GOP infighting reached a new level on Wednesday, with Sen. Lindsey Graham berating Sen. Bob Corker for pushing his amendment that would allow Congress to block President Donald Trump’s tariffs, according to attendees and people briefed on the exchange.
Corker (R-Tenn.) has been on a rampage this week over the Senate GOP’s reluctance to vote on his amendment. And in a private party lunch on Wednesday as most Republicans blamed Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for blocking amendments to a defense bill, Corker defended Paul and argued that his blockade was being used as an excuse for the rest of the party to avoid other amendment votes.
Graham, who has been blocking Paul, then jumped in. The South Carolina senator, who has argued Republicans should give Trump room to negotiate on trade, unloaded on Corker. Graham was irked over Corker’s speech in which he said the GOP doesn’t want "do anything that might upset the president, according to four sources familiar with the matter.
"You don’t care about the Republican Party because you’re leaving," Graham told Corker, who is retiring.
Graham later apologized to Corker, according to Republicans. And Corker told Graham: "If you had heard the whole speech you would have been applauding."
Corker has been hot about the Senate’s amendment process of late: On Tuesday he went on the Senate floor and said Republicans were afraid they’d “poke the bear” by tweaking Trump on trade, and on Wednesday fretted that his party is in a “cult-like situation as it relates to a president that happens to be — purportedly — of the same party.”
But Corker is not the only one. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) Paul have also been pressing for amendment votes, battling with Graham over U.S. detention policies.
At the Wednesday lunch, Graham turned to Lee (R-Utah) and accused him of fundraising off his amendment that would stop the indefinite detention of United States citizens, according to a person familiar with the exchange. Lee defended himself in a raised voice, even using the word “hell” — a rare curse by the buttoned-up Mormon senator, the person said.
Senators later tried to play down the conflict, but Republicans are clearly frustrated with each other.
"Basically what everybody told me is: Be glad you weren’t there," said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who was presiding over the Senate during the lunch.
They are openly battling on the Senate floor and complaining about stifled debate in a chamber that’s only voted on a handful of amendments this year.
“Everybody got kind of spirited” during the Wednesday lunch, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said. “But no foul.”
The chamber’s limited consideration of amendments is “part of the frustration,” Cornyn added. “Hopefully we’ll see a little thawing out and we can get more amendments passed and considered.”
Corker has singled out Cornyn repeatedly for publicly throwing cold water on his tariffs proposal. In the GOP lunch, Cornyn told senators he wasn’t objecting to votes on anything, according to one of the people briefed on the meeting.
Asked about Corker’s comments, Cornyn demurred: “That’s just a sign of his own frustration and I really don’t feel the need to get into it.”
Elana Schor contributed to this report.