We are having another one of those “we have never seen anything like it” moments in Washington.
Actually, we seem to be having those moments all the time.
The latest involves some all-out verbal warfare between President Trump and a leading member of his own party in the U.S. Congress — two men who made their fortunes in real estate before going into politics and who, at one point, had a fairly friendly relationship.
Suffice it to say that Trump has never been reluctant to lash out at other Republicans that he feels have crossed him or do not share his views. Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake can certainly vouch for that, as can Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell.
They didn’t exactly ignore his words, but they didn’t really fight back either. They just took note of the nasty tweets from the presidential smartphone and went about their business.
Not Bob Corker.
Corker just happens to be the leading Republican on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee — a rather distinguished-looking gentleman from the state of Tennessee who is not exactly known for loud outbursts, but who clearly is not afraid to speak his mind. A good example was his reaction to the Trump administration’s latest budget request for the State Department. Corker took one quick look at the plan to slash spending for diplomacy and declared it dead on arrival, telling the White House that his committee would write its own budget for State.
Recently, Corker announced plans to retire next year and not seek re-election. The news set off a storm of tweets from President Trump, who said the senator “didn’t have the guts to run.”
Corker responded on Twitter about an hour later:
“It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Somebody obviously missed their shift.”
It was the tweet that became the talk of the town. And it appears Corker was just getting started.
He followed up with an interview with the New York Times in which he charged that Trump is running his presidency like a “reality show” — a reference to “The Apprentice,” the television program that introduced most of America to Donald Trump back in 2004.
“He concerns me,” Corker told the Times, adding, “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”
That’s tough talk coming from a lawmaker the president needs to get his legislative agenda through Congress. That is not only because Corker heads the Foreign Affairs Committee, but because the Republican majority in the Senate is so slim, the president needs every ally he can get to push his priorities through.
Corker’s comments also have folks in Washington wondering if other senators will follow suit. In the Times interview, he made clear his views are shared by many of his Republican colleagues:
“The vast majority of our caucus understands what we are dealing with here. Of course, they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”
And what has been the President’s response? Trump sent out a tweet that mocked Corker’s height and said, in essence, the New York Times took advantage of the senator:
“The failing @nytimes set Liddle’ (little) Bob Corker up by recording his conversation. Was made to sound like a fool and that is what I am dealing with!”
But you have to wonder what is being said at the White House behind the scenes, amid indications that pressure is mounting at the top of the Trump administration.
An exodus of senior officials is expected in the coming months — most notably Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has been the target of his own fair share of negative Trump tweets.
There is a bit of irony in all this. If and when Tillerson does leave, the Senate will have to confirm his replacement. And who happens to chair the committee that will oversee the confirmation process?
The gentleman from Tennessee — the president’s old friend, Senator Bob Corker.