Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker has received lots and lots of positive press for his willingness to take on President Donald Trump -- often in decidedly personal terms. All that good press may have gone to Corker's head.
In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday night, Corker repeatedly blanched at questions about his flip-flop on the president's tax plan.
Things began to go downhill when Blitzer asked Corker to explain his decision to move from a "no" to a "yes" on the tax cut plan despite the fact that in October Corker had said he would not be for any bill that added "one penny to the deficit." (This plan, by all independent analysts, would add at least $1 trillion to the deficit.)
"I think at the end of the day, certainly that's the way I felt during that interview," said Corker, a response that was immediately nominated for the Bad Spin Hall of Fame. (This doesn't actually exist, but it should.)
Blitzer continued to press Corker on why, despite the fact that the final tax bill was virtually unchanged from the bill he opposed, he suddenly had reversed his past position. Blitzer also noted that a provision had been added that included real estate companies in the pass-throughs portion of the law; that provision would likely benefit Corker personally.
Later in the interview, after Blitzer pressed Corker about his previous criticisms of President Trump is when things went really haywire for Corker.
Here's an excerpt of the back and forth between Blitzer and Corker. It's long, but it's worth reading every word:
CORKER: Look, I know you're having a great time with this interview and I'm happy for you in doing so. But, look, Wolf, I've said what I've said. And I'm doing what I'm doing, and for me to sort of rehash all of that gives you an opportunity over the next week just to replay and replay and replay.
I'm a very direct guy. I say what's on my mind and what I think. And, you know, I don't walk away when I do those things. And I'm ready to move on and deal with these issues.
I don't appreciate, you know, the front end of this interview, you and I had a conversation about this yesterday on the phone, and you know that all of these things are totally malicious. They're not true. And you know that. And people in the press that are responsible know that.
I'm disappointed that you chose this opportunity to do what you did. I thank you for letting me respond. I know you had a good time with this interview.
Is there anything else that you would like from me to talk with you about?
BLITZER: You know, senator, I've got to tell you, and I've known you for a long time and I have great respect, I'm not having fun and I'm not trying to throw out -- the only thing you claimed was malicious was the element of that you're voting in favor of it because you're going to get some financial benefit.
You explained that. You explained it well. I wanted to give you that opportunity. And when we spoke on the phone yesterday, I told you I wanted to give you that opportunity to make your case.
This is not fun. These are critically important issues. You're a United States senator, Mr. Chairman, you have enormous responsibility.
These tax cuts are going to go forward. They may be great, they may not be great, but it's your responsibility as a US senator to answer these kinds of questions.
BLITZER: But it's certainly not something I'm doing because I want to have fun. I'm doing it because I'm a reporter, I'm a journalist.
BLITZER: And I'm asking you questions that are legitimate, fair questions, sir.
CORKER: Yes. Well, listen, thank you for that. I look forward to talking to you again soon. I do. Thank you.
What's clear is that Corker took -- and takes -- significant umbrage at the idea that he was bought off -- it's labeled the #corkerkickback -- by the real estate provision. (Read more about the whole Corker kerfuffle here.)
Which is fine! I get being annoyed about it. But, it would be totally irresponsible of Blitzer not to bring up questions about the provision, or about Trump thanking Corker for changing his vote. It had drawn massive attention over the weekend and was one of the few things that changed between Corker's "no" vote and his "yes" vote.
Corker veers into totally ridiculous territory when he says these two things to Blitzer:
- "I know you're having a great time with this interview and I'm happy for you in doing so."
- "You and I had a conversation about this yesterday on the phone, and you know that all of these things are totally malicious."
The condescension in the first quote is stunning. An anchor doing his job -- asking tough but, yes, fair questions -- is somehow delighting in it? The mention that Blitzer and Corker had talked the day before as a sort of shield is equally out of bounds. Anchors and producers talk to politicians all the time, asking them to appear on TV. The two spoke in that vein. So what? That conversation guarantees nothing -- nor should it -- about what gets asked and why.
Here's the thing: Corker is in an indefensible position here. He switched his vote on the tax cut bill, going against his past pledges about his commitment to keeping the deficit under control. That's not to say allegations about the Corker Kickback are warranted. But, he should expect any serious journalist to ask about his flop flop and try to understand what caused it.
That's not gotcha journalism. That's just journalism.
Corker should know the difference.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Corker's frustrated comments began when Blitzer was asking about Trump and not specifically about the provision of the tax bill. Read the full transcript here.