After a storm-tossed month for the U.S. ship of state, Sen. Bob Corker hopes the nation's new captain and crew have at least a hope of finding their 'sea legs.'
That wasn't obvious in the last week, which saw President Donald Trump's national security adviser resign, a growing furor over Russian meddling, and legions of European allies anxiously seeking reassurance that America won't abandon decades of defense and economic commitments.
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the national security adviser, resigned Monday after it was revealed he had misled the administration about having contact with Russian officials after the election. Then his chosen replacement, Adm. Robert Harward, turned down the job.
Calls came for investigations into both Flynn and whoever leaked information about the phone intercepts that brought him down. The Associated Press reported FBI Director James Comey met Friday with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, after news broke that the FBI had interviewed Flynn about his contacts with Russian officials.
On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence said at the Munich Security Conference that Trump's administration will hold Russia accountable and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to NATO. That was three days after Defense Secretary Mike Mattis told NATO members in Brussels they needed to boost their own spending on the alliance or the U.S. would reduce its share.
And at the Munich conference, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., blasted "disarray" in the Trump White House and said allies would be "alarmed by the growing inability, and even unwillingness, to separate truth from lies" in the new administration.
But in an interview Friday, Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was considered for both vice president and secretary of state in a Trump administration, said he sees the politically inexperienced president "evolving to a better place" on foreign affairs and has hopes stability will emerge among the team of rivals staffing Trump's White House.
"There's no question it may take a little while for them to get their sea legs," he said, but he hopes Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, whom he called a friend, "over time will be able to pull all of that together and get them marching in the same direction."
"It's almost as though people are working against each other, and you can't have an organization that functions well when that is the case," he said, citing a "disconcerting" number of White House leaks.
"It seems to me it's possible there's numbers of power centers at the White House, in some cases, set up purposely to be in conflict, and I think that's led to some of the confusion. I'm hopeful that as they move along — they've been in office now four weeks — they'll be able to consolidate in such a way that some of the missteps that have occurred will not continue."
Corker advised Trump on foreign policy during the campaign and said he's continued the practice with Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Though in an interview last week with Politico, Corker called Trump "a wrecking ball" who "remains determined 'to destroy everything about' the U.S. establishment's view of the world," he told the Times Free Press the president has "begun to evolve to places I think are much better."
"You have to remember his real focus group during the campaign was these rallies, and he was constantly testing out the messages, if you will, in front of these rallies. He didn't have a lot of institutional support, he didn't have people around him who were really advising him on foreign policy, and so as he's gotten into office, he's realized that things are far different than he imagined.
"He was very much about wanting to reorient the world," Corker said. "He's coming around to a better place as it relates to Israel, he's coming around to a better place as it relates to NATO, coming around as of (Thursday) to a better place as it relates to Russia, much of which was because of pushback from folks who've been involved in foreign policy for many years. I consider it to be a healthy way because we're moving to a place that is more aligned with what our U.S. national interests are."
Though Trump has said he wants a good relationship with Russia and he didn't think Flynn did anything wrong, Corker said the president has disavowed "some grand sweeping deal" with the Russians.
"I think he's also understanding that while Vladimir Putin may send complimentary statements out about him, the fact is that Russia has been involved in very nefarious activities, they've worked against our interests, they've undermined 70 years of policy we've had toward Europe in trying to destabilize it," he said.
Any move by the Trump administration to lift sanctions against Russia would have been "hugely problematic," not only for the U.S. but European nations that also have sanctions in place, he said.
"They've been hanging in there with us, pushing back against their destabilizing activities, and for the United States all of a sudden to come up with some new arrangement, not only was bad but it also undermined our relationship with our European allies."
At home, Corker said, there needs to be a "fulsome review of everything Russia did relative to the election." He said he has met with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina and ranking Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia.
"They are in alignment as to what needs to occur, and I think that all that's happened over the last two weeks has added a lot of energy to that. I know that when FBI investigations are under way, as I understand there may be in this case, people are not allowed to testify, but assuming that's not the case, then I think General Flynn coming up and talking about those things would be a healthy thing, my guess is, something he might even want to do."
Corker said he'd met with Flynn on some issues, including one of his own top priorities, how to "strictly enforce" the Iran nuclear deal crafted by former President Barack Obama. Corker was a sharp critic of that deal and supports Trump's promise of a harder line.
"You've already seen them put additional sanctions on Iran for the ballistic missile test that took place" in January. "I think you're also going to see us over the course of time try to renegotiate the deal" because the U.S. "just cannot allow" Iran to develop nuclear missiles.
Corker doesn't think its necessarily a bad thing that the new president is causing some heartburn with his desire to upend the establishment, but says a smoothly functioning White House team will be critical.
"I think it's healthy that he's challenging the status quo. At the same time, when you talk about deals, deals, deals, you've got to know toward what end," he said.
"I'm all for upending the status quo, I'm definitely all for us getting our fiscal house in order, and I hope that one of the core values that they're going to have is that they're not going to continue to pile up debt for future generations.
"We want to see economic growth, we want to see tax reform, we want to make sure that we replace the health care changes that have taken place in the appropriate way. So it's important to us as a nation that they pull together more closely."