Corker: Senate job 'hard to leave' [video]

Bob Corker

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker on Sunday described as "kind of humorous" his first meeting with President Donald Trump after publicly criticizing the president over his comments about who was at fault in a deadly Charlottesville, Va., clash between white supremacists and counterdemonstrators.

Appearing on NBC' "Meet the Press," Corker, who triggered an uproar by stating the president had "yet" to demonstrate the necessary "competence" and "stability" for his job, told host Chuck Todd that "Oh, he remembered it."

"You know, he said, 'You called me incompetent.' I said, 'Mr. President' - I knew it was coming, right. So I said, I stand by those comments." But he noted he had emphasized the word "yet," a qualifier largely overlooked in many news accounts.

"I mean, the country needs for him to be successful," Corker said.

Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, announced last week he won't seek re-election for a third term next year

On Sunday, he said it is "hard to leave."

But, he added, "I told people in Tennessee (in his 2006 campaign) that I couldn't imagine serving more than two terms. For this entire year, I've struggled over this. I really have, because because I know of the difference I'm able to make here."

He added, "Now I've got 15 months of even more freedom in many ways. And I'm going to do everything I can to have the biggest impact possible."

A former Chattanooga mayor, Corker came under fire for criticizing Trump. Former White House strategist Steve Bannon, now heading Breitbart News, was seeking a hard-right candidate to challenge him in the 2018 GOP primary.

Several Tennessee Republicans, including Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, are weighing campaigns for the seat.

Regarding Trump, Corker said he believes the president's new chief of staff, retired Gen. John Kelly, has brought an "air of discipline" to White House operations that has proven "transformative."

Corker, a self-described "deficit hawk," said of the federal budget and tax overhaul that "if it looks to me like ... we're adding one penny to the deficit, I'm not going to be for it."

He said while Republicans have campaigned on and pushed for fiscal discipline for years, now "it's like there's a party going on up here, OK? Heck with ... constraining spending."

About leaving office in 2019, and colleagues including Democrats saying they're sorry to see him go, Corker joked, "I told people if I knew they were going to say such nice things about me I would have retired earlier."

"I mean, it's been wonderful. ... I hope, I think I'm going to have more impact over the the next 15 months than I've had in the last 10 years."