By Dan Merica
President Donald Trump’s public feud with a top Republican on Capitol Hill has entered the name-calling phase.
Sen. Bob Corker, the retiring Republican chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, has engaged in a heated back-and-forth with Trump for days now, including in an interview with The New York Times where he said that he feared Trump was steering the nation “on the path to World War III.”
The President, a politician whose mantra has long been to hit back harder than someone hits him, is now treating Corker like he did his primary opponents: By giving him a nickname.
“The Failing @nytimes set Liddle’ Bob Corker up by recording his conversation,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday. “Was made to sound a fool, and that’s what I am dealing with!”
A transcript of the conversation, however, shows that the newspaper did not set Corker up and that the senator was well aware that he was on the record.
“So have at it,” Corker told the reporter. “I understand we’re on the record. I don’t like normally talking to you on the record — I’m kidding you — but I will.”
Trump continued his feud with Corker during a Tuesday meeting with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, pushing back on the senator’s statement that Trump is putting the United States on a path toward World War III.
“We were on the wrong path before. All you have to do is take a look,” he said when asked if Corker was right. “Now we’re on the right path.”
Trump labeling Corker “liddle” is a throwback to the 2016 campaign, when he gave Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, then a presidential candidate himself, the same moniker.
“I’m the writer,” Trump told New York magazine in 2016. “Let me start with Little Marco. He just looked like Little Marco to me. And it’s not Little. It’s Liddle. L-I-D-D-L-E. And it’s not L-Y-I-N-G Ted Cruz. It’s L-Y-I-N apostrophe. Ted’s a liar, so that was easy.”
The feud between Corker and Trump had escalated this weekend when the President tweeted that the outgoing senator “begged” for his endorsement before declining to run for re-election.
“He also wanted to be Secretary of State, I said ‘NO THANKS.’ He is also largely responsible for the horrendous Iran Deal,” Trump tweeted. “Hence, I would fully expect Corker to be a negative voice and stand in the way of our great agenda. Didn’t have the guts to run!”
Todd Womack, Corker’s chief of staff, denied the claim later in the day.
“The President called Senator Corker on Monday afternoon and asked him to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election and reaffirmed that he would have endorsed him, as he has said many times,” Womack said in a statement.
Corker, in the New York Times interview, said that Trump is acting “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something,” and added that he could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”
The comment comes a week after Corker jabbed Trump, stating that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “help separate our country from chaos.”
The clash between Corker and Trump highlights fraying relations between the President and the men and women in Congress who the White House needs to deliver on the agenda Trump ran on. Trump has yet to score a signature legislative victory, a black mark on his record given his party controls both the Senate and House.
Trump said Tuesday that he didn’t think his feud with Corker would imperil his tax cut plan.
“I don’t think so. I don’t think so at all,” he said. “I think we are well on our way.”
Corker’s comments have already infuriated Trump’s base. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist who was let go from the White House earlier this year, called on the senator to resign in response.
“If Bob Corker has any honor, any decency, he should resign immediately,” Bannon said in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Monday night.