The White House on Tuesday fought back against blistering attacks from Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, calling the retiring Republicans “petty” for their harsh words about President Donald Trump while praising their exits as “the right decision.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused the lawmakers of trying to gin up headlines but predicted their rhetoric would have little effect on Trump.
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“I think that the people both in Tennessee and Arizona supported this president, and I don’t think that the numbers are in the favor of either of the two senators in their states, and so I think that this is probably the right decision,” Sanders said of the senators’ plans to retire after their terms expire in 2018.
“Look, I think the voters of these individual senators’ states are speaking in pretty loud volumes,” she added at the White House press briefing. “I think that they were not likely to be reelected, and I think that shows that the support is more behind this president than it is those two individuals.”
Corker (R-Tenn.) repeatedly blasted the president in a series of morning-show appearances and exchanges with reporters. He said he would not support Trump in 2020 and called the president a dangerous peddler of untruths who is incapable of living up to his office and whose legacy will be “the debasement of our nation.”
Flake (R-Ariz.), in an address from the Senate floor announcing his retirement, condemned the toxic political environment he said emanates from the Oval Office and pledged to stand up to Trump for the remainder of his term.
“Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified,” Flake said. “And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.”
“Mr. President, I rise today to say: Enough,” Flake added.
Sanders, who addressed the press shortly after Flake concluded his remarks on the Senate floor, said she hadn’t spoken to Trump about the Arizona Republican.
“But I think that, based on previous statements and certainly based on the lack of support that he has from the people of Arizona, it’s probably a good move,” she said.
Trump hadn’t responded to Flake’s criticisms as of Tuesday afternoon, but the president lobbed insults at “liddle’ Bob Corker” on Tuesday morning via Twitter. Trump called Corker an “incompetent” chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a “lightweight” who has helped “set the U.S. way back.”
Despite the president’s spree of feuds — he sparred with Myeshia Johnson, the pregnant widow of slain Sgt. La David Johnson, on Monday — Sanders maintained that Trump is focused on tax reform. She pointed to the president’s lunch on Capitol Hill with Senate Republicans on Tuesday to bolster her point.
As for the president’s latest battle with Republican lawmakers, “He’s a fighter,” Sanders said.
“We’ve said it many times before: The people of this country didn’t elect somebody to be weak; they elected somebody to be strong, and when he gets hit, he’s gonna hit back, and I think Senator Corker knows that and he’s, you know, maybe trying to get a headline or two on his way out the door,” she said.
She dismissed Corker and Flake as “a couple of individuals who are no longer running for office” but argued that Trump has “a great relationship with a number of Republican senators.” He has, however, attacked Republican Sens. Corker, Flake, John McCain of Arizona, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Rand Paul of Kentucky, to name a few, since his inauguration.
“He’s gonna continue working with them and make sure that we get things done for the American people,” Sanders said. “He wants people to be in the Senate that are committed to actually moving the ball down the field, and I don’t think these two individuals necessarily have been as focused on that. The president wants to get things done, and that’s what we’re gonna work through through the fall.”
She said the public is much more concerned about defeating ISIS and creating jobs — “not some petty comments from Senator Corker and Senator Flake.”
Corker and Flake both slammed Trump’s divisiveness in their rebukes of the president on Tuesday. But Trump tries to unify the country every day, Sanders said.
“I think you see that in the policy initiatives that this president is pushing,” she said, highlighting the administration’s proposed tax cuts and the health of the economy. “We can always do better, and we’re looking at ways every single day … to bring the country together, to focus on policies that really help people, really empower people, and do that for all Americans. That’s this president’s — what he laid out on the campaign, and that’s what he’s been focused on since he became president.”
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