Sen. John Cornyn continues to tolerate President Trump

Posted January 16, 2018 2:53 p.m. EST

AUSTIN, Texas -- These should be good times for John Cornyn. He's the senior U.S. senator from the greatest state ever created. He's the GOP's No. 2 man in that chamber. And after eight years toiling under the yoke of a Democratic president, Cornyn is one year into total D.C. domination by his party.

And though there's not unanimity on this, there are accomplishments to tout after the first year of the GOP control for which Cornyn long longed.

So how come he spends so much time explaining and bemoaning the state of the union?

Be careful, we've been warned a time or two, for what you wish. Cornyn wished for a Republican president. Just not this particular, peculiar one.

So, in the latest chapter of his dream turned near-nightmare, there was Cornyn on Monday at one of my Northwest Austin neighborhood's pre-eminent eateries (Wally's Burger Express) for an event staged to tout the tax reform plan pitched by President Donald Trump and enacted by the GOP-led Congress.

The plan won praise from local businessmen invited to chat about it with Cornyn in front of TV cameras. Bobby Jenkins of ABC Home and Commercial Service, Josh Agrelius of ReBath of Austin and Robert Mayfield of Wally's Burger Express each talked about how the new tax plan will benefit their businesses.

After the chat, Cornyn took a turn at the shake machine ("Man, that's good stuff," he said of the root beer shake he made for himself) and headed outside for questions from reporters who'd been asked by a Cornyn aide -- eager to push the message du jour but aware of other stuff that might be on reporters' minds -- to begin with tax reform queries.

I got the tax question out of the way and moved on to asking the GOP Senate's second-most leader about a No. 2 reference that our president might or might not have made last week in discussing the relative merits of nations around the world.

"You know, I have no way of knowing," Cornyn said when asked if he believed Trump had made the s-hole comment. "I've heard the accusation, and I've heard the denial, and I just don't know because I wasn't there."

Fair enough, I guess. But let's pause to note a moment in which a GOP senator had reason and history to not immediately align with a GOP president's version of things. Back to Cornyn: "But certainly if the statement was made it's not something how I would characterize it."

He went on to bemoan how Trump's comments have "frozen the debate" on a variety of pressing topics, including immigration reform, children's health insurance and hurricane relief, and said the president "often steps on his own message."

"I think many of us have advised the president his tweeting isn't always helpful," Cornyn said. "But he's determined to do it because he feels like it's his way of communicating directly with the American people. And I guess he's going to win that argument. But I think sometimes it doesn't serve him well."

I asked Cornyn if he thinks a moment ever could come when he'd say enough is enough and publicly join the majority of Americans who pollsters say are ready to move on from Trump.

"No," he said. "He's the elected president of the United States. We all have our responsibilities to perform. I have my job to do on behalf of 28 million Texans. We have to accept the verdict, the judgment of the voters and work with the president."

Barack Obama also was the verdict of the people. I don't recall Cornyn always working hard to work with him.

Back to Cornyn: "We're actually making great progress and that's one reason I think it would be better to stay focused on those tasks and the accomplishments we've made rather than run down these rabbit trails caused by some of the tweeting and other things."

So what do you think? Should we should feel for Cornyn as he deals with a president who gives us cause to question his stability? Or should Cornyn be criticized for not offering plain talk about the plain-to-see mess this president causes on a near-daily basis?

Put me down as leaning to the latter.

After casting his ballot here in November 2016, Cornyn told reporters, "I voted for, uh, Mr. Trump ..."

That "uh" spoken by an eloquent man said more than any of the other words.

Earlier this month, as he headed to an Austin press conference, I asked Cornyn a question I perceive is on many Americans' minds: "What the hell is going on?"

"This too will pass," he said.

Ken Herman is a columnist for the Austin American-Statesman. Email: kherman(at)statesman.com.

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