Corker says climate change is real, administration hasn't 'spoken appropriately' on Khashoggi slaying

McCallie freshman Cole Gustafson asks a question of Senator Corker.  Senator Bob Corker answered questions from students as he visited the McCallie School on November 30, 2018.
McCallie freshman Cole Gustafson asks a question of Senator Corker. Senator Bob Corker answered questions from students as he visited the McCallie School on November 30, 2018.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Friday that climate change is real, he empathizes with the migrants in the U.S./Mexico border caravan and the Trump administration has not "spoken appropriately" on the slaying of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Corker, invited by headmaster Lee Burns to take questions and speak to McCallie School students about leadership, didn't shy away from some hard-hitting questions at the school's chapel.

"These students actually resemble, greatly, the national press I deal with on a daily basis," Corker said in jest.

In response to student questions, Corker said "human beings are contributing" [to climate change]. "The question is how do you bring the world together to deal with it?"

He pointed to technological advances, such as improved gas mileage pushed by Obama-era fuel efficiency standards that would require cars, trucks and sport-utility vehicle to achieve 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

"[It's] helping us reduce emissions," he said.

However, the Trump administration has said it wants to freeze mileage standards after 2020.

Several students lined up to ask their questions, and not all got their chance.

Among the ones who did, though, was high school senior Ryan Huynh.

"I think it's an important thing to do as a senator, is to interact with the community," Huynh said. "Especially for us high school students, who are turning into voting age, getting us more politically engaged is so important in this day and age. I think we saw in the last election how the lack of involvement with the young voters was a huge factor."

Huynh asked Corker whether he would vote to advance a resolution that would end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war effort in Yemen.

Corker did vote on Wednesday to advance the resolution to the Senate floor. A second vote will take place on Tuesday, and if it passes the Senate will debate and, potentially, amend the resolution before a final vote would occur.

But in response to Huynh's question, Corker said, "For years, I have tried to keep us from doing something that is against our national interest as it relates to Saudi Arabia."

He called Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman "out of control" and said he firmly believes the crown prince called for the murder of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist.

"The administration has not spoken appropriately to what has happened here," he said. "You cannot go around killing journalists."

He said President Donald Trump's response was "100 percent only about the fact that [Saudi Arabia is] buying arms from us. It was about out national interest, but it didn't have the balance of American values."

Students also asked Corker about immigration policy and the current situation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Both sides of the aisle have used the immigration issue as a political football, and it's sad," he said.

But Corker made a point of humanizing the migrants.

"If you were living in South America, and living through the beheadings, the corruption, the killings, jumping on buses and slitting bus drivers' throats, the drug cartels controlling the countries, it's my guess that your parents might be part of the caravan trying to make it to the good ole' United States of America," he said.

He said he supports strong border security and legal immigration, and he pointed to his vote for the 2013 Senate immigration bill.

"The Corker-Hoeven amendment, it was the strongest border security amendment to ever pass the United States Senate," he said. "You have to have borders. You cannot let people come into this country illegally."

He said the U.S. should work more strongly with Central American countries to apply political pressure to corrupt governments.

"So that people have an opportunity down there to live in their own countries and to flourish and have the kind of dreams and realities that you here in the room have," he said. "But it needs to be dealt with in a comprehensive way it's one of the issues that, as I leave here, I'm sad that we have not yet resolved as a country."

Corker announced in 2017 that he would not seek re-election this year after serving two terms in the Senate. His seat will be taken by fellow Republican Marsha Blackburn, who on Nov. 6 became the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate from Tennessee.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.

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