Graham jokes about Corker: GOP would have to be organized to be a cult

Graham jokes about Corker: GOP would have to be organized to be a cult
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GOP Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria Polling analyst: Changes to legal immigration ‘the real sticking point among Democrats’ Graham would consider US-Russia military coordination in Syria MORE (S.C.) said Wednesday that Republicans aren’t “cult-like” in their devotion to President TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL freezes policy barring players from protesting during anthem McConnell spokesman on Putin visit: 'There is no invitation from Congress' Petition urges University of Virginia not to hire Marc Short MORE, as his colleague Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials McConnell calls for Senate hearings on Russia sanctions MORE (R-Tenn.) charged, because “you got to be organized” to be a cult.

Graham, leaving a closed-door GOP lunch, said frustrations spilled over among Senate Republicans following Corker's comment and things got "contentious" during the meeting. 

Corker, speaking to reporters earlier in the day, had compared the relationship between GOP leadership and Trump to a “cult-like situation.”

Graham said "the whole cult thing" came up behind closed doors.

“The reason I know we’re not a cult, you got to be organized," Graham joked. "I don’t think we’ll ever qualify as a cult."

But senators say there was already deep frustration within the caucus over the current standoff over the defense bill, which has lingered for days amid back-and-fourth finger-pointing off and on the floor.

GOP senators have been blocking fellow Republicans from being able to get a vote on their amendments to a mammoth, must-pass defense policy bill.

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At the center of the debate is a proposal from Corker to require congressional approval if Trump wanted to apply tariffs in the name of national security.

Corker acknowledged that he will not get a vote on his bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). While he is not blocking other colleagues from getting votes, he is publicly blistering his colleagues for blocking his tariff proposal.

Corker pledged to raise the issue with his colleagues during the lunch. He declined, afterward, to get into specifics about the lunch but characterized it as a “good conversation.” A spokeswoman for Corker didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Everybody got kind of spirited, but no foul,” said GOP Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials MORE (Texas), asked about the closed door caucus meeting.

Asked if senators expressed frustration during the lunch about their inability to get votes, GOP Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonJuan Williams: Putin wins as GOP spins GOP senator: Harley-Davidson is right to move some production overseas GOP senator: Trump’s policies doing 'permanent damage' MORE (Wis.) added: “Oh I think that’s safe to say.”

Graham also said after the meeting that he had to apologize for some of the remarks he had made.

“I ran a little hot and I said I’m sorry and that’s a good thing to do. ...Part of it was confusion. I didn’t know what we were talking about. I thought Bob’s amendment was still up,” Graham said with a laugh, asked if he apologized during the meeting.

Corker’s criticism appears to have rankled his colleagues. Cornyn declined to directly respond to Corker, who called him out on the Senate floor on Tuesday, adding that the Tennessee senator’s comments were a “sign of his own frustration and I really don’t feel the need to get into it.”

But asked about Corker’s floor speech this week where he blistered Republicans for blocking his amendment, GOP Sen. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTrump’s policies, actions create divide on Russia New EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt Senate takes symbolic shot at Trump tariffs MORE (Okla.) told Laura Ingraham on Wednesday that Corker “hates the president. So he’s going to do anything he can to inflict damage on Donald Trump.”

Senators are quick to acknowledge that the frustration among Republican senators go beyond Corker’s amendment and to the broader stalemate that is blocking nearly every senator from getting a vote on their proposal to the NDAA.

Under Senate rules, any one senator can block any other senator from getting a vote on an amendment, unless Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell spokesman on Putin visit: 'There is no invitation from Congress' Overnight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria Senate to vote Monday on Trump's VA nominee MORE (R-Ky.) is willing to eat up days of floor time and force the issue.

A spokesman for Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeWisconsin GOP Senate candidate rips his own parents for donations to Dems GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (R-Utah) confirmed that the GOP senator raised concerns during the lunch about the lack of amendment votes.

GOP Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia Rand Paul blocks Sanders's Russia resolution, calls it 'crazy hatred' against Trump McCain: Trump plays into 'Putin's hands' by attacking Montenegro, questioning NATO obligations MORE (Ky.) is blocking amendment votes unless he gets a vote on his indefinite detention proposal as part of the Senate’s consideration of the NDAA. But Graham is helping block Paul from getting a vote on his amendment.

Asked if the standoff between the two had been resolved, GOP Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers eye ban on Chinese surveillance cameras | DOJ walks back link between fraud case, OPM breach | GOP senators question Google on Gmail data | FCC under pressure to delay Sinclair merger review Top Senate Republicans question Google over Gmail data practices MORE (Miss.) started laughing before adding: “Well, it isn’t resolved yet.”

GOP Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenators share their fascination with sharks at hearing Helsinki summit becomes new flashpoint for GOP anger Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Republican senator, indicated that most of the discussion was currently centering around the Graham-Paul standoff.

“There are a lot of discussions about it. There are obviously members who have strong views,” he said, adding that Corker was separately looking for a different bill to bring up the tariff fight on.

The stalemate over votes on the NDAA comes as Republicans are expected to soon start moving appropriations bills on the Senate floor, setting up a potential repeat scenario if GOP senators refuse to back down from the hardball tactics.

“We just had a lengthy discussion about that and we’re trying to work it out. But I can’t honestly say it’s been worked out,” GOP Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.) told reporters. “So what’s going to happen when we get on … appropriations?”

Inhofe, asked separately if Republicans would change their behavior and stop blocking each others' votes, quipped: “That would be nice.”