Corker hasn't ruled out challenge to Trump in 2020

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) gets a thumbs-up from Donald Trump at the presumptive Republican nominee's campaign event in Raleigh, N.C., on July 5, 2016. Corker's appearance with Trump was the first by anyone on Trump's then-reported shortlist of running-mates. (Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)

GATLINBURG, Tenn. - Retiring U.S. Sen. Bob Corker on Friday wouldn't rule out a possible 2020 challenge to President Donald Trump, but stressed his primary focus remains on completing his third and final term in the Senate.

"The only thing I'm talking about now over the next 14 months truly is doing the best job I can as a senator," the former Chattanooga mayor told reporters in Gatlinburg after a state economic and community development conference.

Asked whether he was thinking about or ruling out a Republican primary challenge to Trump in 2020, Corker said: "If you even begin thinking those things, everything you do becomes viewed through a different lens. I've got 14 months to do the best job that I can."

"It's way way too early," Corker later noted. "Does [Trump] even run again? It's way too early to be thinking about those things."

The Tennessee Republican spoke to reporters came after a luncheon speech at the annual Governor's Conference on Economic and Community Development. Also speaking were Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Corker, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pointed to "tremendous foreign relations challenges," especially with regard to North Korea. He touched on an upcoming tax overhaul, and a temporary fix on soaring Obamacare insurance premiums that Alexander said he's put together with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., at Trump's behest.

Corker has been embroiled for more than two months in an escalating feud with Trump. Much of it began when Corker told Chattanooga Rotary Club members in mid-August the president had yet to demonstrate the competence and stability needed to succeed in the job.

That was in response to Trump's ambivalent comments about who was at fault at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that left a female counterprotester dead and others injured.

Trump later tweeted that it was an odd comment from Corker, who he said had asked his advice about seeking a third term.

Corker later announced he wouldn't run again.

The senator has since charged the president is "debasing" the nation, has "great difficulty with the truth" and treated his office like a "reality star" and created problems for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with presidential Twitter slams on North Korea.

Among other things, Trump charged that the senator couldn't get elected "dog catcher" in his home state.

"Well," Corker drawled Friday, "I like dogs, so that's pretty offensive."

Earlier, Corker won warm applause and sometimes laughs from hundreds of county and city mayors as well as economic development officials as he, Alexander and Haslam discussed issues, governance and stylistic approach to public office.

"I think you build political capital to use it. Burn it up. I realize I may burn everyone," Corker said, drawing laughs. "But that's the purpose of building capital, is to use it."

But "to get nothing done is a total waste of time," Corker said to applause.

The senator also dismissed suggestions, most notably from New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat, that if Corker is serious about Trump's fitness for office, he should call openly for impeachment or removal through the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

"That's not going to happen," Corker said. "The best thing we can do is when the president's right, support the things that he's doing. I think we have the opportunity to do something good on taxes. And oppose him when he is wrong. We also should strongly support those within the administration who are giving him advice we believe to be appropriate."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.