Corker says his criticism of Trump is ‘constructive,’ not ‘destructive’ — and gets White House cheers

While Sen. Bob Corker may be gaining a reputation as one of few Republican congressmen willing to publicly criticize Donald Trump – a notable example being his recent declaration that the White House is in a “downward spiral” – the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman tells BuzzFeed he makes the same points to Trump and his staff in frequent private discussions.

Coincidentally(?), Corker issued a press release Sunday basically praising Trump’s first trip overseas — after speaking with the president “at length.”

Excerpt from BuzzFeed:

Days (before the “downward spiral” remark), Corker had spoken to Trump over the phone about the firing of FBI director James Comey — an incident the Tennessee Republican publicly said would “raise questions.” And in a previous late-April private dinner, Corker said he made it clear to Trump that the turmoil in the White House was making it harder for Republicans to move forward with anything in Congress.

“I actually shared many of the same concerns, OK? Respectfully, of course,” he said in a wide-ranging interview with BuzzFeed News Wednesday afternoon.

“We’ve got close relations and talked frankly with people (at the White House) often,” he continued, repeating two words for emphasis: “Frankly. Often.”

“If you look at what I said, the entire statement — not just the ‘downward spiral’ portion — all of it, I don’t know, would 90% of the Senate agree with it? I think so.”

But his Republican colleagues weren’t as blunt, or as public as Corker was.

“Yeah, and Micah maybe didn’t want me to publicly say it,” he said looking in direction of his press secretary with a laugh. “But it’s just kind of who I am. I wasn’t saying something publicly that I hadn’t already said privately. And I didn’t say it actually to be destructive. I said it to be constructive. And I think there were probably people over at the White House who were cheering.”

Corker immediately rephrased: “I don’t think that. I know that.”

Corker has been walking a tightrope for months… During the last two weeks’ seemingly endless stream of news reports and leaks from the administration that could have major foreign policy implications, Corker has found himself repeatedly dragged to the center of the chaos.

Part of his role, he admits, has become comforting foreign leaders. “Yes, no doubt, things end up getting said, and yes, I mean I do find myself providing nuance to other foreign leaders. No question. That’s a role that I have.”

Despite his sporadic criticism of the administration, another key part of the job has become regularly giving feedback to Trump and top White House staff on foreign policy and other matters. Although some top Republicans have complained about lack of communication with the White House, Corker, who called himself an “honest adviser,” has had a different experience.

“We do have an administration that is far more embracing of input than any other I’ve served with,” said the two-term senator.

…Although he admits he didn’t understand it during the campaign, Corker said he thinks the president’s “America First” slogan could help in creating one that can even outlast Trump.

“The American people feel totally disconnected with our foreign policy, and we’ve got to do a much better job. Our foreign policy matters greatly to our nation, and we just haven’t done a good job in explaining that to people back home, why some of the things we do are important to them. We’ve got an opportunity with the slogan that’s out there.”

But asked about the slogan being used to justify drastic proposed cuts to foreign aid and diplomacy, Corker pointed out that Trump’s decision to opt for those reductions instead of entitlement reform was the root of the problem.

Once again, Corker took a shot at the administration and didn’t hold back.

“The reason the cuts are the way they are is really because the administration hasn’t been willing to deal with the real drivers of spending… I look at it as these were easy places to go because the administration wasn’t willing to deal with where the real money is.”

News release from Sen. Bob Corker

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today (Sunday)  released the following statement regard President Donald J. Trump’s international trip.

“I spoke with President Trump at length this morning and told him that I could not be more pleased with his first international trip,” said Corker. “The trip was executed to near perfection and it appears the president has made great progress on the broad range of objectives his team articulated to me when I met with senior White House and State Department officials during their preparations.”

“President Trump should be commended on the success of this trip, and I look forward to continuing our work together to address numbers of important issues,” continued Corker.“The challenges we face around the world are vast, but with a strategic focus on our long-term goals, I am confident we can reassert U.S. leadership, strengthen key alliances and improve security both at home and abroad.”

“I also continue to be encouraged by the level of engagement between this White House and Congress on foreign policy matters, and I commend Secretary of State Tillerson, National Security Advisor McMaster, Senior Advisor Kushner and Deputy National Security Advisor Powell for their work to make the trip a remarkable success,” concluded Corker.

At the request of the White House, Senator Corker hosted a meeting earlier this month during which National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Senior Advisor Jared Kushner and Deputy National Security Advisor Dina Powell provided information to and sought input from a number of senators regarding President Trump’s first international trip.

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