U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who says he talks with President Donald Trump as much as anyone in Congress, said Thursday that Trump has not yet demonstrated the stability or competence to be a successful president.
"We're at a point where there needs to be radical changes at the White House — it has to happen," Corker told reporters after an address to the Rotary Club of Chattanooga, where he was once a member. "He [Trump] recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of our nation — what has made it great and what it is today."
Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made his comments two days after Trump said white supremacists don't bear all the blame for the violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Va.
Corker made his comments on the same day the president blasted Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona as "toxic" and said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told "a disgusting lie."
The president's remarks have triggered a firestorm of protests from not only his critics, but some Republicans in Congress and a number of corporate CEOs who quit White House advisory panels the president later decided to dissolve. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, said Thursday he will file articles of impeachment against Trump because the president wasn't definitive enough in his criticism of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists in Charlottesville.
Corker dismissed talk about impeachment and said he has generally sought to avoid responding to Trump's tweets and comments. But the president's impulsive and sometimes bombastic style has caused Corker to question Trump's leadership approach. In May, Corker said the White House was "in a downward spiral" over leaks of classified information, and he urged the White House staff to take Trump's phone away to limit his early-morning tweets.
While praising Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the military generals Trump has employed as chief of staff, national security adviser and defense secretary, Corker questioned Trump's recent leadership in the White House.
"The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence, that he needs in order for him to be successful — and our nation and our world needs for him to be successful, whether you are Republican or Democrat," Corker told the Chattanooga Rotarians. "He's got to demonstrate the characteristics of a president who understands [what made America great]. Without those things happening, our nation is going to go through great peril."
Corker said the president should work to unite an increasingly polarized America, not try to score points or appeal to only his ardent supporters. Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor who prided himself on bringing those with differing views together to work on common causes, said he has friends on both sides of the political aisle and he works for bipartisan solutions, when possible. Corker led the United States Senate in a 98-2 vote earlier this summer to impose stricter sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea.
"Helping inspire divisions because it generates support from your political base is not a formula for causing our nation to advance, our nation to overcome the many issues that we have to deal with right now," Corker said.
Corker called the Nazi sympathizers, KKK members and other white supremacists in last weekend's protests in Charleston "repugnant" and said their racist movement "needs to end." But he said Trump didn't do enough to address the protests.
"I don't think the president has appropriately spoken to the nation on this issue," he said. "Sometimes, he gets in a situation where he doubles down to try to make a wrong a right, and I think he has done that in this case."
Corker insisted "there needs to be a different approach" by the Trump White House, but he declined to criticize any members of the White House staff.
"I don't get into personalities," Corker said when asked if he thought White House chief strategist Steve Bannon should be fired.
Corker urged Trump "to take stock of the role that he plays in our nation and move beyond himself, move way beyond himself, and move to a place where daily he's waking up thinking about what is best for our nation." Corker said it takes more discipline and inner strength sometimes "to be measured" in public comments.
But Corker's criticisms of Trump Thursday also sparked some division. Although Corker was warmly greeted by hundreds of Rotarians in a club where he was once its sergeant of arms, some Trump supporters said Thursday they don't appreciate his criticisms of the president.
Donna R. Slater, an affiliate broker with Keller Williams Realty, said Corker should do more to support the president, who considered Corker last year for his vice president and later as secretary of state.
"Perhaps a little support is in order, Mr. Corker?" Slater asked in a Facebook post. "Seems he (President Trump) has to fight battles alone."
Meanwhile, Mary Mancini, chairwoman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, said via a statement Thursday evening that Corker's comments earlier in the day amounted to nothing out of the ordinary.
"This is the pattern we have come to expect from Senator Corker — all talk and no action," she said. "In the face of a president who is legitimizing white supremacists and Neo-Nazis, all Senator Corker can muster is a few words of vague criticism. The reality is that in 2016 he joined the most divisive, ugly and racist presidential campaign in our lifetime and even now, with Trump's egregious behavior, he shows no real sign of breaking with it."
Trump again Thursday blasted some members of his own party, denouncing Sen. Flake on Twitter as "toxic" after Flake criticized Trump for not doing more to criticize white supremacists in Charlottesville.
But Corker praised Flake as "one of the finest best human beings I've ever met," and said he has a "conscience and is a real conservative."
Earlier this week, Corker criticized Trump for his recent attacks against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., saying "you don't try to change quarterbacks when you are heading into a big game" in reference to Congress returning to Washington in September to take up tax reform, the debt ceiling, a new budget and a major infrastructure proposal.
Despite his criticism of the president, Corker said he hopes the White House and Congress can work together by October to take up tax reform, which he said is critical to making America competitive and helping economic growth. But the Tennessee Republican, who turns 65 next week and is expected to run for a third term next year, repeated his fear that America's biggest threat is its mounting deficit and fiscal problems, which he said are largely being ignored by politicians in Washington.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or 423-757-6340.