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 GrahamGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Biden move to tap oil reserves draws GOP pushback MORE (S.C.) said Wednesday that Republicans aren’t “cult-like” in their devotion to President TrumpDonald TrumpHillicon Valley — State Dept. employees targets of spyware Ohio Republican Party meeting ends abruptly over anti-DeWine protesters Jan. 6 panel faces new test as first witness pleads the Fifth MORE, as his colleague Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  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 CornynHouse passes bill to expedite financial disclosures from judges McConnell leaves GOP in dark on debt ceiling Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default 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 JohnsonWisconsin senators ask outsiders not to exploit parade attack 'for their own political purposes' It's time to bury ZombieCare once and for all Marjorie Taylor Greene introduces bill to award Congressional Gold Medal to Rittenhouse 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 InhofeOvernight Defense & National Security — Senate looks to break defense bill stalemate Senate GOP moving toward deal to break defense bill stalemate Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table 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 McConnellUS could default within weeks absent action on debt limit: analysis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown Senate dodges initial December crisis with last-minute deal MORE (R-Ky.) is willing to eat up days of floor time and force the issue.

A spokesman for Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown Senate dodges initial December crisis with last-minute deal Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight 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 anger with Fauci rises Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default Cotton swipes at Fauci: 'These bureaucrats think that they are the science' 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 — Chinese disinformation accounts removed GOP resistance to Biden FCC nominee could endanger board's Democratic majority Bottom line MORE (Miss.) started laughing before adding: “Well, it isn’t resolved yet.”

GOP Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown Senate dodges initial December crisis with last-minute deal Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight 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.”