A scene played out Sunday morning that would have seemed inconceivable as little as a year ago. An angry president fired off a vitriolic series of angry tweets at one of his party’s most prominent senators, who then decided to strike back by essentially calling the commander in chief a baby. But that’s the brave new world under Donald Trump, where each weekend’s Twitter rants always seem to come with an element of surprise.
Trump set the stage for what the Washington Post characterized as “an extraordinary squabble” between two Republican leaders. The president wrote a series of three tweets in which he claimed retiring Sen. Bob Corker “begged” him for his endorsement. Trump also claimed he rejected Corker’s offer to be secretary of state, and accused him of being “largely responsible for the horrendous Iran deal!” And in the final, cherry-on-the-sundae tweet, the president accused the senator of not having “the guts to run” for re-election.
It didn’t take long for Corker to strike back, calling it a “shame” that the “White House has become an adult day care center.” This wasn’t the first time that the retiring senator from Tennessee has suggested that Trump needed adult supervision. Corker, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis, among others, are helping “separate our country from chaos.”
Corker, or at least allies close to him, are also making it clear to media outlets that he didn’t beg Trump for his endorsement. “The president called the senator early last week and asked him to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election and reaffirmed that he would have endorsed him, as he has said many times,” one of the sources told CNN. Politico also claims that Trump told Corker in September that he would endorse and campaign for him if he ran again.
Now Trump may find that attacking a prominent Senate chairman who doesn’t have to worry about reelection won’t do much to help him move along in his domestic legislative agenda that is in desperate need of a victory. Corker could be pivotal if Trump moves forward with his stated plan to “decertify” the Iran nuclear deal and to confirm Tillerson’s replacement if the secretary of State resigns. He has also already expressed concern about his party’s efforts to pass tax cuts without slashing spending, and the conflict with Trump could very well make him more eager to stand up to the president.
In what seemed to be an inadvertent foreshadowing of things to come, Mick Mulvaney, the White House’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, told NBC’s Meet the Press earlier on Sunday that he enjoys working with Corker now that he isn’t seeking re-election. “I think it sort of unleashes him to do whatever, and say whatever, he wants to say,” Mulvaney said.