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How Trump’s feud with Corker reflects the GOP’s shifting direction

October 9, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
President Trump's social media feud with Republican Sen. Bob Corker over the weekend ended with the senator asserting that Trump’s reckless threats could set the U.S. “on the path to World War III.” Tamara Keith of NPR and Stuart Rothenberg of Inside Elections join Judy Woodruff to discuss the president’s fight with Corker, efforts to undo the Obama legacy and Vice President Pence’s NFL walkout.

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump engaged in yet another social media feud over the weekend, this time with a leading member of his own party.

Bob Corker may now be a retiring Republican senator from Tennessee, but his criticism of President Trump is ramping up. The latest escalation came in a New York Times interview, with Corker asserting Mr. Trump’s reckless threats toward other countries could set the U.S. — quote — “on the path to World War III.” He added he knows for a fact that, every day at the White House, “it’s a situation of trying to contain the president.”

Of his Senate Republican colleagues, Corker said: “The vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here.”

Corker previously took issue with Mr. Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

And, last week, he had this to say:

SEN. BOB CORKER, R-Tenn.: I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, and Chief of Staff Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A Sunday Twitter feud followed between Corker and Mr. Trump. On one side, the president, saying Corker begged for his endorsement before opting not to run for reelection, an account that a Corker aide then denied.

The president also alleged Corker was largely responsible for the Iran nuclear agreement. Corker replied: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center.”

The soured relationship is a far cry from the campaign, when Corker said he was voting for Trump and was even considered as a vice presidential running mate.

At an event in Kentucky today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would only say that Corker is a valuable member of the Senate GOP Caucus and a particularly important part of the budget debate looming on Capitol Hill.

Of course, the Tennessee Republican also still wields the gavel in the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

And for more now on the president’s fight with Senator Corker, the White House push for stricter immigration policies, and more, it’s time for Politics Monday, with Tamara Keith of NPR and Stu Rothenberg, senior editor for Inside Elections.

Politics Monday. Welcome to you both.

Tam, I’m going to start with you.

Have we ever seen — and I know you’re young.


JUDY WOODRUFF: But in your young, your few years covering American politics, have you ever seen this kind of dispute between the president and a leading member of his party in Congress?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: Well, I mean, if you count the disputes of John McCain that the president was in just a few weeks ago.


TAMARA KEITH: This is a different kind of president.

And, no, this is not normal. It is not normal to pick a fight with someone whose vote will be absolutely critical for that tax bill President Trump wants to push through. It’s not normal to have a leading senator, the head of the Foreign Relations Committee, tweeting about adult day care. This is highly unusual.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Stu, you have been around one or two…



STUART ROTHENBERG, Inside Elections: Let’s remember hat this feud that this feed goes back to the middle of August, when, after Charlottesville, Senator Corker commented about the president’s leadership.

He said — Corker said, “The president has not demonstrated that he understands what has made this nation great,” so forth and so on. Trump fired back.

So, this has been going on for a while.

And, no, this doesn’t happen. This never happens. There are private disagreements and there are examples where legislators have a problem with the White House, the president has a problem with a legislator.

But blowing open in public like this, no, this doesn’t happen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does it help anybody? Who is it — what does it mean for the Republican Party, Tam?

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, President Trump is a counterpuncher. He has said this time and again. It was in “The Art of the Deal.”

He believes that it’s good for him to fight back, and that Bob Corker is part of the establishment, and so he can fight back.

There’s not a good for the Republican Party interpretation of this, but it is an indication of where the party is going. Bob Corker is retiring. Roy Moore, the very conservative firebrand, religious right candidate is the one who made it out of the primary in Alabama. This is becoming the party of President Donald Trump.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does it help his agenda?


JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, go ahead, yes.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Traditionally — and I always have to preface things, because we may be in a different era — traditionally, the voters want the governing part to be in control, to govern, to act as though there is an agenda that they’re pursuing and accomplishing.

