On Wednesday, NBC News reported that Rex Tillerson had once referred to President Trump as a “moron,” and had considered resigning from his role as secretary of State. In response, Tillerson gave a speech saying that he’d never thought of quitting his job. He neither confirmed nor denied the “moron” bit.
So, the D.C. press corps looked elsewhere for answers. Eventually, a reporter asked chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker if he had any special insight into what Tillerson might think of the president’s intellect.
Corker refused to address that question directly, insisting that he does not “talk about private conversations.” But the Republican senator went on to suggest that the president is an agent of chaos — and if Tillerson ever disparaged him in a moment of frustration, well, it was probably justified.
“I think secretary Tillerson, secretary Mattis, and chief of staff Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos,” Corker said. “And I support them very much.”
“I see what’s happening here, “ Corker continued. “I deal with people throughout the administration, and [Tillerson], from my perspective, is in an incredibly frustrating place. He ends up not being supported in the way that I hope a secretary of State would be supported. But I never, ya know, I have no knowledge of the comments or anything else.”
Asked whether he had meant that Tillerson separated America from Trump’s chaos, Corker replied that Tillerson, Mattis, and Kelly worked hard “to make sure that the policies we put forward around the world are sound and coherent” but that “there are other people within the administration, in my belief, that don’t.”
Corker did not specify whether Donald Trump was one such person.
This is not the first time that the Tennessee senator has publicly suggested his party’s sitting president is unfit for office. Following Trump’s praise for the “very fine people” who marched with neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Corker said in August that the president has “not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”
But the senator’s latest rebuke of the president may have special significance. Late last month, Corker announced that he would not seek reelection next year. In a statement, he suggested that “the most important public service I have to offer our country could well occur over the next 15 months, and I want to be able to do that as thoughtfully and independently as I did the first 10 years and nine months of my Senate career.”
Since then, Corker has exercised such independence by insisting that he would never vote for a tax-cut bill that adds “one penny to the deficit.” If that stance is sincere, then Corker’s vote is irrevocably lost. The Republican Party simply is not interested in revenue-neutral tax reform — they’re interested in breaking Uncle Sam’s piggy bank and shaking out the change into their donors’ eager hands. And yet Corker has left himself some wiggle room to betray his pledge, by suggesting that he could accept a dynamic score of the bill’s budget effects — which is to say, a score that assumes accelerated economic growth will make up some revenue — so long as said score is “reasonable.”
Corker’s remarks Wednesday are one indication that he really does intend to make the most of his political invulnerability — and thus, that when he says “reasonable,” he means it. And that could be a big problem for Mitch McConnell.
A lot of things can happen when a senator stops being polite and starts being real — but the GOP leadership may soon find that tax reform isn’t one of them.