White House slams 'petty' critics after Corker, Flake attacks

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON — The White House on Tuesday dismissed “petty comments” from senators “grandstanding on TV” in the face of an unprecedented onslaught from two prominent Republican lawmakers against President Trump’s tweets, temperament and overall fitness for office.

In separate remarks just hours apart, retiring Sens. Bob Corker, R.-Tenn., and Jeff Flake, R.-Ariz., declared Trump a danger to the country.

Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, did so in an interview on CNN, in which he predicted the president would chiefly be remembered for “the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth-telling, the name-calling.”

Trump spent much of the morning launching repeated attacks against Corker, calling him “liddle” and falsely suggesting that the Republican foreign policy stalwart supported the 2015 Iran nuclear deal under President Barack Obama. Corker voted against it.

“Sen. Corker is the incompetent head of the Foreign Relations Committee, & look how poorly the U.S. has done,” Trump lamented in one of five tweets attacking Corker. “He doesn’t have a clue as … the entire World WAS laughing and taking advantage of us. People like liddle’ Bob Corker have set the U.S. way back. Now we move forward!” the commander in chief continued.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., after announcing he will not run for reelection. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Flake rebelled against the Republican president in a blistering speech announcing that he would not run for reelection and telling his colleagues it was past time to stand up to a president he accused of “reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Americans care more about the robust U.S. economy and victories over the so-called Islamic State than “some petty comments from Senator Corker and Senator Flake.” She accused the lawmakers of being more interested in promoting themselves on TV than helping Trump’s largely stalled legislative agenda.

She also suggested that the two lawmakers were retiring when their terms end in January 2019 because voters in their states support Trump and not his critics.

“I think that the people both of Tennessee and Arizona supported this president, and I don’t think that the numbers are in the favor of either of those two senators,” she said, describing their decision not to run again as “probably a good move.”

Sanders suggested that Corker was trying to “maybe get a headline or two on his way out the door” and defended Trump’s Twitter attacks on the Tennessee Republican — who once backed Trump and acted as a bridge of sorts between the volatile outsider and the GOP establishment.

“The people of this country didn’t elect somebody to be weak; they elected somebody to be strong, and when he gets hit he’s going to hit back,” the spokeswoman said. “He’s a fighter.”

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., pauses while riding the Senate subway to the Capitol on Tuesday. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Asked whether the president bore any responsibility for the coarseness of modern political culture, Sanders replied that “we can all, always, do better.”

It was not clear whether the criticisms from Corker and Flake — or their colleague John McCain, R-Ariz. — would translate into resistance to Trump’s agenda, notably the tax cuts that Republicans agree are vital to their political health going into the 2018 midterm election season. Some of the president’s top priorities, like repealing and replacing Obamacare, have failed in the face of fissures in the GOP.

Asked whether Trump felt that he was winning, Sanders replied: “He feels like America’s winning.”

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