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 GrahamTrump wishes 'Happy Father's Day to all,' including 'worst and most vicious critics' Trump wishes 'Happy Father's Day to all,' including 'worst and most vicious critics' Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw MORE (S.C.) said Wednesday that Republicans aren’t “cult-like” in their devotion to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE, as his colleague Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPress: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Press: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment 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 CornynTrump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' Trump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' Overnight Health Care: Pelosi to change drug-pricing plan after complaints | 2020 Democrats to attend Planned Parenthood abortion forum | House holds first major 'Medicare for All' hearing 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 JohnsonHillicon Valley: Lawmakers angered over Border Patrol breach | Senate Dems press FBI over Russian hacking response | Emails reportedly show Zuckerberg knew of Facebook's privacy issues | FCC looks to improve broadband mapping Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers angered over Border Patrol breach | Senate Dems press FBI over Russian hacking response | Emails reportedly show Zuckerberg knew of Facebook's privacy issues | FCC looks to improve broadband mapping Lawmakers demand answers on Border Patrol data breach 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 InhofeSenate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales Shanahan: 'No concerns' about FBI background check for nomination 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 McConnellGOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown Jon Stewart slams McConnell over 9/11 victim fund MORE (R-Ky.) is willing to eat up days of floor time and force the issue.

A spokesman for Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland Overnight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland Senators clinch votes to rebuke Trump on Saudi arms sale 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 PaulOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales 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 WickerHillicon Valley: Democratic state AGs sue to block T-Mobile-Sprint merger | House kicks off tech antitrust probe | Maine law shakes up privacy debate | Senators ask McConnell to bring net neutrality to a vote Hillicon Valley: Democratic state AGs sue to block T-Mobile-Sprint merger | House kicks off tech antitrust probe | Maine law shakes up privacy debate | Senators ask McConnell to bring net neutrality to a vote Lawmakers demand answers on Border Patrol data breach MORE (Miss.) started laughing before adding: “Well, it isn’t resolved yet.”

GOP Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneNew push to regulate self-driving cars faces tough road Trump's border funding comes back from the dead Public policy expert: US has become 'outlier' on immigration practices 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.”