Corker disagrees with Trump on NATO importance, but still backs GOP nominee

Corker disagrees with Trump on NATO importance, but still backs GOP nominee

Corker urges Trump, Clinton to focus on key issues; won't rule out role in Trump cabinet

August 8th, 2016 by Dave Flessner in Politics State

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., talks on June 28 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Photo by Lauren Victoria Burke

This story was updated to correct a typo.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Monday he doesn't agree with everything Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has said, especially his questioning of America's future role in the North American Treaty Organization.

But Corker said he always planned to support the GOP nominee and wouldn't rule out serving in a Trump cabinet if the New York billionaire is elected, even though Corker withdrew his name earlier last month from consideration as a vice presidential running mate for Trump.

Corker, who has been mentioned as a potential secretary of state or secretary of treasury, declined to talk about such speculation, however.

"People like me have nothing to do with those decisions, and even to talk about them publicly is counterproductive," Corker said during a visit to Cleveland, Tenn.

But with two Tennessee allies on Trump's transition team, Corker does have some friends in key positions to support a potential cabinet post, if Trump is elected. Bill Hagerty, former state commissioner of economic and community development and a long-time supporter of Corker, was named to serve as director of presidential appointments for Trump's transition team. His former deputy, and the counsel for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Corker chairs, John Rader, also took a leave of absence to serve on the transition planning panel.

Even before those Tennesseans joined the Trump team, Corker made the short list of potential running mates for Trump earlier this summer before withdrawing his name shortly before Trump picked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

"I just knew [in early July after meeting with Trump] that the next 110 to 120 days of what a vice presidential candidate was going to be doing was not something that I was particularly well suited to do, and I think there are other ways that someone like me could serve better," Corker said. "At this time, being a vice presidential candidate was not the right thing for me or for them."

Corker said he is happy where he is now as chairman of the key Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of the Senate Banking Committee, among other Senate posts.

In response to reporter questions Monday, Corker didn't offer a full-throated embrace of Trump, who captured the GOP nomination by winning 41 states and caucuses, including 39 percent of the vote in Tennessee.

But Corker said he remains committed to supporting the GOP nominee, and he quoted Howard Baker, who said when the president and duty calls, you should consider and probably take what is asked of you.

Corker acknowledged Republicans are more likely to retain control of the Senate, and Trump will do better in his own campaign if he stays more on message and focused on voter concerns about the economy and security.

Trump drew plenty of attention — and criticism — last week for his critical comments about a Gold Star Muslim family who lost their son in the Iraq war and his initial refusal to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte. After his poll showings declined last week, Trump on Friday agreed to endorse Ryan, McCain and Ayotte in a bid to help unite the Republican field.

"I think what you're seeing is that people want the two leading candidates to focus on the issues that they are concerned about and that is economic growth and some of the wage disparities that exist and their own personal and national security concerns," Corker said. "I would say to both candidates to focus on the major issues and not all of the other things that can distract attention."

Corker said 70 percent of Americans believe the economy is headed in the wrong direction because of the weakness of the U.S. economic recovery and the continued terrorist threat from ISIS around the world.

"I think any candidate that's out there talking about anything other than that is wasting time and basically going backwards," Corker said.

Corker said he both agreed and disagreed with Trump on his comments about America's role in NATO, which was created following World War II to ensure the common defense and security of Europe while requiring member countries to adhere to basic human rights and guarantees of freedom and self expression.

Trump told The New York Times he would be willing to abandon U.S. support for NATO countries that are unwilling to pay their share.

But Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said NATO "is foundational" for the defense of Europe and the United States.

"I think the NATO alliance is fundamental and very important," Corker said.

But Corker agreed with Trump — and others including former Democratic Secretary of State Madeleine Albright — that many European countries are not contributing enough to the common defense of NATO.

The alliance calls for each country to spend at least 2 percent of its GDP on defense. But Corker said Germany — the richest of the European allies — is spending only 1.18 percent of its GDP on defense.

"Other countries can and should do more," Corker said.