Sen. Bob Corker is, as they say in Washington, a player. After all, he’s been at the forefront of efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, strike a grand bargain fiscal deal, and most recently, craft a Syria use-of-force measure both parties could support.
The congenial Tennessee Republican portrays an image that is one part Southern gentleman, one part loyal conservative, and one part old-school, deal-making legislator. Countless times during Washington’s many partisan struggles, Corker has been one of the few optimistic members, always ready to explain to reporters how something might, somehow, work out.
But Wednesday, when approached by reporters about the latest developments on Syria, Corker broke character. His signature optimism was replaced by pure, unfiltered frustration. And the source was President Barack Obama and his White House aides.
“They’re so hard to help,” Corker said, closing his eyes and bending slightly at the waist, for effect. “They’re so hard to help!
“This administration makes it so hard to help ‘em because the president has so much difficulty being our nation’s commander in chief. Very disappointed.”
Corker was discussing the different messages he heard from Obama behind closed doors this week and then when the president addressed the nation on Tuesday evening. Corker even questioned the White House’s credibility with lawmakers.
“I got to be honest, I will drop what I’m doing and work with this administration on any serious issue there is to work on. I could not be more disappointed, both on the fiscal issues — when I heard the recap they gave to Democratic senators…they’ve lost tremendous credibility there.”
Corker also told reporters summer-long talks between the White House and deal-minded GOP senators on the kind of grand bargain deal that would lessen or end sequestration have broken down. And he pinned all the blame on the White House.
“I don’t think there’s one of the eight senators who participated in those meetings who feels like they were being credible on what they were doing. The way it ended, the way they portrayed it to Democratic senators.”
To Corker, it seems Obama and his aides simply don’t get Congress or its members.
“Sometimes I think they think we don’t talk to each other. You understand? They think only Republicans talk to Republicans and only Democrats… I don’t think they realize we actually have friends on both sides, and we actually debrief each other.
“You know, at their luncheon [with the president], they talked about diplomacy. At our luncheon, they talked about red lines and diplomacy. I’m pretty nonplussed with ‘em on multiple issues. That doesn’t mean, if there’s a credible attempt to solve a problem, I’m going to be right there. I’ve been there on immigration, I’ve been there on the nuclear option, I’ve been there on fiscal issues, I’ve been there on the AUMF, I’ve been there trying to solve our nation’s problems.
“They are a hard bunch of folks to help, okay?!”
Among many senators, he said, “there’s is significant frustration right now with just the muddledness with this administration.”
Corker then doubled down on his critique of Obama as the head of the nation’s military.
“I just think it’s about a president who’s really uncomfortable being commander in chief. I just think he’s uncomfortable.”
An aide who had been observing the scrum then informed his boss the Senate subway train had arrived, ready to swoop him away. Corker seemed to get the not-so-subtle message from his subordinate. Off they went, the senator with a bit less frustration bottled up inside.
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