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Feud between Trump, GOP members reaches new heights

The Republican rift in Congress became even more public as Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee engaged in another Twitter battle with President Trump, and Arizona Sen. Jeff Blake announced he will not seek re-election in a speech charged with criticism aimed at the president and his leadership of the GOP. Lisa Desjardins reports, then Judy Woodruff speaks with Erica Werner of the Associated Press.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A president at war with members of his own party.

    Washington watched today as the Republican rift became ever more public. One U.S. senator announced that he will retire in a blistering broadside aimed at President Trump. Another traded insults with the chief executive.

    Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The focus was supposed to be President Trump’s trip to the Capitol to talk tax reform with Senate Republicans. Instead, it was a day of individual Republican senators publicly challenging the president and the way he conducts himself in office.

    It began with a Twitter battle between Tennessee Senator Bob Corker and the president, with Corker, a member of the president’s own party, at one point writing that Mr. Trump is an “utterly untruthful president.”

    Later, Corker spoke to reporters.

  • Sen. Bob Corker, R-tenn.:

    It’s obvious his political model and governing model is to divide, and he has not risen to the occasion. It’s very evident to me.

  • Lisa Desjardins: , R-Ky.:

    Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell tried to stress unity.

    Sen. Mitch McConnell

     If there’s anything that unifies Republicans, it’s tax reform. We have been looking for the opportunity to do this literally for years, and not any of these other distractions that you all, all may be interested in.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The president left the lunch without speaking to reporters. Minutes later:

  • Sen. Jeff Flake, R-ariz.:

    Mr. President, I rise today to address a matter that has been very much on my mind.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Arizona Republican Jeff Flake took to the Senate podium to drop a bombshell.

  • Sen. Jeff Flake:

    I am announcing today that my service in the Senate will conclude at the end of my term in early January 2019.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Flake said he doesn’t feel there is space for civil and productive politics now.

  • Sen. Jeff Flake:

    It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, who is pro-immigration has a narrower to narrow path to nomination in the Republican Party, the party that has so long defined itself by its belief in those things.

    It is also clear to me for the moment that we have given in or given up on the core principles, in favor of a more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment.

    To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess that we have created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.

  • Lisa Desjardins: 

    The senator didn’t call President Trump by name, but his words were clearly focused on the commander in chief.

  • Sen. Jeff Flake:

    We must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal.

    They are not normal.

    Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is, when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.

    And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Flake was even more blunt with reporters later.

  • Sen. Jeff Flake:

    If I could run the kind of race I would like to run, and believe I could win a Republican primary, then I would go forward. But it’s — there’s a very narrow path.

  • Lisa Desjardins:, and in his recent book, he called for others to join him. That made Flake a target for Trump allies, including Steve Bannon, whose Breitbart News declared a kind of victory today with the flashing headline, “Winning:

    Flake was the first sitting Republican senator to openly break with President Trump Flake Out.”

    White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that, when attacked, President Trump hits back, as she demonstrated.

  • Sarah Sanders:

    I think that the people both in Tennessee and Arizona supported this president, and I don’t think that the numbers are in the favor of either of those two senators in their states, and so I think that this is probably the right decision.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Ultimately, given the closely divided Senate, Mr. Trump can ill afford to lose any Republicans if he wants to pass any tax reform legislation.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for the latest on this whirlwind of developments on Capitol Hill, we turn to Erica Werner. She’s a congressional correspondent for the Associated Press.

    Erica, welcome back to the program.

  • Erica Werner:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, how is all this being received?

  • Erica Werner:

    It’s just been a really amazing day up here.

    To begin with, the Corker and Trump feud escalating to threat vicious new heights just before Trump was coming up here for lunch, and then Flake’s bombshell, it all begs the question as to where the Republican Party will end up, and no one knows the answer to that.

    And that’s the question really that’s been begged since the beginning of the Trump administration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Erica, are there any Republicans who are identifying with either Senator Corker or Senator Flake? We heard Senator Corker tell some reporters earlier that, yes, he was getting support from some of his colleagues, but we don’t know who they are.

  • Erica Werner:

    Right.

    Well, if that’s the case, it’s quiet support that’s not public. As Senator Flake delivered his floor speech today, there were about nine fellow Republicans on the floor with him, including the Senate majority leader. Also, there very kind of notably were Senators McCain, Corker and Sasse.

    As your viewers likely know, those are the three Republican senators, in addition to Flake, who have spoken out against Trump and challenged him consistently. But I don’t know that there is going to be a dam that breaks that others, aside from them, are going to follow Senator Flake’s call. They really don’t have the political motivation to do so.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Erica, what about on the other side of the ledger? Are there senators coming out and saying openly they disagree with what these two senators are doing?

  • Erica Werner:

    Well, they’re being a little bit more diplomatic.

    We have heard senators say, you know, divisions, public divisions, are not good. Senator Cruz said that, for example, shortly after Senator Flake’s speech, that Republicans shouldn’t be divided, that we need to focus on the work at hand.

    So that’s kind of the rhetoric and the tone that we have heard this afternoon. I mean, this is all very recent. Senator Flake is respected among his colleagues, so we haven’t heard anyone in the Senate kind of openly attacking or distancing themselves from him today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And any early speculation, Erica, on how this is going to affect the Republican agenda, especially tax reform?

  • Erica Werner:

    Well, that’s what’s so interesting is that it’s very counterproductive really for President Trump to be tangling with these incumbents who are so critical to his agenda.

    I don’t see how it could possibly help his agenda. If nothing else, it’s certainly a huge distraction. As your run-up package was saying, today was supposed to be about taxes. It ended up about being about more GOP infighting, and that doesn’t help the cause of tax reform.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Erica Werner reporting from the Capitol, thank you very much.

  • Erica Werner:

    Thank you.

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