President Trump on Sunday went scorched-earth against a former ally, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), claiming that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman “didn’t have the guts to run” for re-election and “begged” him for an endorsement—and, in doing so, the president almost certainly put his legislative agenda even further in doubt.
“Senator Bob Corker ‘begged’ me to endorse him for re-election in Tennessee. I said ‘NO’ and he dropped out (said he could not win without my endorsement),” Trump wrote on Twitter. “He also wanted to be Secretary of State, I said ‘NO THANKS.’ He is also largely responsible for the horrendous Iran Deal!”
But in a statement to The Daily Beast, Todd Womack, Corker’s chief of staff, disputes those details.
“The president called Senator Corker on Monday afternoon and asked him to reconsider his decision not to seek reelection and reaffirmed that he would have endorsed him, as he has said many times,” Womack said.
The president also said on Sunday that Corker—who advised Trump’s transition team on foreign policy matters and was under serious consideration for both vice president and secretary of state—would be “a negative voice and stand in the way of our great agenda.”
Corker responded to the barbs later Sunday, writing on Twitter: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.” The tweet signals a new strategy for Corker when it comes to dealing with Trump, in the wake of the senator’s decision to not seek re-election in 2018. Corker has been harshly critical of Trump on a number of matters despite having played a key role during the campaign last year—but he now seems willing to ramp up those broadsides, at no electoral cost.
Trump’s tweets underscore his longstanding anger at congressional Republicans for not showing complete loyalty to the president, in addition to his frustration at the fact that he does not yet have a major legislative accomplishment almost nine months into his presidency.
“It feels like we’re in a sports movie and we’re losing game after game and the team starts fighting because they’re losing,” a congressional GOP aide told The Daily Beast. “And then we need to have a come-to-Jesus moment or a crisis where the team comes together. I just don’t see how that come-to-Jesus moment happens. We’re just going to keep losing unless we have that moment.”
Isolating Corker in particular could especially imperil a legislative agenda that has been essentially stalled. As Republicans work to deliver on tax reform before the end of the year, the Tennessee senator has already said that he would not vote for an overhaul of the tax system that adds to the federal deficit, and other GOP senators agree with him.
With only 52 seats in the Senate, congressional Republicans and the president risk running into similar logjams as with health care reform, where just three Republicans were able to tank any effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Trump’s public shaming of Corker could also impact his administration’s key personnel. Corker wields immense power from his perch atop the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, presiding over the confirmation of hundreds of executive branch nominees in the foreign policy realm.
But Trump’s supporters and allies outside the administration praised Trump’s decision to call out Corker despite the clear legislative risks.
“If anti-Trump Republican legislators think there’s no price to pay for constantly carping at their party’s president, they’re wrong,” Michael Caputo, a former Trump adviser who currently advises New York Republican Michael Grimm’s congressional campaign, told The Daily Beast. “Look no further than the empty suit that once was Sen. Corker for proof.”
Jason Miller, former communications director for Trump’s campaign, sarcastically tweeted: “BREAKING: Area Democrats Retweet Bob Corker.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not immediately respond when asked if the president had a reaction to Corker referring to the White House as an “adult day care center.”
What likely set off Trump’s Sunday morning tweet-storm was a remark from Corker that goes to the heart of why congressional Republicans still have faith in the Trump administration on foreign policy matters: the cabinet.
Last week, Corker said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “help separate the country from chaos.” He lamented the fact that Tillerson “ends up not being supported in the way I would hope a secretary of state would be supported.”
Corker has routinely taken Tillerson’s side on key foreign policy matters, often at the expense of the president. Last weekend, Trump lashed out at Tillerson on Twitter, essentially calling him naive for seeking a diplomatic solution to the North Korea crisis. Corker was unable to telegraph the administration’s exact strategy when asked by The Daily Beast last Monday, but after having breakfast with Tillerson on Tuesday, Corker said he received more clarity on the issue and reaffirmed that he agrees with Tillerson’s approach to opening up direct communication with the rogue regime in an attempt to stave off its nuclear ambitions.
In doing so, he criticized Trump for publicly undermining his secretary of state on such an important foreign policy matter.
“I think when you’re in a situation that is as real as this one is and as sensitive as this one is, the lesser public comments you can make, the better,” Corker said.
Even before announcing his retirement, Corker never held back in condemning the president. After Trump blamed “both sides” for the white supremacist-fueled deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Corker said Trump had yet to show that he has the “stability” or the “competence” to be a successful leader.
“He also recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation,” Corker said at the time. “He has not demonstrated that he understands what has made this nation great and what it is today. And he’s got to demonstrate the characteristics of a president who understands that.”