Posted: 8:49 pm Tuesday, October 24th, 2017
By Jamie Dupree
Tuesday was yet another head-shaking news experience on Capitol Hill. It started on Twitter – like many days have in recent months – as President Donald Trump repeatedly assailed retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). It continued with an effort to show GOP unity as Mr. Trump had lunch at the U.S. Capitol with some of the same Senators he has harshly criticized in recent months. It was capped by the surprise announcement of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) that he would not run for re-election.
And what it highlighted even more clearly were the growing divisions within the GOP on President Donald Trump.
Flake’s announcement caught the Senate off guard; he was in a tough re-election race, but no one thought he would take to the floor an hour after having lunch with the President, and verbally shred Mr. Trump’s way of doing business.
“Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as “telling it like it is,” when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified,” Flake said, making the case that Mr. Trump will never be a ‘normal’ President.
“I must say that we have fooled ourselves for long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it. We know better than that,” Flake added. “By now, we all know better than that.”
In many ways, Flake was echoing the recent words of his colleague from Tennessee, who again lit into Mr. Trump on Tuesday.
“You would think he would aspire to be the President of the United States, and act like a President of the United States, but that’s not going to be the case apparently,” Corker said of Mr. Trump.
In a series of tweets, the President called Corker, ‘incompetent,’ a ‘lightweight,’ “Liddle’ Bob Corker,” and said the Tennessee Republican couldn’t be elected dog catcher.
While Flake and Corker were raising red flags, other Republicans in the Congress felt there was no cause for concern, either for the GOP, or for the President.
“I don’t feel distracted at all,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) told reporters who were asking about the latest in the Trump-Corker spat.
Q: Feel distracted by Corker-Trump spat?
Sen. Inhofe: “I don’t feel distracted at all. Corker doesn’t like him.”
— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) October 24, 2017
“The thing with Corker is a personal thing, that’s been lingering out there for a long time,” Inhofe added. “I think everyone knows that.”
While reporters and Congressional experts bemoaned the day’s events, labeling the dissent ‘historic’ in nature, and wondering about the future of the Republican Party, others said it was just the reaction of the D.C. establishment to President Trump more than anything else.
“People see him through the lens of Washington, and I don’t,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) said of the President.
“I would really liken him to Winston Churchill,” added Perdue, who has been one of Mr. Trump’s most solid supporters in the Senate. “He was nobody’s choirboy.”
As Perdue and Inhofe shrugged off the signs of GOP discontent, they were joined by many other Republicans in focusing more on unity with the President on tax reform.
.@realDonaldTrump used good portion of Senate GOP lunch 2 urge better promo of accomplishments 2 counter “fake news.” Rest mostly tax reform
— David M. Drucker (@DavidMDrucker) October 24, 2017
“He’s very focused on delivering results,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) of Mr. Trump’s focus on tax reform. “We have got to get that done.”
“He was talking more about the achievements we’ve been able to make together – and as a team, we can make a lot more,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS).
If Cruz – who has had his own run-ins with President Trump – shared the concerns of Flake and Corker, the Texas Republican was like other GOP lawmakers – it wasn’t something he was talking about.
The divide in the GOP left some political commentators aghast.
“This must be the White House’s ‘Destroy the Republican Party Week,'” tweeted political handicapper Stu Rothenberg.
But from outside of Washington, many of my listeners and readers were sticking with the President, loving the no-apology-tell-it-like-it-is flavor from Mr. Trump.
“Flake’s not running because he sold out his voters,” one wrote.
“Drain the swamp,” one wrote me on Twitter.
“Useless pigs run when they see the farmer carrying an axe,” said another, as many Republican voters signaled their approval of moves that shake things up in D.C.
At the White House, the view was much the same – good riddance to both Corker and Flake.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 25, 2017
“I don’t think that the numbers are in the favor of either of those two Senators in their states, and so this is probably the right decision,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Maybe the biggest Congressional target right now for strong Trump supporters is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who did his best on Tuesday to avoid taking sides in the Trump-Corker dispute.
"We have a First Amendment in this country. Everyone gets to express themselves," McConnell says of Corker's comments on Trump.
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) October 24, 2017
“We have a First Amendment in this country,” McConnell told reporters, acknowledging that “there is a lot of noise out there.”
To some, it looks like a Republican Civil War. To others, it’s an effort by the GOP Establishment to undermine President Trump.
And it’s not quite clear where this GOP tussle is going.
After stirring things up earlier in the day, the President sent out a more soothing tweet on Tuesday evening.
“So nice being with Republican Senators today. Multiple standing ovations! Most are great people who want big Tax Cuts and success for U.S.,” Mr. Trump said.
And Wednesday would be another day.