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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation COVID-19 workplace complaints surge; unions rip administration Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks 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 TrumpMinneapolis erupts for third night, as protests spread, Trump vows retaliation Stocks open mixed ahead of Trump briefing on China The island that can save America MORE that he needs to resolve the crisis as soon as possible.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 MurkowskiOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits GOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas MORE (Alaska), as well as from lawmakers who usually keep a lower profile — Sens. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: National Portrait Gallery's Kim Sajet says this era rewiring people's relationship with culture, art; Trump's war with Twitter heats up Congress headed toward unemployment showdown We can't afford to let local news die MORE (Ark.), Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonJustice Department closing stock investigations into Loeffler, Inhofe, Feinstein Loeffler runs ad tying Doug Collins to Pelosi, Sanders, Biden The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip MORE (Ga.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMemorial Day during COVID-19: How to aid our country's veterans Pass the Primary Care Enhancement Act Hillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns 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 CassidyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US virus deaths exceed 100,000; Pelosi pulls FISA bill Stakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff Pass the Primary Care Enhancement Act MORE (R-La.) said after Thursday’s meeting but before the Senate votes that colleagues were “airing their concerns.”

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas Castro, Warren, Harris to speak at Texas Democratic virtual convention Democratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight 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 SchumerVA hospitals mostly drop hydroxychloroquine as coronavirus treatment Democrats call on FTC to investigate allegations of TikTok child privacy violations Lawmakers introduce bill to invest 0 billion in science, tech research 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 AlexanderSoured on Fox, Trump may be seeking new propaganda outlet Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day McConnell gives two vulnerable senators a boost with vote on outdoor recreation bill MORE (Tenn.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Unemployment claims now at 41 million with 2.1 million more added to rolls; Topeka mayor says cities don't have enough tests for minorities and homeless communities Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits MORE (Maine), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Cuomo rings the first opening bell since March The Democrats' out-party advantage in 2020 The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip MORE (Colo.) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyCoronavirus and America's economic miracle Former Romney strategist joins anti-Trump Lincoln Project Romney defends Joe Scarborough, staffer's widower: 'Enough already' 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 CardinSenate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks Lawmakers urge Trump to cancel DC's July 4 event: 'Impossible to put on safely' This week: Surveillance fight sets early test for House's proxy voting MORE (Md.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers Lawmakers urge Trump to cancel DC's July 4 event: 'Impossible to put on safely' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin: More COVID-19 congressional action ahead 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.”