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VOL. 133 | NO. 72 | Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Corker Marks Time in Senate

By Bill Dries

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U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is watching his time in the Senate closely as he wraps up the second of two terms there.

At the Memphis Rotary Club last week, Corker heard from at least one person who wished he wasn’t leaving the Senate and would run for re-election.

“Everybody says that when you’re leaving,” Corker said later of the sentiment.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is counting down the nine months left in his term of office. He spoke recently at the Memphis Rotary Club. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

He still counts his time as mayor of Chattanooga as the most meaningful as an elected leader in a career that has also included being the appointed state finance commissioner.

“One of the reasons I ran was because I was concerned about our nation’s indebtedness,” he said of his 2006 race for the Senate against Memphis Democratic U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. “I just was concerned about where our country was going in that regard. I’m sad to say that with nine months left, it’s far worse.”

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker is also, by his own description, a “deficit hawk.”

Like Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, Corker, a Republican, says he was tempted to vote for the recent omnibus budget bill that passed. But ultimately, like Cohen, he voted against it.

Cohen quarreled with the bill’s priorities – namely defense spending – despite its spending on other programs he favors that will directly benefit Memphis.

“I was so upset by this last omnibus bill. It had some good things in it, no doubt, because when you pass an omnibus a zillion other things get added,” Corker told the Rotary audience of 140 at Clayborn Temple. “But the base spending in the bill adds $2 trillion to the debt in the next 10 years. Only a negligible amount of it is paid for.”

Corker says despite his concerns, deficits and debt aren’t an issue that most voters regard as important.

“Just know that it’s an issue that is real,” he said after the disclaimer.

Asked what he would say to President Donald Trump privately if asked to list the president’s strengths and weaknesses, Corker wasn’t anxious to be critical of Trump as he has in the past.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there happens to be a great deal of media here today,” he told the questioner. “But I’ve been a very direct person, very transparent in my thoughts. I don’t know how much more transparency my staff can handle.”

After a long pause, Corker added, “Let’s have a private conversation.”

He did fault the way Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and said Tillerson deserved better for what he tried to do for U.S. foreign relations.

“I’ve learned to Tweet a little bit myself. And I realize that it is a way today that we all can communicate. I do think that it has been harmful – very harmful,” Corker said of Trump’s Twitter habit. “And yet, I did look recently and I think the president has 49 million followers. I understand how it’s important for him to be able to communicate directly with people here in our country. Sometimes some of the bigger issues we are dealing with, relative to foreign policy in particular, are best not dealt with with that few characters.”

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