Heated confrontations erupted inside a Senate Republican luncheon on Wednesday as lawmakers traded unusually personal and sometimes profane attacks on one another.
At the center of the ruckus was Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who argued separately with Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), according to a person who attended the lunch and another who was briefed on it.
Graham, a traditional Republican hawk, took issue with an amendment Lee was pushing to the annual defense bill. His measure was designed to protect Americans from detention without charge or trial.
According to the person who attended the lunch, Graham accused Lee of pressing for the amendment to raise money, prompting the normally polite and low-key senator to snap back at him.
“Like hell I’m doing that!” Lee responded.
Graham later apologized to Lee, and Lee accepted. The Mormon senator told Graham that if he drank beer, he would take him out for one.
But the fireworks didn’t end there. Later, Graham and Corker got into an expletive-laced exchange, the people familiar with the lunch discussion said.
Graham pointed out that Corker was on his way out, a reference to his coming retirement from the Senate, and he argued that Corker was not helping the Republican Party.
Corker, who has been one of the GOP’s most outspoken Trump critics, vented frustration with his colleagues Tuesday for being afraid to “poke the bear” and challenge the president by voting on an amendment to grant Congress more authority over tariffs.
“It’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it?” Corker told reporters Wednesday morning.
Corker told reporters Wednesday afternoon that the conversation at lunch was “very good.”
Before the lunch, Graham said Republicans need to “add value” when they speak out against the president.
“You’ve got to show that if you criticize him, fine. But, you know, be able to add value to his agenda,” he said.
Wednesday’s lunch started with a discussion about rescission — the process of paring back previously allocated government spending — and featured White House budget director Mick Mulvaney.
In devolving later into a fight over amendments, the Republican senators were doing what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had urged against.
Representatives for the senators did not comment on the details of the lunch. The people describing the lunch spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk more candidly about a private gathering.