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A Key Senate Republican Is Demanding ‘Radical Changes’ to Trump’s Presidency

August 18, 2017, 12:02 PM UTC

A Senate Republican who once considered joining Donald Trump’s administration called Thursday for “radical changes,” saying the president hasn’t yet demonstrated the characteristics needed to serve in his job, as criticism of Trump’s response to a fatal white-supremacist rally spread.

The rebuke from a key supporter was followed by a call from former Vice President Al Gore for Trump to step down. James Murdoch, the chief executive of 21st Century Fox Inc. and son of conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch, pledged to make a $1 million donation to the Anti-Defamation League.

“We’re at a point where there needs to be radical changes take place at the White House itself. It has to happen,” Senator Bob Corker told reporters in his home state of Tennessee. “I think the president needs to take stock of the role that he plays in our nation and move beyond himself — move way beyond himself — and move to a place where daily he’s waking up thinking about what is best for the nation.”

Corker’s remarks are some of the strongest Republican backlash to Trump’s suggestions that both sides bear blame in the Charlottesville, Virginia incident last week. Several other Republicans have called on Trump to make a clearer denunciation of white-supremacist groups, but many GOP leaders have remained silent on the president’s remarks. Business leaders left the first CEO-president’s advisory panels, causing the president to abandon several.

Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, speaks during a press conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017.
Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, speaks during a press conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017.Zach Gibson—Bloomberg via Getty Images
Zach Gibson—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Gore, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2000, was asked in a video published by British media site LADbible if he could offer one piece of advice to Trump, what would it be? “Resign,” Gore responded.

Murdoch, in a letter obtained by the New York Times, wrote, “I can’t even believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists. Democrats, Republicans, and others must all agree on this, and it compromises nothing for them to do so.”

Another Senate Republican, Tim Scott of South Carolina, said Trump had compromised his moral authority with his response to the recent violence. “I’m not going to defend the indefensible,” Scott, the only African-American Republican in the Senate, told Vice News. “What we want to see from our president is clarity and moral authority. And that moral authority is compromised.”

Corker’s criticisms are particularly notable because he has previously been a Trump ally and met with him before his inauguration to discuss the possibility of becoming secretary of state.

“The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful,” Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said. “And we need for him to be successful.”

“He also recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation. He has not demonstrated that he understands what has made this nation great,” he added. “Without the things that I just mentioned happening, our nation is going to go through great peril.”

‘Foolish’ Removal

Earlier Thursday, Trump jumped back into the roiling controversy over his remarks blaming both sides for the violence as he decried the “foolish” removal of Confederate monuments and attacked two other Republican senators who criticized him.

In a series of tweets Thursday, Trump said it was “sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.” He wrote that history can’t be changed but “you can learn from it” and that “the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

He also accused one Republican senator of a “disgusting lie” and plugged a primary opponent of another GOP critic.

“Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis & white supremacists and people like Ms. Heyer,’’ Trump said on Twitter. “Such a disgusting lie. He just can’t forget his election trouncing. The people of South Carolina will remember!’’ He also called Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona “toxic” and a “non-factor in the Senate.”

Leaders’ Silence

Trump’s defiant rebukes came as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to distance themselves from Trump’s remarks blaming both sides in the violence by issuing statements condemning white supremacy.

Neither mentioned the president.

On Thursday, in response to Trump’s attack, Graham said in a statement, “Because of the manner in which you have handled the Charlottesville tragedy you are now receiving praise from some of the most racist and hate-filled individuals and groups in our country. For the sake of our nation — as our president — please fix this.”

“History is watching us all,” he added.

Trump said at a combative news conference on Tuesday that both sides were to blame for the violence and that there were “very fine people” on both sides, including among the neo-Nazi and white-supremacist groups. He also accused what he called “alt-left” protesters of charging at the neo-Nazi groups with clubs.

Fear of Backlash

The reluctance of GOP leaders to confront Trump directly is the latest sign they remain unwilling to challenge even the president’s most controversial remarks and comes despite growing concern among Republicans that their party’s brand could suffer permanent damage from the backlash.

But Corker’s public lashing of Trump suggests growing concern that his presidency could tarnish Republicans more broadly.

Corker’s relationship with Trump goes back to the election, when the senator campaigned with the president and was said to have been vetted as a potential running mate. Corker also served as a member of the president’s national security advisory committee. He has continued to offer Trump advice on foreign policy.

This isn’t the first time Corker has expressed frustration with the president and his administration. In May, after reports that Trump repeated classified information about the Islamic State during an Oval Office meeting with Russian officials, Corker said the White House was in a “downward spiral” and needed to “bring itself under control and order.”

On Thursday, Corker also defended Flake following Trump’s tweets criticizing him.

“Senator Flake is one of the finest human beings I’ve ever met,” Corker said. “The White House would be well-served to embrace the character, the substance of someone like Senator Flake. He’s one of the finest people I serve with.”