NASHVILLE — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Thursday he will make his intentions known "very soon" on whether he will seek re-election and insisted he continues to have a "very strong relationship" with President Donald Trump despite his recent criticisms of Trump and the president's response.
The Chattanoogan downplayed the announcement earlier Thursday morning that conservative activist Andy Ogles, executive director of the Tennessee chapter of the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity, will run in the Republican primary.
"Very soon I'll make my plans known," Corker said. "I realize just as a responsibility to the citizens back home and people who may be considering running and actually to people here, I need to be clear about what my intentions are. And that will happen very, very soon."
He said, "no one should expect they're going to run in this environment, with the frustrations that people share — that I share — without having people who are going to be interested in primaries."
"That's where we are, and I think anyone who thinks differently is not thinking the way things are actually going to turn out," the senator said.
State Sen. Mark Green, whom Trump had nominated to be U.S. Army secretary, and former state Rep. Joe Carr said in interviews they are seriously considering running whether Corker runs or not.
Corker has refused to state whether he will seek a third term or not and maintains he is going through his usual evaluation process despite the primary being less than a year off.
Despite differences with Trump, Corker said Thursday "I have a one-on-one meeting with the president tomorrow at 1 p.m."
Corker said, "We're two people who communicate with each other in a unique way."
The event was live-streamed on Corker's Facebook page.
He called his and Trump's relationship "very strong," adding, "I know there are reports that say otherwise." But Corker said there's no "daylight" between them.
"I'm a blunt person," said Corker, a former construction contractor. "I grew up in a world of buildings all around the country. For people to act as if there's daylight between us is simply not true."
He said he spoke with Trump's daughter Ivanka, who is an adviser to her father, on Wednesday and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday.
The former Chattanooga mayor drew Trump's ire last month after Corker sharply criticized Trump's comments on the death of a woman after a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Va., drove into a group of demonstrators protesting a white nationalist march.
Trump, Corker said, "has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful." And he declared Trump "has not demonstrated he understands the character of this nation."
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Corker's comments "ridiculous."
The president himself took a Twitter crack at Corker, calling the senator's statement "strange considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in '18. Tennessee not happy!"
Meanwhile, former White House strategist Steve Bannon, who has returned to run the ultra-conservative Breitbart News, has been reported to be looking for someone to challenge Corker in 2018 as Bannon seeks to take out GOP senators he views as being insufficiently loyal to the president.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.
This story was updated Sept. 14 at 11:59 p.m.