WASHINGTON – Sen. Bob Corker is not backing down from his comments over the summer that President Donald Trump had not shown some of the competence or stability needed to be successful.
“I don’t make comments like that without thinking,” Corker said in a wide-ranging interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. “I chose the words. I stand by those words.”
Corker, a Tennessee Republican who has at times been both a defender and a critic of Trump, said he defended his remarks during an Oval Office meeting with Trump two weeks ago.
“I said, ‘Mr. President, I stand by what I said,’” Corker recalled. “It was kind of humorous. It was. … He said, ‘You called me incompetent.’ I said, ‘Mr. President,’ – I knew it was coming – I said, ‘Here’s what I said. And I stand by these comments.’”
“In five minutes, we moved on to other topics,” Corker said.
Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stressed that he has seen some progress in the White House since he made his critical comments to reporters after a Rotary Club meeting in Chattanooga in August.
The new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “has brought in an air of discipline that has been transformative as far as how the White House operates,” Corker said.
“I do think they did a great job with Texas and Florida during the hurricane(s). Very professional,” he said. “I thought it took a lot of courage by the president to change his long-held position about Afghanistan. So, I’m seeing change.”
Asked about Trump’s feud with the NFL over football players who kneel during the national anthem, Corker said he would have stayed out of that issue.
“I would not have weighed in,” he said. “I know it plays well to the base. I know that’s a constant thing that’s on the president’s mind. In my own family, there are people who have differing views about this whole issue.
“But I think probably it’s best for us to stay with the things we have control over and let private sector – let the people who are involved in ticket sales, let the people who are involved with athletes – let them make decisions about what needs to happen on the field.”
Corker, who announced last week that he would not run for a third term next year, said that when he was first elected more than a decade ago, “I told people I couldn’t imagine serving more than two terms.”
As a result, “I’ve never, ever, ever thought about electoral politics in what I’m doing,” he said. “…I’ve enjoyed the freedom of conducting myself as a businessperson who’s come to Washington to solve problems. And now I’ve got 15 months of even more freedom, in many ways. And I’m going to do everything I can to have the biggest impact possible.”
On tax policy, Corker said he would not support any tax reform legislation that adds “one penny” to the federal deficit, which he called “the greatest threat to our nation.”
“I’m not going to be for it,” he said.
Since the November election, “it’s like we’ve entered a party atmosphere here (in Washington),” Corker said. “You know, everybody was a fiscal hawk. Kind of. Not really, but kind of up until the election. Now, it’s like there’s a party going on up here. Heck with the revenue. Heck with the, you know, constraining spending.”
Corker said he would stay “a deficit hawk” for the remainder of his time in the Senate
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