Washington (CNN) -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, on Friday defended his decision back home in Kentucky to join Democrats in a vote to clear a filibuster hurdle that allowed a vote to raise the debt ceiling.
"My job is to protect the country when I can and to step up and lead on those occasions when it's required. That's what I did," he said at a campaign appearance in Louisville.
McConnell was one of 12 Republican senators to join Democrats on Tuesday in voting to end debate on the debt-ceiling bill that will extend the federal debt limit for a year, a move his opponents have been quick to criticize him for.
President Barack Obama signed the bill into law Saturday in California, the White House said in a statement.
Matt Bevin, a tea party conservative who is challenging McConnell in the Kentucky GOP primary in May, said in a statement after the vote Tuesday, "Kentucky and America can literally no longer afford such financially reckless behavior from the likes of Mitch McConnell."
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who threatened to filibuster the vote, criticized Senate Republicans for joining with Democrats to vote for the bill saying, "Every Senate Republican should have stood together."
Commenting on McConnell's vote, Cruz said that it "is ultimately a decision for the voters in Kentucky."
Both Bevin and Cruz also said that McConnell and other Senate Republicans helped give Obama a "blank check."
Appearing on Mark Levin's radio program Thursday night, Cruz said, "If 41 Republicans had stood together and just voted no, the clean debt ceiling, the blank check for President Obama and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, would have been denied."
On Friday Bevin tweeted, "@Team_Mitch gave Obama blank check to 'take one for the team' Which team is he talkin about?"
When asked about his opponents' comments, McConnell defended his position at the event Friday saying, "My preference is for a debt ceiling to carry additional legislation that does something about the debt."
"I've obviously demonstrated that," McConnell said. "I negotiated the Budget Control Act with Vice President Biden in August of 2011. It led to a deficit-reduction package that actually reduced government spending for two years in a row for the first time since right after the Korean War."
McConnell said the House's inability to come together on a different version of the bill gave him no choice but to vote in favor of passing a clean debt-ceiling bill.