Friday, October 13, 2017

EDITORIAL >> It’s Cotton vs. Corker

It’s been a tough week for President Trump: His chief of staff, retired Gen. John F. Kelly, didn’t sound as if his job was secure when he said Thursday, “I’m not quitting today…. and I don’t think I’m being fired today.”

General, please don’t go anywhere: You might be the only one who could bring order to the chaos at the White House. If you can’t stop Trump from tweeting, no one can. But Kelly and Trump’s other key advisers may have dissuaded the President at week’s end from scrapping the Iran nuclear deal as he had promised during the campaign, calling the Iranian regime a bunch of terrorists but still willing to honor the treaty that monitors Iran’s attempts to build a nuclear weapon.

More dramatic was Trump’s simultaneous announcement that he would end Obamacare subsidies to insurance companies, a move that many Republican governors oppose.

Even Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), an enthusiastic Trump ally, can’t stomach the more draconian features of repealing Obamacare, which failed in Congress and would have cost Arkansas $6 billion in the next seven years. Trump has figured out how to work around Congress and simply withhold payments to insurance companies. Expect a long court battle that would decide if Trump’s unilateral moves are constitutional.

Trump’s proposed budget would create $10 trillion in deficits over the next decade, which worries both conservative and moderate Republicans, making tax cuts a long shot in the Senate. His latest plan to disrupt Obamacare could lead to higher premiums.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose days may not be long after he allegedly called his boss “a #*@ moron” perhaps for saying he wanted to increase America’s nuclear arsenal tenfold: From about 4,000 to 40,000 missiles, although our treaty obligations keep us from adding any more. Trump denies he ever made that suggestion, insisting he just wants to make sure the bombs are “well-maintained,” as if they’re not.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the respected chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is retiring at the end of his term next year, is now siding with anti-Trump Republicans in the Senate, reducing the chances of any meaningful legislation in Congress.

“He concerns me,” Corker told the New York Times. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.” He said Trump is taking us “on the path to World War III.”

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

“It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning,” Corker tweeted again, referring to Trump’s earlier tweet that claimed, falsely, that Corker asked for the president’s endorsement for re-election and didn’t get it.

Trump fired back, calling Corker “liddle” and “a fool” who “didn’t have the guts to run for a third term” without a presidential endorsement, although a Corker aide insists Trump had called the senator to reconsider his decision not to run.

No Republican senator, apart from Sen. Cotton, has jumped to Trump’s defense since Corker first made this charge a week ago.

Sen. William Fulbright (D-Ark.), the longtime chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, fell out with President Johnson over Vietnam. Johnson chose not to run in 1968. Gov. Dale Bumpers defeated Fulbright in the Democratic primary in 1974.

The spat between Trump and Corker could doom tax reform as Corker’s Republican colleagues question Trump’s ability to govern while his approval rating drops to the mid-30s and his legislative agenda, such as it is, goes nowhere.

Republicans have a narrow 52-48 majority in the Senate, and such moderate senators as John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R.-Maine), who voted against the Obamacare repeal, are deficit hawks like Corker even when Republicans are in the White House.

But Cotton supports Trump on taking out North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and ending the Iran deal freezing its nuclear program. Cotton says anyone who disagrees with the president should resign. He led congressional opposition to the 2015 agreement with Iran and could be Trump’s next secretary of state if Tillerson leaves.

But if Tillerson goes, so will other cabinet members, including Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, whose departure from the Pentagon would offer another opening for Cotton. He might also be available if national-security adviser H.R. McMaster resigns.

Tillerson, Mattis and McMaster are close to Corker and have opposed ending the Iran nuclear deal and going to war with North Korea. “I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis and Chief of Staff (John) Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos,” Corker said.

Our ambitious junior senator, who is in frequent contact with Trump, might take any of those jobs if they become available.