Talking Trump with Tennessee's junior U.S. senator

Robert Houk • Jun 4, 2017 at 12:00 AM

President Trump received high marks last week for his first diplomatic journey overseas from the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. U.S. Sen. Bob Coker said the outcome of the president’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican and Brussels ”couldn’t have been better.”

Tennessee’s junior Republican senator also expressed some personal pride in knowing that he had some input with the “Trump team’” in its preparations for the trip. Corker, who stopped by the Johnson City Press on Thursday, said he would grade the results of Trump’s journey “very highly.”

Corker said he was particularly impressed with the president’s admonishment to other NATO members that their nations must “pull their weight” when it comes to funding the security alliance. He said this is a point that officials in past administrations, dating back to Secretary of State Madeline Albright in the Clinton White House, have also stressed.

The senator conceded, however, that hearing it from Trump might have “ruffled” the feathers of European leaders.

“I’m from the South and he’s from New York, so we communicate differently,” he said.

Corker acknowledges that Trump is one of the most “unique” political figures he has seen come to public office That’s certainly true. From his strange 4 a.m. tweets to his blunt assessments of the world’s leaders, Trump is tearing up the traditional political playbook on Capitol Hill.

The job of president can stir up “a lot of emotion,” Corker said, so it might be best for Trump “to take a deep breath” before hitting “send” on Twitter.

“He speaks in a manner that might be offensive to a public policy wonk,” he said.

Corker, who was one of a few top elected Republicans in Tennessee to get behind Trump during last year’s bitter presidential campaign, said he (in his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) has built a close working relationship with the president. The senator says he has also offered advice to the president.

Recently, that came in the form of a suggestion that the president might want to realign his staff to deal with anonymous information coming from the White House. After meeting with the president, Corker noted to reporters that the administration was in a “downward spiral” as a result of insider leaks. Although his comment gained traction among Trump’s critics, Corker said his statement was not meant to be “destructive, but rather constructive.”

Corker said he and the president still share a “very warm relationship.” Corker expects that to continue despite the distractions that often surround the Trump administration. That includes a congressional probe into alleged inappropriate links between Trump’s campaign staff and the Russians during last year’s presidential race. The senator says he has “purposefully tried to withhold judgment” on the investigation.

Although his second six-year term ends in 2018, Corker has not announced his re-election plans. The senator told me Thursday he is leaning toward running again, but was quick to add that “something else” could come up. He also said that something else will not be running for governor.

“I’m not interested,” he said.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at [email protected]

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