An enraged U.S. President Donald Trump and a prominent Republican senator who fears the country could be edging toward "chaos" engaged in an intense and vitriolic back-and-forth bashing on social media Sunday, a remarkable airing of their party's profound rifts.
In political discourse that might once have seemed inconceivable, the Republican Party's foreign policy expert in the Senate felt compelled to answer his president's barbs by tweeting: "It's a shame the White House has become an adult daycare centre. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning."
It's a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.— @SenBobCorker
In an interview Sunday with the New York Times, Corker said Trump could set the U.S. "on the path to World War III" with threats toward other countries. Corker also said Trump acted as if he were on his old reality-TV show and that concerned the senator, adding: "He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation."
Corker also said his concerns about Trump were shared by nearly every Senate Republican, the paper reported.
Series of angry Trump tweets
In a series of stinging tweets earlier in the day, Trump contended Corker:
- Was "largely responsible for the horrendous" Iran nuclear deal, which the Democratic Obama administration negotiated and Corker considered badly flawed. The senator also tried to require that then-president Barack Obama submit the accord to Congress for approval.
- Intended to obstruct the White House agenda, though he offered no evidence for saying he expected Corker "to be a negative voice."
- "Begged" for Trump's endorsement in his 2018 re-election, then opted against seeking a third term when Trump declined, showing the senator "didn't have the guts to run." The Associated Press reported that Trump, in a private meeting in September, had urged Corker to run. Corker's chief of staff, Todd Womack, said Sunday that Trump called Corker last Monday to ask that he reconsider his decision to leave the Senate. Trump "reaffirmed that he would have endorsed him, as he has said many times," the aide said.
- Wanted to be secretary of state, and "I said 'NO THANKS,"' said Trump, who picked Exxon Mobil's Rex Tillerson for that Cabinet post. Corker, the Senate foreign relations committee chair, was mentioned as a possible pick after the election.
Caucus agrees on Trump, Corker says
Trump added another tweet Sunday evening: "Bob Corker gave us the Iran Deal, & that's about it. We need HealthCare, we need Tax Cuts/Reform, we need people that can get the job done!"
Corker always had been one to speak his mind, and even before Sunday's verbal volleys, his new free agent status promised to make Trump and the party nervous. Already, there was the prospect of even more elbow room to say what he wants and to vote how he pleases over the next 15 months as Trump and the party's leaders on Capitol Hill struggle to get their agenda on track.
Not long before Trump's tweeting, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said on NBC's Meet the Press that "it's going to be fun to work" with Corker, "especially now that he's not running for re-election, because I think it sort of unleashes him to do whatever — and say whatever — he wants to say."
In his interview with the Times, Corker said: "Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we're dealing with here," adding that "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."
Tillerson, Mattis separate U.S. 'from chaos'
Corker, a fiscal hawk, is holding the Republican Party's feet to the fire on tax legislation, declaring that he'll oppose any measure that increases the national debt by a single cent. Republicans hold a narrow, 52-seat majority in the Senate, and just three defections would torpedo the top priority in their partisan push.
Corker delivered a rebuke of the Trump White House after the president's provocative tweets undermined Tillerson's diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis with North Korea. Corker said Tillerson, along with Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and White House chief of staff John Kelly, are "those people that help separate our country from chaos."
And Corker will be at the centre of what may be a stormy debate over the future of the Iran agreement. Trump's hostility toward the deal has stoked concerns he's aiming to dismantle the international accord despite Europe's objections. Corker is opposed to scrapping the agreement outright.
"You can only tear these things up one time," Corker said. "It might feel good for a second. But one of the things that's important for us is to keep our allies with us, especially our Western allies."
Throwback to fiscally conservative Republicans
Corker is the latest Republican to face Trump's wrath. The president in recent months has lit into Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell over the failure of the party to repeal and replace Obama's health-care law, and specifically targeted senators John McCain and Lisa Murkowski for their opposition to health legislation.
Trump's latest broadside came a day after he said he spoke to Minority leader Chuck Schumer about working on health-care legislation, a fresh example of his occasional outreach to Democrats.
Corker, 65, announced last month that his second, six-year term would be his last. The self-described "citizen legislator" and former Tennessee finance commissioner now stands as a throwback to the fiscally diligent Republicans of yesteryear as his GOP colleagues embrace tax cuts that, they contend, will pay for themselves by spurring economic growth.