Trump Mocks Bob Corker’s Height, Escalating Feud with a Key Republican – New York Times

Mr. Trump was scheduled to have lunch with Mr. Tillerson on Tuesday at the White House, along with Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, who may play mediator. Just before the lunch, Mr. Trump told reporters he did not think he had undercut Mr. Tillerson with the I.Q. comment.

“I didn’t undercut anybody,” he said, sitting next to a former secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, whose I.Q. is generally not questioned. “I don’t believe in undercutting people.” Asked if he still had confidence in Mr. Tillerson, Mr. Trump said simply, “Yes.”

Mr. Trump’s gibe at Mr. Corker echoed his name calling during the presidential campaign when he labeled Senator Marco Rubio of Florida “Little Marco,” dubbed Senator Ted Cruz of Texas “Lyin’ Ted” and called Hillary Clinton “Crooked Hillary.” He has used belittling nicknames to diminish political foes but since taking office has generally avoided doing so with powerful Republican committee chairmen who control appointments and legislation.

It was not clear what Mr. Trump meant when he said The Times set up Mr. Corker by recording him. After Mr. Trump lashed out at the senator on Sunday by saying he “didn’t have the guts” to run for another term, a Times reporter interviewed Mr. Corker by telephone and recorded the call with the senator’s knowledge and consent. Mr. Corker’s staff also recorded the call, and he said he wanted The Times to do the same.

“I know they’re recording it, and I hope you are, too,” Mr. Corker told the reporter.

Mr. Corker said in the interview that Mr. Trump ran his presidency like “a reality show” and his reckless threats could set the nation “on the path to World War III.” Mr. Corker said that Mr. Trump’s staff had to stop him from doing more damage.

“I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him,” he said.

He added that most Republicans in the Senate shared his concerns. “Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” Mr. Corker said, adding that “of course they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”

Mr. Trump on Tuesday rejected the suggestion that he was risking a nuclear war. “We were on the wrong path before,” he said, presumably referring to North Korea. “All you have to do is take a look. If you look over the last 25 years through numerous administrations, we were on a path to a very big problem, a problem like this world has never seen. We’re on the right path right now, believe me.”

While White House officials bristled at Mr. Corker’s comments, they also recognized that alienating the senator was fraught at a time when Republicans can afford to lose only two votes on any major issue where Democrats are lock step in opposition. Next week, the Senate plans to vote on a budget measure necessary to clear the way for Mr. Trump’s tax-cutting plan, and aides already assume they may lose Senators John McCain of Arizona and Rand Paul of Kentucky, leaving no room for further losses.

Mr. Corker has been a longtime deficit hawk and has expressed concern about a tax plan that would add as much as $1.5 trillion to the national debt over the next decade, according to the budget resolution under consideration.

Some White House officials said they expected Mr. Corker to still support the budget measure next week because he already voted for it in committee, but other advisers to Mr. Trump have said privately that they worried the president was sacrificing his agenda for another round of personal sniping.

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Mr. Trump said on Tuesday that he was confident the rupture with Mr. Corker would not sink his tax plan. “I don’t think so at all,” he told reporters during the meeting with Mr. Kissinger. “I think we’re well on our way. The people of this country want tax cuts. They want lower taxes.”

But he expressed his frustration with Republicans in Congress, who have failed to pass legislation he supported to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care program and replace it with their own version. He reaffirmed that he planned to sign an executive order on Thursday intended to make it easier for some Americans to purchase less expensive health insurance. “With Congress the way it is, I decided to take it upon myself,” he told reporters.

He did not save all of his criticism for his own party. He also accused Democrats — with whom he has been trying to negotiate an immigration deal — of being soft on border security. “The problem with agreeing to a policy on immigration is that the Democrats don’t want secure borders, they don’t care about safety for U.S.A.,” he wrote on Twitter.

Mr. Trump demanded this week that Democrats agree to a series of hard-line immigration enforcement measures, including construction of his oft-promised wall along the Mexican border, in exchange for legislation protecting younger immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. Democratic leaders called the demands unacceptable.

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