The Corner

Frustrated Republicans Vent after Senate Vote

After today’s cloture vote — a vote Senator Ted Cruz described as potentially the most important thus far in his nascent career in the upper chamber — Republican senators vented frustration with the current state of play in their party. “It was a tense week,” says Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), who voted against cloture along with Cruz, Lee, and 16 other Republicans. “But we’ll work our way through this.”

Others were less conciliatory. Senator Bob Corker, who had strong words for Cruz yesterday, expressed chagrin. “The dynamic seems pretty churned up, and I just don’t — I don’t know,” he told a cluster of reporters while Cruz, Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), and Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) held a post-vote press conference in an adjacent room off the Senate chamber. “I’ve been really good at calling these, I’m batting a thousand,” Corker continued, of his ability to predict the outcome of shutdowns. “I’ve called every one of them right so far, I don’t say that to brag. This one, I don’t know, I don’t know that I can call this one.”

One Senate aide blamed Corker’s spotlight-grabbing role as Cruz’s foil on weak Republican leadership. “Because our leadership has not led for a number of months because of electoral politics, Senator McCain and Senator Graham and Senator Corker have sort of emerged as sort of de facto leaders in a leadership vacuum,” he says. “I like Senator Cornyn, I like Senator McConnell, I respect them, I know their colleagues respect them, but in fairness there just has not been a whole lot of direction, there’s really been no strategy.”

“It might not work,” he adds of Cruz and Lee’s efforts (we spoke a few minutes before the vote), “but what’s the alternative that leadership or anyone else is offering? What’s Bob Corker’s plan?”

It’s messy, and there’s plenty of tension to go around. When asked about the level of frustration directed at his boss, an aide for a senator involved in the defund efforts says, laughing, that “it’s about as high as I’ve ever seen it.”

“I wouldn’t want to test it to see if it could go much higher,” he adds. “Change is hard. People don’t like changes.”

They also don’t like being targeted by members of their own party. Senator Lindsey Graham reiterated to me his frustration with some of his fellow Senate Republicans. “My fate is in my hands, not theirs, and they said some things about our colleagues that I just think are really out of line,” he adds of Cruz et al. “At the end of the day,” he continues, “they’ve got to decide what kind of role they want to play, I’ve got to decide what kind of role I want to play to grow the Republican party and to save the country.”

Senator Rob Portman (R., Ohio) was comparably subtle. “I know people think the votes today were so consequential,” he says. “Wait till the votes on Monday, when we’re at the government shutdown point. Wait till debt limit, which is even more consequential, in my view.”

“We gotta circle the wagons rather than having a circular firing squad,” he adds.

And Senator Lisa Murkowski, who voted for cloture, seemed agnostic about the prospects of deal-making. “Nobody really seems to know what to expect from the House or when to expect it from the House,” she says. “So the one thing that we do know for sure is that October First comes on Tuesday.”

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