Oct 9, 2017

The message behind Bob Corker's public Trump intervention

Sen. Bob Corker at a Senate Budget Committee meeting. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

That escalated quickly. After a nasty Twitter back-and-forth with President Trump on Sunday morning, retiring Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), told the N.Y. Times' Jonathan Martin that Trump's "reality show" could set the nation "on the path to World War III."

Why it matters: A Republican close to the White House told me: "These comments now shape the criticism of the President going forward. Corker's comments will be the catalyst for all the doubts about Trump's fitness ... [H]e has sewn the strands of doubt about Trump into a vivid tapestry."

"He concerns me," Corker said. "He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation."

Corker — once friendly enough with Trump that he was a serious vice-presidential possibility — announced last month that he won't seek reelection, and so is free to speak his mind in a way that most pols aren't.

  • Be smart: This looks like a public intervention, but it's really a very targeted message. Corker, sources tell me, knows that the best way to reach Trump is through the media.
  • Corker is trying to send a signal flare to Trump — and, especially, the couple of aides closest to him (especially Chief of Staff John Kelly) — that Trump needs more restraint and constraints.

The unthinkable exchange began with Trump tweeting that Corker "[d]idn't have the guts to run": "Corker 'begged' me to endorse ... I said 'NO' and he dropped out ... He also wanted to be Secretary of State, I said 'NO THANKS.'"

  • A top lobbyist texted me: "Bye, bye tax reform."
  • Corker responded from his official Senate account: "It's a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning."
  • Corker's frustration had been building. In August, after Charlottesville, he had said Trump lacks "stability" and "competence."
  • A Republican who has worked on Capitol Hill, in the Executive Branch and on K Street emailed me: "Simply stunning. A high-wire act with a nation's destiny hanging in the balance."

But, wait: There's more! Corker told JMart he speaks for most of his Republican Senate colleagues:

  • "Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we're dealing with here. If you write that, I'm sure there will be some that will come to you and say, 'No, no, no. I don't believe that.'"
  • "But of course they understand the volatility that we're dealing with, and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road."

Be smarter: The Corker mission could backfire. The more stories there are about the retired generals "babysitting" Trump, the more he'll resist.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 665,164 — Total deaths: 30,852 — Total recoveries: 140,225.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 124,665 — Total deaths: 2,191 — Total recoveries: 1,095.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump announces new travel advisories for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but rules out quarantine enforcement. Per the CDC, residents of those states must now "refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days," with the exception of critical infrastructure industry workers.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters who backed Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Coronavirus updates: Global death toll tops 30,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 30,000 people around the world — with Italy reporting over 10,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed 2,000 on Saturday. The United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus infections — more than 124,000 by early Sunday. The number of those recovered from the virus in the U.S. passed the 1,000-mark on Saturday evening.

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Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O’Day said in an open letter Saturday the company is expanding access to its experimental anti-coronavirus drug remdesivir to include severely ill COVID-19 patients.

The big pig picture: President Trump has called the antiviral drug "promising," but the results of six clinical trials on this investigational medicine are still being conducted, so its effectiveness the treatment of the novel coronavirus has yet to be proved. The World Health Organization is involved in the tests.

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