perch to try and gain traction among voters by criticizing what he calls "Supreme Court activism" over gay marriage and Obamacare.
He said McConnell assured him months ago at a meeting of Republican senators that there would be no deal to revive the U.S. export credit agency's charter, which expired June 30. The measure now expected to come before the Senate on Sunday has substantial bipartisan support.
In rhetoric tinged with Biblical overtones, the Texas Republican said McConnell denied three times "like St. Peter" that there was a deal to bring Ex-Im bank to a vote.
"What we just saw today was an absolute demonstration that not only what he told every Republican senator, but what he told the press over and over and over again was a simple lie," Cruz said.
"We now know that when the majority leader looks us in the eyes and makes an explicit commitment, that he is willing to say things that he knows are false."
The incendiary outburst, unusual in the cordial atmosphere of the Senate, came less than two weeks before the first televised Republican debate, in which the mud-slinging mogul Donald Trump could take center stage.
The tirade also reflected heightened tensions as the campaign trail heats up, as well as trouble ahead for Congress with major tax-and-spending challenges coming in September.
Cruz accused the Republican-controlled Senate generally of ignoring the interests of voters and listening instead to "the lobbyists on K Street ... big money and big corporations."
McConnell's office had no immediate comment.
Days ahead of a long August recess, the Senate was working to pass legislation to replenish the federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for about half the country's transportation projects and is on track to run out of money.
The ambitious bipartisan Senate bill to provide three years of funding for America's roads, bridges and rail systems was getting loaded down with unrelated amendments.
McConnell is trying to advance the legislation by allowing amendments popular to each side. For instance: repeal of Obamacare for Republicans; for Democrats, reauthorization of Ex-Im Bank, which helps U.S. exporters.
(Reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and David Gregorio)