And so to the extent you have chaos, I don’t think it’s helpful. I don’t — I actually don’t think this hurts the president, even though you would think that all this swirling controversy would hurt him.

He’s now able to run against not only the media and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but now he’s been running against the Republican legislative leadership. And now he can run against establishment Senator Corker. That’s what he will do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of that, the president seems to be making, Tam, in pretty much rapid succession, a series of moves that seemed designed to reach his supporters.

We have been reporting earlier on the program these new hard-line immigration guidelines, the contraception mandate that was handed down last week by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Iran nuclear deal, which is coming, we believe, may be — may be decertifying that, and on and on.

There’s the clean power announcement that is coming out. And I could name others.

Designed apparently to appeal to the Trump base? Is that what this is all about?

TAMARA KEITH: Well, and what all these of things have in common is, they are not major legislative accomplishments. They are things that the president can do through executive action and administrative action that undo parts of what President Obama did.

And a big part of what President Trump ran on is undoing the Obama presidency. And so that is what he’s doing. Of course, his base would also like it if he would build the wall.


TAMARA KEITH: But here, with this proposal last night, he’s saying, I’m still working on that wall.

That’s the message that he was sending there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is this is a — how do you see this? Is this an effective technique for the president?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, I think the president enjoys to govern this way, if you want to call it governing.

He’s all about creating and deepening the fissure inside the Republican Party. He’s a disrupter. He likes doing things like this. And I think his supporters like the fact that he’s taking on the system. So it’s less about, has he accomplished this or this?

You would think that many of his supporters would be upset that the wall is nowhere and a lot of his agenda hasn’t been enacted, repeal and replace, but they seem to viscerally enjoy the fact that he’s taking on the system. And I think that is his greatest strength, appealing to those kinds of voters.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But when you say deepening the fissures inside the Republican Party, that has to set the teeth of other Republicans on edge.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Oh, it certainly does. And it makes it difficult, more difficult for him to accomplish what he wants.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Another move we saw over the weekend, Tam, was Vice President Pence flew to Indianapolis to attend his home state Indianapolis Colts football game against the San Francisco 49ers.

It was pretty much expected that some of the 49ers were going to kneel during the anthem in a statement of protest. The vice president said — left the game, and made a statement and said: I’m not staying.


So, he went there because he is — it’s hometown team, and Peyton Manning was being honored that night. But President Trump had made it very clear for weeks that he felt that all flag-loving Americans should walk out of NFL games if players kneel.

So, Vice President Pence was sort of in a tough spot. He wanted to go to this game, apparently. But the stated position of the president of the United States is that, if you are patriotic, you should turn for the exits.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Where is this NFL dispute going, Stu?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, I think it’s part of the larger division in the Republican Party and in the country.

Two points, Judy. One, it reminds me of Claude Rains in the movie “Casablanca.”


STUART ROTHENBERG: I’m shocked that there this is gambling going on here, he says, in the casino.

And, second of all and most importantly, to me, this reminds me of the 1988 presidential race. Remember, George H.W. Bush ran on the pledge of allegiance, flag burning, and patriotism and loyalty.

These kind of themes divide the country. And the president thinks that is good for him. We will see in the midterms and then in 2020 if it is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, just because somebody comes back, Tam, and says, well, these flights cost the taxpayers $200,000, they’re making a point.

TAMARA KEITH: Well, and Vice President Pence’s staff is arguing, well, he was either going to have to go to D.C. or he was going to go to Indianapolis, and there you go.

However, there are a lot of people who say, as you say, it cost a lot of money, and this was one heck of a stunt, a stunt that didn’t really play all that well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, how many more weekends of football do we have? We will keep watching this one, this one play out.



STUART ROTHENBERG: Ten or 11, maybe 12.


JUDY WOODRUFF: We will ask you next week.

Stu Rothenberg, Tamara Keith, thank you both.


TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.