Trump comes to Capitol Hill as Corker slams him for 'untruths,' 'debasing' the country
WASHINGTON - Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., accused President Donald Trump of "debasing" the country with his "untruths," "name-calling" and "attempted bullying," escalating his criticism of the president and heightening their feud just as Trump arrived on Capitol Hill to meet with GOP senators about tax legislation.
"For young people to be watching, not only here in our country, but around the world, someone of this mentality as president of the United States is something that is I think debasing to our country," said Corker, who spent the morning lambasting Trump in media interviews.
"You would think he would aspire to be the president of the United States and act like a president of the United States. But that's just not going to be the case, apparently," Corker said.
Trump returned fire, insulting "liddle" Corker on Twitter ahead of his visit to the Senate to address Republicans at their weekly policy luncheon. The gathering was billed as a chance for Trump to discuss the GOP's effort to cut taxes, but his back-and-forth with Corker and his penchant for veering from one subject to another could lead to an unpredictable afternoon.
Trump, who did not address reporters after the lunch meeting, arrived on the second floor of the Capitol with McConnell just before 1 p.m. As the two strode side by side down a long hallway, a protester who had made his way into the press area shouted "Trump is treason!" and threw Russian flags in Trump's direction.
The president's feud with Corker lays bare the rising tensions between Trump and congressional Republicans and increases the uncertainty surrounding the GOP's effort to advance tax cuts, its last-ditch attempt at a major policy accomplishment this year.
Trump has sharply criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for failing to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Republican senators have also thrown some rhetorical elbows at the president, with McConnell saying that Trump's limited experience in politics gave him "excessive expectations" about how quickly landmark legislation can pass.
Earlier Tuesday, Corker stood by his previous description of the White House as an "adult day-care center" and his comment that Trump's volatility could set the United States on a "path to World War III." He also urged Trump to stop interfering in the debate over tax legislation.
Asked whether he regrets supporting Trump, Corker told CNN he would not do it again.
"The president has great difficulty with the truth on many issues," he said. "He's proven himself unable to rise to the occasion."
Hours earlier, Trump had attacked Corker on Twitter for helping former president Barack Obama "give us the bad Iran Deal." Trump also said Corker changed his plans to run for reelection in 2018 after he declined to endorse him.
In reality, Corker organized opposition to the Iran deal and voted against it. The senator and his top aide have said Trump offered his support for Corker's reelection, and that after Corker announced that he would retire after next year, Trump called asking him to reconsider and to run again.
"Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president," Corker tweeted Tuesday. He added the hashtag #AlertTheDaycareStaff, repeating an earlier description of Trump's White House.
Republican lawmakers had high expectations for Trump's visit to Capitol Hill.
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he was "glad" Trump was coming and argued the White House's dispute with Corker will not hinder Republicans' rewrite of the tax code.
"Put this Twitter dispute aside . . . All this stuff you see on a daily basis, Twitter this and Twitter that, forget about it," Ryan told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.
Trump has promised changes to the tax code will not affect tax-deferred retirement plans, the mortgage interest deduction or the deduction for charitable contributions. Republicans like Corker say these promises raise expectations prematurely while making it more difficult for lawmakers to make up the revenue that will be lost to tax cuts.
When Trump addresses the GOP luncheon, "it's important for him to convey to us the things that he thinks are priorities, and not only with respect to the tax bill, but some of the other things that we are currently working on," said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Republican senator.
"I want him to tell us to do our job," said Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., a Trump ally who, like the president, has openly voiced his frustration that a handful of Republican senators sank the repeal-and-replace effort. He expected the president would argue that the tax- reform push is "bigger than tax," in that it marked a chance for Republicans to prove they can govern, among other things.
Republicans continue to wrestle with health-care reform, particularly since Trump decided to end federal subsidies to offset lower-income Americans' coverage costs. In response, a bipartisan coalition of senators offered a compromise bill authorizing those funds in exchange for giving states broader leeway in regulating coverage under the ACA.
Trump, who phoned Democratic and Republican lawmakers this month to push them to make a deal, has sent mixed signals on the plan, seeming to support it before backing away.
White House officials are now urging Senate Republicans to move the bill to the right by including provisions offering retroactive relief from the ACA's insurance mandates for individuals and certain employers, according to people briefed on the talks.
"The White House has the ball right now," said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the Republican who took the lead on negotiating the bipartisan package. "They've made some suggestions publicly about what they'd like to see in the bill. I'm for all of those things. The question is whether they can persuade Democratic senators to agree to that."
But Alexander, who said the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office could release an analysis of the plan as early as Tuesday, wasn't expecting to hear Trump sketch out his latest thinking on the framework during lunch. "I'd like for the president to focus on tax reform," he said.
Others were more eager for Trump to discuss health care.
"I'd like to hear him reinforce the movement to get something done," said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., who supports the deal Alexander reached with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Authors Information: Elise Viebeck is a national enterprise reporter for The Washington Post. Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.