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Former Sen. Bob Corker introduces Sen. Marsha Blackburn during a Chattanooga Rotary Club luncheon at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Thursday, April 25, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Sen. Blackburn said during a speech that Tennesseeans are ready to move on from the Mueller investigation.

Updated at 6:03 p.m. on Monday, May 6, 2019.

NASHVILLE — Former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Monday "I don't really see" a path for himself to challenge President Donald Trump in Republicans' 2020 presidential primaries.

"I think for someone to undertake that, they have to feel there's at least somewhat of an opportunity to actually be elected," the ex-senator and former Chattanooga mayor told reporters after a speech at the Nashville Rotary Club. "I see no point in just doing it to [run], you know, I just don't."

The 66-year-old businessman, who while Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman famously tussled with Trump during the president's first two years, said, "if I thought there was a real opportunity to focus on the kind of things that I'd like to focus on, some of which I mentioned today, I would strongly consider it.

"But I just don't see it today, and I don't see any point in, you know, trying to put effort out towards something that doesn't look realistic. I'd rather focus my energies some other place and try to be productive in that regard."

After making brief remarks to the Rotarians, Corker spent most of his time answering their questions on a number of topics. One attendee asked the former two-term senator how as a Republican with a "strong policy belief that is at variance with the current executive branch, how do you deal with it? How do you hold onto your beliefs?"

Corker replied, "well, it's been most difficult," pointing to Trump's abrupt announcement that he was pulling U.S. troops out of Syria. "My heart broke knowing we were six weeks away from just a major victory. Now, he was talked into staying for a while longer and not as much damage was done as could have been."

Much of the role of the members of the congressional foreign relations committees, Corker said, "is just keeping bad things from happening on the committee because people want to express themselves. It's very difficult, especially in a polarized environment, to pull together to move something ahead."

A "great example" of that, he said, was when Trump slapped tariffs on Canada and Mexico — "our friends," he said — and on European Union members "because he was trying to get back at China."

Corker, who didn't seek re-election in 2018 and left office in early January, had been largely absent from the public stage in recent months. But in the past two weeks he has made a number of appearances at public conferences and in other arenas.

Don't read too much into that, Corker cautioned reporters later, noting that he had had many requests to speak both before and after leaving office and decided to do a number of them in a two- to three-week span.

As for his political future, Corker said, "I truly don't know. I have no plans whatsoever for the future in politics. Would I consider something if I thought I could make a difference? Absolutely."

Asked about former Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who months after leaving office continues to weigh a 2020 U.S. Senate bid for the seat now held by retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Corker said he had a "long conversation" with Haslam, a longtime friend, last Friday.

"I mean, I think he's still weighing the pros and cons, and I think on his own timeframe he'll make a decision. He'd be a more-than-formidable candidate if he chose to run and certainly would be a great United States senator.

"But," Corker added, "I think he, as he should, is taking his time to think through it and see if that's the way he can most productively use his life over the next six to 12 years. So I can't tell you [he's] leaning either way."

Corker, however, does think the time Haslam is taking in coming to a decision is "wise."

"Let's face it, he was mayor [of Knoxville] for almost two terms and then two terms as governor. And I think he could take a little time and think about life and, you know, the best way to make a mark is very prudent for him to do and that's what he's doing.

"Fortunately for him, he can do that," Corker said of Haslam, a multi-billionaire who remained popular as he left office. "And he's certainly not going to be disadvantaged in any way. I could argue that taking his time and waiting is very much to his advantage."

Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Green of Ashland City, a former state senator elected to Congress last year, is actively weighing a bid for Alexander's seat.

Bill Hagerty, current U.S. ambassador to Japan and a former state economic and community development commissioner under Haslam, is seen a serious contender for the Senate if Haslam doesn't enter the race.

Having left office himself just four months ago, Corker said it's "pretty amazing how different you feel when you're out of office. And it's really amazing the kinds of conversations you have and what you do."

He called it "liberating."

Noting Haslam had a "14-year grind" as a mayor and governor, Corker said, it's good to have "some time to yourself and with your family before you make that kind of decision. Again, if he runs — and I don't want to jinx anything — but I mean he's beyond formidable if he runs. And I think he's wise to take his time."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

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