Sen. Bob Corker discusses life after Congress

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., reads his notes during a Senate hearing in Washington recently. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., reads his notes during a Senate hearing in Washington recently. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

NASHVILLE - U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., says he has "no idea" what he'll do once he leaves Congress in January, but he does know one thing his future won't include: Following the well-worn Washington path from lawmaker to hired-gun lobbyist.

"I have no idea," the former Chattanooga mayor said about his future during a wide-ranging interview Sunday with CBS "Face the Nation" host Margaret Brennan.

"You know," Corker said, "there's a little anxiety. I've been working since I was 13. I know I'm going to do something else."

The successful businessman, who announced in September he wouldn't seek re-election, later reconsidered his decision in February before announcing last month he won't run.

Corker said he expects after leaving office he will "continue to play a constructive role, got a lot of energy and I want to figure out a way to make a difference in another sphere."

Brennan asked, "We won't see you around here anymore?" And Corker seemingly agreed.

"You won't see me around here. I don't think I'll be up here. You certainly won't see me doing any kind of government relations work or anything like that. But, you know, we'll see what happens," he said.

During the interview, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman also said he expects President Donald Trump to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement in May.

"[R]ight now, it doesn't feel like it's going to be extended," Corker said. "I think the president likely will move away from it unless our European counterparts really come together on a framework. And it doesn't feel to me that they are."

Brennan pointed out that Trump, a critic of the Iran agreement, would be pulling out of it at about the same time he's expected to begin negotiating with North Korea about its nuclear weapons.

"I have used that argument, OK?" Corker said. "But at the end of the day I think this: this whole situation with North Korea and the way that it's shaping up right now is somewhat unorthodox, and I think you're dealing with a leader there that probably doesn't think the same way that other countries and their leadership might."

Regarding Corker ally and just-fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as expectations of more dismissals by Trump, the senator was asked whether the Trump, Tillerson clash boiled down to differences in personal style or policy.

"I think it can be both," Corker replied. "I know with Secretary Tillerson there were differences in policy. But I think it was also a clash of just style and culture."

Trump has been "very entrepreneurial" as a businessman while former Exxon CEO Tillerson tended to "think things through" when it came to the oil giant's world-wide operations. "And so I think it wasn't just policy, but it was also very much just in how they went about doing their business."

Corker said he thinks Tillerson "gave very, very sound advice" and knew the relationship was not perfect.

Trump says he will nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Tillerson at the State Department. Corker said he had a "long conversation" with Tillerson after the secretary learned of his dismissal by reading the president's tweet.

"I think he's doing fine," Corker said of Tillerson, also calling him a "class act" who hopes to smooth the transition to Pompeo.

Corker has had his own famous differences with Trump, who had briefly considered the Tennessean as his running mate and later for the Secretary of State post.

Last summer, the senator sharply criticized Trump's equivocal comments about who was to blame in a deadly clash between supporters of an effort to remove Confederate army leaders and neo-Nazis and white nationalists.

Corker said Trump had "not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate" as president.

Then in the fall, president and senator warred on Twitter with tit-for-tat insults. In response to a series of Trump attacks, Corker likened the White House to an adult day care center where no one was on duty.

Pointing out that the senator is being more careful with his language these days, Face the Nation host Brennan asked Corker whether he had "fixed" his relationship with the president.

Corker sought to minimize the dispute, saying, "Well look, you know I don't think people realize we never stopped talking."

"Even during that back and forth?" Brennan asked.

"Well," Corker allowed, "maybe there was a three week detente. But you know, we, I talked twice to him this week. You know when you say be more careful, again, I'm assessing things as they are. And I just mentioned there has been a lot of progress made."

He said "sometimes it's a little uncanny as to how it happens, and it's very unorthodox. And the president like a lot of business people, just picks up the phone. And sometimes things happen in a good way. Sometimes not. But, you know, we've made some, we have made progress in North Korea. There's no question."

As for this year's re-examination of his fall decision to retire, a move that threatened to trigger a civil war among Tennessee Republicans with U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., already off and running following Corker's initial decision, the senator reiterated that he had said when he ran in 2006 he couldn't see himself serving more than two terms.

"But in December I had numbers of senators coming up to me about reconsidering, some because of foreign policy experience," Corker said. "Some just for pure politics, maintaining the seat."

Corker, who has been given wide credit by a number of experts for his practical approach to foreign policy, said when he attended the economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, "I had numbers of people around the world saying the same thing. And so, you know, I spent about two and a half weeks thinking about it and felt I made the right decision in September."

The senator said he'd hoped his re-evaluation would remain private, ruefully adding, "nothing around here happens privately, unfortunately. But I spent a couple of weeks thinking about it. It was very therapeutic in that I just felt the decision I made in September was the right one."

With some Republicans concerned that Blackburn faces a stiff challenge from former Tennessee Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, Brennan asked the senator whether Republicans were doing enough to keep the seat in GOP hands.

"Oh," Corker said, "I'm not much of a politician."

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

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