GOP senators read Pence riot act before shutdown votes

Frustrated GOP senators read Vice President Pence the riot act at a closed-door meeting Thursday, telling him the partial government shutdown needs to end soon, according to lawmakers in the room.

Republican senators, including Senate 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 (Ky.), warned the vice president that prolonging the shutdown is not a smart political strategy, in hopes of sending a clear message 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 that he needs to resolve the crisis as soon as possible.

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Lawmakers vented their irritation to Pence shortly before six GOP senators defected to vote for a Democratic-backed bill that would open the government without funding Trump’s proposed border wall.

One GOP senator said lawmakers told Pence “the shutdown needs to come to an end, this is not a strategy that works [and] we never should have had a shutdown in the first place.”

Pence in turn told them that “the president is interested in striking a deal,” according to the source.

The pushback against Pence came from outspoken critics of the shutdown like Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Klobuchar, Murkowski introduce legislation to protect consumer health data MORE (Alaska), as well as from lawmakers who usually keep a lower profile — Sens. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanMcConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen MORE (Ark.), Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonSenate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump GOP senators work to get Trump on board with new disaster aid package Senators say they've reached deal on Puerto Rico aid MORE (Ga.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSenate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Senators clinch votes to rebuke Trump on Saudi arms sale MORE (Kan.).

One of the most remarkable moments during the Senate luncheon came when McConnell told Pence that shuttering the government to try to secure funding for a border wall was not a smart approach.

“McConnell talked about how we need to bring this process to a close; we should never have had a shutdown; they don’t work; I’ve said this numerous times; I don’t know how many times I’ve told you there’s no education in the second kick of a mule,” said a GOP source familiar with the meeting.

A spokesman for McConnell declined to comment on specific conversations during the private lunch but noted that the Kentucky Republican made his thoughts about a potential government shutdown clear in mid-December.

“I think that a government shutdown is not a good option. That’s my view. The American people don’t like it,” the GOP leader told reporters on Dec. 18, four days before funding lapsed. “You remember my favorite country saying, ‘There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.’ We’ve been down this path before.” 

Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyBottom line Bipartisan senators reveal sweeping health care package Senate passes bill to undo tax increase on Gold Star military families MORE (R-La.) said after Thursday’s meeting but before the Senate votes that colleagues were “airing their concerns.”

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 (R-Texas) told reporters after the Senate votes that Pence got an “earful” from senators.

“We’re all hearing from our constituents who are working for no pay,” Cornyn said. “And there’s a parade of horribles of how people who are having to cope with not getting paid, and it’s not good.”

“There was a lot of frustration expressed about the situation we find ourselves in,” he added.

Pence urged Republican lawmakers at the lunch to stay unified, pressing them not to vote for the proposal from Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw US women's soccer team reignites equal pay push MORE (N.Y.) to fund the government until Feb. 8 without additional funding for a border wall, according to the GOP source familiar with the meeting.

To underscore the stern message they sent to Pence, six Republicans — Murkowski, Isakson and Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderTaylor Swift thanks Cory Booker for signing Equality Act petition Taylor Swift thanks Cory Booker for signing Equality Act petition Senate health panel to move forward on package to lower health costs next week MORE (Tenn.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate Democrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate The Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates MORE (Maine), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerDemocrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez efforts on birth control access face major obstacles McConnell defends Trump amid backlash: 'He gets picked at every day' MORE (Colo.) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyMcConnell defends Trump amid backlash: 'He gets picked at every day' McConnell defends Trump amid backlash: 'He gets picked at every day' 'Landslide' for Biden? A look at 40 years of inaccurate presidential polls MORE (Utah) — voted for the Democratic proposal. But the 52-44 vote fell short of the 60 needed to advance the bill.

Murkowski said after the votes that she told Pence the shutdown has to end as quickly as possible.

“I reminded colleagues that I was feeling a very keen sense of urgency on this because Alaska has the highest number of federal workers that are impacted by the partial shutdown and we needed to get this open now,” said Murkowski, who is supporting a measure with Democratic Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinProposed bipartisan kidney legislation takes on kidney disease epidemic in America Lawmakers raise security concerns about China building NYC subway cars House votes to boost retirement savings MORE (Md.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (Md.) that would reopen the government for three weeks without providing wall funding. 

Isakson’s spokeswoman, Amanda Maddox, said her boss "spoke to his colleagues at today’s lunch to share his reasoning for voting the way he planned.” 

“He didn’t know the vice president would be at today’s lunch when he decided on making the speech,” Maddox said. “He wasn’t trying to send any message but was merely speaking his conscience.”