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Testy Meeting Among Senate GOP on ‘Nuclear Option’ Deal

A meeting of Senate Republicans on Wednesday grew tense as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told his members he could have gotten a better deal on nominations than the one negotiated by rank-and-file Republicans.

McConnell’s tone, according to multiple sources, implied that he had been kept in the dark about the talks between some in his own ranks and Democrats. However, those same Republicans say they kept McConnell updated throughout their negotiating process.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., got so frustrated with McConnell’s presentation of events, that he called “bullshit” loud enough for the room to hear, nearly a half-dozen sources said. The heated exchange underscored the “buyer’s remorse” among some Republicans, especially leaders, one senior Republican said on background.

Corker’s office did not comment for this story.

Multiple Republican sources said McConnell appeared to be trying to create space between himself and the deal, given that many GOP members were upset by its outcome, especially in the case of Thomas E. Perez, President Barack Obama’s choice to run the Department of Labor. Perez’s nomination narrowly beat a filibuster attempt Wednesday on a 60-40 vote.

When asked directly about whether there was residual frustration with a deal brokered by Corker, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and others with Senate Democrats, most members demurred but gave hints to what had transpired.

“Not really. I think Sen. McConnell was completely informed about what was going on,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who backed McCain’s deal told CQ Roll Call. “This is a good conclusion to a hard problem, as far as I’m concerned. No senator is bound by anything but their conscience.”

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said it was galling that Perez would be confirmed because he has ignored a House of Representatives subpoena directing him to turn over documents in connection with his current Department of Justice position.

“How can you confirm somebody like that for a Cabinet-level [post]; that’s crazy,” Risch said.

Asked if that feeling is conference-wide, Risch said he was speaking only for himself, but he added that “I can tell you that there are other people in the conference who feel the same way. You saw the vote.”

“I wasn’t a party to the deal, I haven’t really heard anyone say, ‘I made a deal and this is what the deal consisted of,'” Risch said.

Graham also expressed concern about the subpoena issue, but said that his “inclination is to let the president fill out his team.”

Sources said that the Republicans who went along with the arrangement to clear Obama’s picks with Democrats felt attacked by McConnell and were dumbfounded that he chose to say he was kept in the dark. Other members had been frustrated, too.

As CQ Roll Call reported Tuesday, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, for example, felt like his effort to reform the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was undercut by the deal forged by McCain and others. Portman and others had been holding up the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the CFPB in an attempt to get concessions from the Obama administration. When asked whether McCain or Corker were in a position to defend their deal in front of the rest of the caucus, Graham did not choose to characterize it quite that way.

“I don’t know that it was defending the deal. You know, they spoke up as to why we needed the deal. Quite frankly, I feel good about what happened. And senators are not bound by anything I did,” Graham said. “I think that for many of us, that was like — we probably went too far on Cordray. [And] you can’t just not have a National Labor Relations Board. But the president went too far and nominated somebody in December and then made a recess appointment and not allow the Senate to act.

“I really haven’t heard any concerns other than suggestions we could have done better,” Graham continued.

McConnell’s office did not respond for comment.

Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.

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