Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker talks to the media on Capitol Hill on Tuesday © Bloomberg
A feud between Donald Trump and Bob Corker broke out again in spectacular fashion, as the president called the Republican senator “incompetent” and was in turn accused of “debasing” the US and being “utterly untruthful”.
Only hours before he was due at a Capitol Hill lunch with Republican senators about tax, Mr Trump lashed out at Mr Corker who had urged him not to interfere in congressional efforts to pass tax reform.
“Bob Corker, who helped President O give us the bad Iran Deal & couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Tennessee, is now fighting Tax Cuts,” Mr Trump tweeted. “Isn’t it sad that lightweight Senator Bob Corker, who couldn’t get re-elected in the Great State of Tennessee, will now fight Tax Cuts plus”.
Mr Corker responded by tweeting, “Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president. #AlertTheDaycareStaff”.
Mr Corker recently exposed the frustration at Mr Trump among Republicans when he said the president was putting America “on a path to World War 3” and said the White House was running an “adult day care centre”.
In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Mr Corker insinuated that Mr Trump was a liar, saying the president “has great difficulty with the truth”. Mr Corker, who has decided not to run for re-election next year, said he would not vote for Mr Trump again.
“World leaders are very aware that much of what he says is untrue . . . I don’t know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard and debases our country,” Mr Corker added. “At the end of the day when his term is over, the debasement of our nation . . . is what he will be remembered most for.”
The extraordinary spat underlines the tensions between Mr Trump and Republican leaders whose support is crucial to passing tax reform and to giving the president his first big legislative win.
Mr Trump has repeatedly criticised Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, and blamed Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, for the failure to repeal Obamacare.
In an effort to put a gloss on their damaged relations, Mr Trump and Mr McConnell held a joint press conference last week where they stressed that they have a strong relationship, a claim disputed privately by many Republican lawmakers.
Following the Senate lunch with Mr Trump on Tuesday, Mr McConnell and his GOP colleagues said they had concluded a constructive meeting with the president, but declined to talk about the feud with Mr Corker and the tensions with the White House.
Asked about the feud, Mr McConnell would only say that “there is a lot of noise out there. We have a first amendment and people get to express themselves”.
Two Republican congressional panels — the House ways and means committee and the Senate finance committee — are working to convert a skeleton White House tax proposal into concrete legislation, which they hope to unveil in early November.
Republicans broadly agree on the need for major reform that would include everything from simplification of the tax code to tax cuts, but there are big differences on how to fund the cuts and whether the tax reform package would increase the budget deficit.
Mr Trump angered some Republicans this week by saying that the tax bill would not affect 401K pension plans, after signs that the committees were considering imposing much lower caps on the amount of tax-deferred contributions that people can make to their 401K plans. Some lawmakers worry that his public comments will only serve to complicate efforts to craft legislation that can pass Congress.
“If you start taking things off the table before you get started you make that very difficult,” Mr Corker told ABC television.
“What I hope is going to happen is the president will leave this effort . . . to the tax-writing committees . . . and not begin taking things off the table that ought to be debated in these committees.”
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi