Trump and Corker Escalate Battle Over Taxes, in Personal Terms
WASHINGTON — President Trump renewed his attacks on Senator Bob Corker on Tuesday, chastising him for his skepticism over a $1.5 trillion tax cut. Mr. Corker responded by going on national television to say that Mr. Trump was “debasing” the United States and that the president struggled with the truth.
Mr. Corker “couldn’t get elected dogcatcher in Tennessee,” Mr. Trump wrote in a Twitter post on Tuesday. Mr. Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, is not running for re-election after serving in the Senate since 2007.
Mr. Corker returned fire with a theme he has hit before, when he referred to the White House as “an adult day care center.”
The extraordinary back and forth between a Republican president and the Republican chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee came just hours before Mr. Trump is to join Senate Republicans for their weekly lunch in the Capitol. That lunch is expected to be dominated by a discussion of the ambitious tax package set to be released as soon as next week.
Republicans are attempting to craft a tax bill that can pass the Senate by a party-line vote, avoiding a Democratic filibuster.
To do that, they must contain the revenue losses from reducing tax rates, both over the next decade and in the years to follow.
The party’s most difficult fights will be over how to do that — by some combination of eliminating popular tax breaks and employing accounting maneuvers, such as setting some tax cuts to expire, in order to reduce revenue losses.
Mr. Corker stands as a possible impediment to that plan. A longstanding opponent of rising federal deficits, the senator has said he will not vote for any tax bill that would increase the federal debt by a dollar. But on Thursday, the House is expected to give final approval to a budget blueprint that would protect a 10-year, $1.5 trillion tax measure from a Democratic filibuster.
A Treasury Department report released on Friday showed that the budget deficit for fiscal 2017 grew by $80 billion, to $666 billion, as federal spending eclipsed revenues and economic growth remained tepid. At the same time, Congress is contemplating what the president has promised would be the largest tax cut in history.
The protracted Tuesday-morning brawl quickly spread from taxes and debt to foreign policy and the president’s fitness for office.
Mr. Corker said Mr. Trump was “absolutely not” a role model for the children in America.
“I don’t know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard and debases our country,” Mr. Corker said in a CNN interview, suggesting that he will soon convene hearings to examine the ways Mr. Trump “purposely has been breaking down relationships around the world.”
“It’s unfortunate that our nation finds itself in this place,” he added.
Mr. Trump then attacked Mr. Corker’s tenure at the helm of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Mr. Corker, who supported Mr. Trump in the 2016 presidential election, told CNN on Tuesday that he would not do that again.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Corker have been locked in a public feud for weeks. Mr. Corker has said that Mr. Trump runs his White House like a reality TV show, and Mr. Trump has responded by mocking Mr. Corker’s height, calling him “Liddle’ Bob.”
Mr. Trump has made declarations about the tax plan while the legislation is still being drafted. On Monday, Mr. Trump said the plan would not include any changes to how much Americans can save in tax-deferred retirement plans like 401(k) accounts.
“Hopefully the White House will step aside and let that occur in a normal process,” Mr. Corker said on NBC’s “Today.”
Any tax plan would need all the Republican support Mr. Trump can get in the Senate, and his fight with Mr. Corker puts that support in jeopardy.
“I think it’s fine for him to come over,” Mr. Corker said of the president’s visit to Capitol Hill. “I do look at these things as more of a photo op. They’re not really about substance, but more power to him.”
The Republicans have promised the most sweeping revision of the tax code in decades, a challenging task that has already met Democratic opposition. Some supporters of the tax overhaul are concerned Mr. Trump’s streaming comments on the plan could hurt chances of getting it approved.