The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

One GOP senator’s extraordinarily dim assessment of the Trump administration

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) weighed in on the tumult within President Trump's administration on Oct. 4. (Video: C-SPAN, Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/C-SPAN)

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) announced recently that he would not seek reelection in 2018, and that seems to have freed him up to speak more candidly about the Trump administration. And speak more candidly he did on Wednesday.

In a conversation with reporters, Corker responded to an NBC News report that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had to be talked out of resigning after disagreements with President Trump. Corker, who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has worked extensively with Tillerson, said he wouldn't disclose sensitive conversations that the two might have had.

But then he launched into a pretty stunning bit of commentary on the Trump administration. He basically suggested that there would be “chaos” if not for the likes of Tillerson and the two generals serving as top officials.

Here's the full context of Corker's remarks (emphasis added):

CORKER: I don’t talk about private conversations with anyone. Inappropriately I don’t, anyway. I think Secretary Tillerson, [Defense] Secretary [Jim] Mattis and [White House] Chief of Staff [John] Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos, and I support them very much. And I don't know what he may have said after the briefing. I watch from — I mean, look, I see what's happening here. I deal with people throughout the administration, and [it] from my perspective is an incredibly frustrating place where, as I watch, okay — and I can watch very closely on many occasions — I mean, you know, he ends up not being supported in the way that I would hope a secretary of state would be supported. And that’s just from my vantage point. But I've never — you know, I have no knowledge of the comments or anything else. I think he's in a very trying situation, trying to solve many of the world's problems a lot of times without the kind of support and help that I'd like to see him have.
Q: Did he ever think about resigning at any point?
CORKER: I can’t get into that.
Q: When you say that Tillerson, Mattis and Kelly are separating this country from chaos, do you mean from the president’s chaos?
CORKER: Well, it’s just they act in a very — they work very well together to make sure that the policies we put forth around the world are sound and coherent. There are other people within the administration, in my belief, that don’t. Okay? I’m sorry. You know, I hope they stay because they’re valuable to the national security of our nation, they’re valuable to us putting forth good policies, they’re very valuable as it relates to our citizens feeling safe and secure, and I hope he’s here for a very long time.

The video conveys his views even more clearly than the transcript.

Corker isn't completely new to criticizing Trump. In August, the senator turned heads when he said, “The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence, that he needs to demonstrate in order for him to be successful.” That earned him a presidential rebuke.

But the latest comments take it much further. Suggesting that there would be “chaos” if not for the generals and Tillerson is to suggest that not only is Trump not a steady leader, but that things are basically ready to unravel behind the scenes. This reinforces a whole lot of reporting and what a whole lot of people already believe about the administration, but it's striking to hear it directly from a GOP senator who, according to his Tennessee colleague, has talked to Trump more than any other senator.

Corker also didn't dispute that he was talking about Trump when he referenced “chaos.” He seemed to be choosing his words carefully, and he even laughed nervously when he made the “other people in the administration” comment.

But when Corker says that Tillerson is “not being supported in the way I would hope a secretary of state would be,” it's difficult not to attach that to Trump's reportedly limited interaction with Tillerson. Their relationship has seemed frayed for a while now, most recently culminating in Trump's very public second-guessing of Tillerson's announcement of talks with North Korea last week.

Given that, Corker's past commentary on Trump and what Corker said Wednesday, it's pretty clear whom he was talking about when he referenced “chaos.”