Bob Corker’s relationship with President Trump: It’s complicated

Senator Corker told reporters at a Monitor Breakfast that he has a ‘very warm relationship’ with the president, but questions his colleagues who aren’t conflicted over the Trump presidency. 

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

Sen. Bob Corker is a bundle of conflicts and contradictions. Last fall, the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee got into a Twitter war with President Trump. Senator Corker called the White House an “adult day care center.” Mr. Trump dubbed the Tennessee Republican “Liddle Bob Corker.”

By January, they had called a truce, and now they talk regularly. Indeed, there’s much to discuss: North Korea, Iran, Syria, Russia, the nomination of CIA chief Mike Pompeo for secretary of State. So, when I convened a Monitor Breakfast with Corker on April 18, reporters packed the room at the St. Regis.

But it was Corker’s views on the president himself that intrigued me most. The senator made clear that he and Trump are still getting on just fine.

“I have a very warm relationship with the president,” Corker said. “He’s very accessible – more accessible than any president probably in the history of the world. I mean, he’s on the phone and available from 6 to 11 in the morning and from 6:30 till late at night.”

But, no surprise, there’s a “but” – what Corker calls the “constant chaos,” sometimes born of late-night phone calls from “unconventional” advisers who can throw a wrench in just about anything. 

Bottom line, Corker is deeply conflicted about this president, and he questions colleagues who aren’t: “Any Republican senator who hasn’t been conflicted over this presidency is either comatose or is pretty useless in their blindness – and we’ve got some of both.”
Wow.

Corker’s internal tug of war extends to his own Senate seat. He announced his retirement last fall, then had second thoughts, and then in February decided to retire at the end of the year after all.

Since then, he’s donated to the Republican seeking to replace him – the very conservative Rep. Marsha Blackburn – but that’s it. What’s the issue? The Democrat in the race, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, is an old friend, and Corker refuses to campaign against him. In fact, at our breakfast, Corker sang Mr. Bredesen’s praises over their years of bipartisan collaboration.

I first met Corker back in 2006, when I traveled to Tennessee to write about his spirited race for the Senate against Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. – scion of a big African-American political family. Corker, a wealthy businessman who had served a term as mayor of Chattanooga, won by a narrow margin.

I remember watching Corker campaign in a park in Knoxville, and then interviewing him afterward. I thought he had kind eyes. He still does, after nearly 12 years in the Washington pressure cooker.

Back in 2006, I didn’t envision Corker as a future Foreign Relations chairman – or a potential vice president or secretary of State, as Trump had once considered. But Corker turned himself into a Washington fixture, including now five visits to the Monitor Breakfast.

My colleague Howard LaFranchi also attended Wednesday’s breakfast, and wrote about Corker’s comments on Mr. Pompeo. I wrote a piece on Corker’s decision to “buck GOP tribalism” in the Tennessee Senate race.

C-Span videotaped the entire breakfast, which can be viewed here.

On Thursday, April 26, our breakfast guest will be Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Feel free to suggest some questions.

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