If you were expecting Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-Tenn.) scathing rebuke of President Donald Trump to open a floodgate of similar GOP recriminations, you’d be mistaken.
Most Senate Republicans refrained from weighing in on Corker’s remarkable interview with The New York Times on Sunday, in which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman warned that the president’s volatile behavior and rhetoric could set America “on the path to World War III.”
“He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation,” Corker said, adding that top White House aides struggled to “contain” Trump’s worst instincts on a daily basis.
Corker, who recently announced he would not seek re-election, also said the “vast majority” of congressional Republicans shared his opinion of the president ― placing pressure on them to speak out as well.
But most of his colleagues on Monday stayed silent or avoided questions on about whether they agreed with Corker’s comments. Their predicament was made somewhat easier by the legislative calendar, as the Senate had already adjourned for a week on Friday.
“Thank goodness tomorrow is recess,” a spokesman for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) tweeted after the Times published its interview with Corker on Sunday.
Not everyone was as lucky.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) offered some tepid support for Corker when asked about his feud with the president, but his timid comments did little more than to affirm that Corker is, in fact, a Republican, a senator, and a member of the Budget Committee.
“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 and he’s an important part of our team,” McConnell said, according to The Associated Press.
Asked whether he agreed with Corker’s criticisms of the president, McConnell reiterated that the senator from Tennessee is “an important part of our team and he’s a particularly important part of the budget debate which will be on the floor next week.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the influential Senate Judiciary Committee, offered more candid comments about Corker’s spat with Trump. But he too avoided taking sides.
Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), who serves with Corker on the Foreign Relations Committee, and who is likely to succeed him as chairman, took a similar tactic in a statement issued to The Washington Post on Monday.
“Senator Risch knows both Senator Corker and President Trump very well,” a spokesman for Risch said in the statement. “He works with both of them. Senator Corker and the president obviously have differences they need to resolve, but Senator Risch has no intention of getting involved in this matter.”
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) similarly refrained from wading into the GOP quarrel, describing the spat as merely one between “two strong opinionated individuals” and calling Corker’s World War III comment “hyperbole.”
“Here’s a classic example of there being some opinions that are strong within the party,” he added
Whereas several GOP senators volunteered expressions of support for Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), another critic of Trump who was the target of the president’s fury in August, the caucus remained mostly silent online in the wake of Corker’s comments and Trump’s attacks over the weekend.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the lone exception, on Monday tweeted a link to an article by prominent Trump critic Bill Kristol that was titled, “A Republican Crackup?”. The Arizona senator, who similarly drew Trump’s ire after helping to defeat the effort to repeal Obamacare, called it a “must-read.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a friend of McCain’s who once opposed Trump’s candidacy on moral grounds, played a round of golf with the president at his club in Sterling, Virginia. The South Carolina Republican revealed Trump shot a 73 in “wet and windy conditions,” and offered a self-deprecating joke on Twitter.
“I did better in the presidential race than today on the golf course!” he said. “Great fun. Great host.”
Republicans will surely face questions about Corker’s comments after they return from recess next week, but judging from their responses on Monday, the GOP will likely stick to a familiar, and well-worn strategy: ducking questions about intraparty feuds in hopes of salvaging their legislative agenda, one that, at the moment at least, appears to be focused on little more than tax cuts.
The White House, meanwhile, issued a statement from Vice President Mike Pence on Monday that sought to dismiss what it called “empty rhetoric and baseless attacks” by unnamed “critics.”
“Trump restored the credibility of U.S. power,” Pence said in the statement. “No amount of criticism at home can diminish those results.”