By ERICA WERNER, AP Congressional Correspondent
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump lashed out at Sen. Bob Corker as “Liddle’ Bob Corker” on Tuesday, continuing a feud with the Tennessee Republican who’s dubbed the White House an “adult day care center” and charged that Trump could be setting the nation on the path toward World War III.
Fellow GOP senators, treading carefully, avoided siding with Trump or Corker. But leading lawmakers called on both men to end a quarrel that could imperil the Republican agenda on Capitol Hill. Trump will need Corker if he is to get big tax changes through the Senate, where the narrow GOP majority was unable to repeal Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. And Corker also figures to be a key player if Trump moves as expected to unwind the Iran nuclear deal.
“I have a lot of respect for Sen. Corker and what he brings to the Senate, but I think the president is leading in the right direction and I’m supportive of what he’s doing,” Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the GOP leadership, told reporters Tuesday. “I would encourage them both to stop what they’re doing and get focused on what we need to be doing.”
Blunt’s comments followed a plea from GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley at a town hall meeting in Jefferson, Iowa, on Monday for Trump and Corker to “cool it.”
“And I think it would help if the president would be the first to cool it,” Grassley said. “I think it would be better if we stuck to the issues and leave personalities out of it.”
Trump’s tweet Tuesday alleged that Corker was “set up” by “the failing” New York Times in a recorded interview Sunday. Corker, who is not running for re-election, leveled searing criticism at Trump and said his conduct “would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”
In the interview, Corker said Trump could set the U.S. “on the path to World War III” with threats toward other countries.
Corker “was made to sound a fool, and that’s what I am dealing with!” Trump wrote on Twitter. Corker’s office declined to respond but a Times spokeswoman, Danielle Rhoades Ha, said “the interview with Senator Corker was on the record and he knew it was being recorded.”
Corker’s comments echoed what some Republicans say privately. But Trump’s enduring popularity with a segment of the GOP base serves as a political muzzle that keeps most elected Republicans from saying anything similar, even those who believe it to be true.
And Trump still has plenty of loyalists on Capitol Hill, several of whom voiced displeasure with Corker’s remarks. Corker’s fellow Tennessean, Rep. Diane Black, said in an interview on the Hugh Hewitt Show on Tuesday that “if you talk about an adult daycare center, I’m sorry, but I think the Senate is an adult daycare center. They can’t get anything done over there.”
“We have been waiting for repeal and replace,” Black said, referring to the Senate’s failure to pass legislation to undo the Affordable Care Act after the House passed its own version. The Senate’s failure on health care has also led Trump to attack Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the past.
McConnell responded Monday to the Corker-Trump contretemps by saying “Sen. Corker is a valuable member of the Senate Republican caucus and he’s also on the Budget Committee and a particularly important player as we move to the floor on the budget next week.”
His comments underscored what has frustrated Republicans most about the Trump-Corker feud, which burst open Sunday when Trump began tweeting, inaccurately, that Corker had begged for his endorsement and decided not to run for re-election when Trump turned him down.
Former top Trump adviser Steve Bannon lashed out at Corker, McConnell and others in an interview with conservative host Sean Hannity late Monday, calling on Corker to resign and threatening to take out incumbent GOP senators in primaries.
“We are declaring war on the Republican establishment,” Bannon said on Fox News.
“Sen. Corker is an absolute disgrace,” he said. “If Bob Corker has any honor, any decency, he should resign immediately.”
Associated Press writers Adam Beam in Hazard, Kentucky, and Bob Christie in Scottsdale, Arizona, contributed to this report. Marcy Gordon, Kevin Freking, Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor and Matthew Daly contributed from Washington.