Flake, of Arizona, announced that he will not run for re-election Tuesday
On the Senate floor, Flake denounced the "complicity" of his own party
President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning dismissed scathing criticism by Republican Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, saying the real reason they are retiring is because of unfavorable election odds, not dissatisfaction with their party’s standard-bearer.
Flake, of Arizona, announced that he will not run for re-election Tuesday in a blistering speech on the Senate floor that bemoaned the “coarsening” tenor of politics in the United States. Corker, who severely rebuked Trump in an interview with CNN’s Manu Raju on Tuesday, announced his retirement last month.
“The reason Flake and Corker dropped out of the Senate race is very simple, they had zero chance of being elected. Now act so hurt & wounded!” Trump tweeted.
The President, who was on Capitol Hill Tuesday for a lunch with GOP senators about tax reform, then tweeted: “The meeting with Republican Senators yesterday, outside of Flake and Corker, was a love fest with standing ovations and great ideas for USA!” Later, he added: “Jeff Flake, with an 18% approval rating in Arizona, said ‘a lot of my colleagues have spoken out.’ Really, they just gave me a standing O!”
Asked on CNN’s “New Day” Wednesday about Trump’s criticism, Flake acknowledged that it’s “very difficult to be re-elected in the Republican Party right now, in Arizona in particular.
“It doesn’t matter the policies that you adopt or your votes – it’s if you’re with the President, and I can’t be with the President at all times,” he said. “I’m sorry, I think when the President is wrong, you have to call him out, and sometimes he’s wrong. And that’s what I tried to point out in the speech yesterday.”
Corker later denied Wednesday Trump’s claim that he was retiring because he couldn’t win re-election, telling CNN “there was no question” that when he chose not to run again for office that he was “in a dominant position.”
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Flake denounced the “complicity” of his own party in what he called an “alarming and dangerous state of affairs” under Trump, blaming the President for setting the tone. In his speech, Flake assailed a “flagrant disregard for truth or decency” and attacked a “regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms.”
“When such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy,” Flake said.
Corker on Tuesday said he wouldn’t support Trump for president if given the opportunity again, saying he has “great difficulty with the truth” and that “debasing” the US would be his prime legacy as President.
“I think many of us, me included, have tried to, you know, intervene, and I have had a private dinner and have been with him on multiple occasions to try and create some kind of aspirational approach, if you will, to the way that he conducts himself,” Corker told CNN. “I don’t think that that’s possible. He’s obviously not going to rise to the occasion as president.”
Trump’s remarks on the motivations behind Flake and Corker’s decisions echoed speculation made by his own White House Tuesday when asked about the Arizona senator’s comments.
“Based on the lack of support he has from the people of Arizona, it’s probably a good move,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said.
CNN’s Eric Bradner and Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.