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 McConnellMcConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster Hickenlooper announces Senate bid Trump orders elimination of student loan debt for thousands of disabled veterans 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 TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' 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 MurkowskiOvernight Energy: Green groups sue Trump over Endangered Species Act changes | Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency | Wildfires in Amazon rainforest burn at record rate Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency out west The Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate MORE (Alaska), as well as from lawmakers who usually keep a lower profile — Sens. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanVA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides 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 IsaksonGeorgia senator discharged from hospital after fall Georgia senator hospitalized after fall Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown MORE (Ga.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSenators introduce bill aimed at protecting Olympic athletes in response to abuse scandals Overnight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess Senate fails to override Trump veto 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 I'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King Washington takes historic step forward on paid parental leave MORE (R-La.) said after Thursday’s meeting but before the Senate votes that colleagues were “airing their concerns.”

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges 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 SchumerJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Schumer says Trump encouraging anti-Semites Saagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? 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 AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid MORE (Tenn.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: Insurance lobby chief calls Biden, Sanders health plans 'similarly bad' | Trump officials appeal drug price disclosure ruling | Study finds 1 in 7 people ration diabetes medicine due to cost Collins downplays 2020 threat: 'Confident' reelection would go well if she runs Cook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' MORE (Maine), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump touts new immigration policy, backtracks on tax cuts Hickenlooper announces Senate bid Poll: Trump trails three Democrats by 10 points in Colorado MORE (Colo.) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney: 'Putin and Kim Jong Un deserve a censure rather than flattery' A US-UK free trade agreement can hold the Kremlin to account Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity 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 CardinAmerica is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction Financial aid fraud is wrong — but overcorrection could hurt more students Democrats denounce Trump's attack on Cummings: 'These are not the words of a patriot' MORE (Md.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility USDA eases relocation timeline as researchers flee agency Fed to launch real-time payments system in 2023 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.”