Trashed by Trump, Sen. Bob Corker May Kill His Tax Cut
With a vote on the Republican tax legislation looming, prospects for passage—and the future of the Trump presidency—still hang in the balance. Amid last-minute negotiations, the bill may come up for a vote on Friday. Or maybe not.
The Republican hopes for passage improved Thursday when Senator John McCain indicated he favored the bill. But with the language of the bill still in flux, the inability of the White House to forge a winning agreement, even with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, is obvious.
Trump’s incompetence at the art of the Washington deal is now well established. In private real estate deals based on aggressive bargaining, creative financing and the occasional campaign contribution, Trump has occasionally excelled. (He’s also bungled badly.) Passing legislation in Washington requires a rather more diverse skill set than marketing a hotel or beauty pageant. On taxes, Trump needed to harmonize the interests of populist and corporate Republicans in Congress, and perhaps pull in the odd red-state Democrats. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and his handlers knew how to do this. Trump is clueless.
That’s why he may soon find the future of his presidency in the hands of Sen. Bob Corker, the senior Republican senator from Tennessee whom Trump has trashed, insulted, belittled, and smeared. Trump needs his vote, but has burned his proverbial bridges to the influential lawmaker.
Corker is a Tennessee dealmaker who fancies himself a statesman. As chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he led the opposition to President Obama’s international agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program. He was mentioned as a possible Secretary of State, but was passed over in favor of Rex Tillerson.
On the tax bill, Corker has positioned himself as a deficit hawk. The legislation, he declared, cannot add a penny to the federal debt, which is, in his words, the "greatest threat to our nation." But as a member of the Senate Budget Committee, he voted to send the budget-busting bill to the Senate floor.
Corker, says Business Insider, “wants to square the bill with Republicans' mantra for fiscal responsibility.”
“[At] each juncture,” notes Erica Wenner of the Washington Post, “Corker has supported moving along a tax bill that would blow a $1.5 trillion hole in the budget in the next decade, only offering a vague promise that the issue would be addressed in final legislation.”
Corker and a small group of Republicans want provisions that would trigger automatic tax increases if the bill explodes the federal deficit—and all reputable economists agree that it will.
Corker's idea for a triggered tax increase is anathema to the rest of Republican Party, precisely because it would reduce the windfall of the tax cut. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a key voice for House Republicans in the tax debate, has come out against the idea. Freedom Partners, another conservative pro-tax cut lobbying group, also decried the proposal.
Critics fear Corker will not get his trigger in the final bill and will vote for it nonetheless.
“Bob Corker has made a career out of protesting very loudly, and then falling in line with his party’s leadership when it counts,” said Brian Fallon, a former spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
But Corker has announced he is retiring, a decision that has loosened his tongue. Not long after Trump took office, Corker wondered what his “wrecking ball presidency” would accomplish. Nine months later, Corker had seen enough. In an interview with the New York Times, he said Trump was unfit for office and expressed concern he was putting the country "on the road to World War III."
Asked by CNN if he regretted his decision to campaign with Trump in 2016, Corker replied he "would not do that again." He said Trump has "great difficulty with the truth" and that "debasing" the United States will be his prime legacy as president.
Trump’s reaction was erroneous and juvenile.
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....— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1508847239.0
Corker’s rejoinder was caustic and condescending.
Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president. #AlertTheDaycareStaff— Senator Bob Corker (@Senator Bob Corker)1508849328.0
After Trump unloaded a few more broadsides, Corker talked to CNN in politely savage terms. His nine killer sound bites about Trump add up to the most devastating indictment yet from a Senate Republican.
How Will He Vote?
Corker is adept at not committing himself. In the scramble to line up votes for the tax bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cannot count on Sen. Susan Collins of Maine who has multiple cocnerns about the bill's impact on Obamacare and Medicare. The unpredictable Ron Paul (R-Kentucky) has come out in favor of the bill, but deficit hawks Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and James Lankford of Oklahoma remain uncommitted.
If the permanent corporate tax cut loses just two Republican votes, the bill will fail and the Trump/Republican crisis of competence will deepen. With Obamacare damaged but intact, and no tax cuts for Wall Street and the Fortune 500, Trump's presidency will have more than a whiff of failure to the Republican donor class.
Like John McCain on Obamacare, Corker now faces a choice between party and country, between his president and his pride. He could cave to the donor class or he could get sweet revenge for Trump's insults the old-fashioned way, not with tweet but with a vote.