Corker smooths over relationship with Trump, sources say
Posted January 8, 2018 10:51 a.m. EST
Updated January 8, 2018 11:38 a.m. EST
(CNN) — Sen. Bob Corker, who is traveling Monday on Air Force One with President Donald Trump, has repaired his relationship with the commander in chief after the two men exchanged fierce words in the fall, sources familiar with their discussions told CNN.
The two have spoken several times since late last year, particularly as Corker was weighing whether to support the sweeping tax overhaul. Ultimately, Corker reversed his position and backed the tax bill -- and endured sharp criticism over what he said was erroneous reporting suggesting he backed the bill because of a provision that would enrich him financially. Corker complained about the news coverage to Trump, who deemed it "fake news," the sources said.
Corker's moves to make amends with Trump reflect a calculation among many Senate Republicans: While they may complain about what they view as his erratic behavior, they will soothe over tense relations and look past previous disputes to get on his good side in order to influence him over key decisions. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul, two men who have exchanged bitter words with Trump in the past, have taken similar tacks, which seem to have worked with the transactional President.
For Corker, who serves as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, fixing the Iran nuclear deal is a key priority -- one that will require the President's support. After bonding over the tax bill and their complaints about the media, Corker has been working behind-the-scenes with senior administration officials -- including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster -- to make changes to the Iran deal through new legislation in Congress, sources say. And Corker will need Trump's backing to get a bipartisan bill through both chambers of Congress.
Trump and Corker have had a roller-coaster relationship for much of his first year in office. Trump seriously considered Corker for secretary of state before settling on Tillerson -- after Corker discussed the possibility of being Trump's running mate in 2016. Then, the two men developed a positive relationship, talking several times a week and even playing golf where the two men discussed Corker's political future.
But the fallout started over the summer, when Corker criticized Trump's response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, when the President placed equal blame on anti-white supremacist demonstrators and neo-Nazi sympathizers. Trump responded by bashing Corker on Twitter over the summer, but the two men met at the White House in the fall after the controversy died down.
A few weeks later, the fight erupted again after Corker said that several key administration officials were solely responsible for preventing the United States from descending into chaos. Trump then bashed Corker on Twitter, saying the Tennessee senator "begged" him for an endorsement and decided against running in 2018 because he "didn't have the guts." Corker shot back, tweeting that the White House had become an "adult day care center" and later told The New York Times that Trump's recklessness could cause "World War III."
After Trump once again slammed Corker on Twitter, the Tennessee senator responded sharply, telling CNN that Trump "debases our country" and has a "great difficulty with the truth" that undermines him with world leaders. He said he would not have supported Trump for the presidency if he could do it over again, and said the president is not a role model for children.
"I don't know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard, and debases our country in a way that he does, but he does," Corker told CNN in October.
Since then, however, Corker has dialed back the rhetoric and has made a clear effort to avoid provoking Trump. After Trump's stunning tweet last week saying that his nuclear "button" was bigger than Kim Jong Un's, Corker refused to join in on the criticism.
Asked by reporters if he had concerns about Trump raising the specter of nuclear war with North Korea, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman would only say: "I've been too busy to comment on that."