Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker accused his party of cowering before President Donald Trump in an impassioned speech on the Senate floor Tuesday.
In an animated exchange, Corker – who was trying to get a vote on an amendment as part of an ongoing debate over the Senate’s defense bill – argued that Republicans were blocking his trade proposal because they were afraid of Trump and what he might do to the party if they upset him in an election year.
“We might poke the bear!” said Corker, who is retiring at the end of his term. “My gosh, if the President gets upset with us we might not be in the majority,” he said referring to sentiments he often hears from colleagues.
Corker has worked for the last week to try to get a vote on his amendment that would roll back Trump’s trade authority and give Congress the power to check the President’s ability to impose tariffs on national security grounds, like the steel and aluminum ones he announced earlier this month on US allies.
Corker has talked with the President about his amendment and Trump tried to dissuade the senator from pushing for it, to no avail. While Republicans on both sides of the Capitol have voiced sharp concern over the Trump administration’s tariffs, GOP leaders expressed worry over Corker’s amendment, both due to procedural issues and broader concerns about undercutting the President’s negotiating position. Corker said Tuesday he’d come up with a workaround to the procedural concerns, but it was rejected by leadership.
Corker argued in his remarks that it wasn’t substance but timing that Republicans were objecting to. He said Republicans “on this side of the aisle support intellectually this amendment.”
“I would bet that. I would be higher than 95%, and a lot of them would vote for it if it came to a vote. But, no, no, no. ‘Gosh, we might poke the bear’ is the language I’ve been hearing in the hallways,” Corker said.
He added that it was becoming clear to him that the Senate won’t act without Trump’s blessing.
“The United States Senate right now on June 12 is becoming a body where, well, we’ll do what we can do, but my gosh, if the President gets upset with us, then we might not be in the majority. And so let’s don’t do anything that might upset the President.”
Corker said he will try to find another bill to add his tariffs language.
“I’m not giving the fight up,” he told reporters after his amendment was blocked on the floor. “I think it’s ridiculous people can’t vote on amendments. Childish! Childish!”
On Tuesday, Corker called out Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, saying that the Texas Republican didn’t want to vote on his tariff bill because “we might upset” Trump before the midterms.
“I can’t believe it,” Corker fumed at the time.
Last week, Cornyn told reporters: “I support his (amendment) getting a vote, but I don’t think this is a time to pick a fight with the President in the run up to a midterm election.”
This story has been updated.