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WORLD RIGHT NOW WITH HALA GORANI
Corker: I Wouldn't Support Trump Again; Republican Senator Jeff Flake Won't Run Again In 2018. Another Republican senator attacks Trump; White House briefing after GOP Senators Flake, Corker blast Trump. Aired 3- 4p ET
Aired October 24, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Hala Gorani. Welcome to the program. We are live in the London.
Now imagine you're the American president and you're trying to sell one of your central promises to the top tier of your own party. Quick question,
would you or would you not start the day by insulting one of your party's most respected senators?
Well, if you're Donald Trump, then, yes, you would. He fired this series of attacks at Senator Bob Corker, who is the head of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee. Among the insults Mr. Trump blamed Corker for the Iran deal and also said he, quote, "Couldn't get elected dog catcher in
On a side note, a dog catcher is virtually never in elected office, by the way. Corker who is retiring has become a vocal critic of Mr. Trump in
recent interviews, but even still the nature of this attack is unprecedented in Washington.
It came ahead of a major lunch with the Republicans who control Congress, both houses, and where the president has been pushing his tax reform plan
over the past few hours. In turn, Bob Corker called Donald Trump an utterly untruthful president.
But don't just take our word for it, this is what the man himself told CNN's Manu Raju in a remarkably candid exchange.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: The president tweeted that you didn't run for election because you could get his endorsement, is that
SENATOR BOB CORKER (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's not accurate. You know, nothing that he says in his tweets today were true or (inaudible), he knows
it. People around him (inaudible) staff over there will figure out ways of control now that everything he said today was absolutely untrue.
RAJU: You said he's an untruthful president?
CORKER: Yes, no question.
RAJU: No question?
CORKER: Yes, no question. I don't -- we grew up in our family not using (inaudible) and but -- yes, just (inaudible).
RAJU: Prove it.
CORKER: So I'm man on the Iran deal, everybody knows the role I played there and they are working with me (inaudible) right now on tax reform. I
made the deal (inaudible). You now allow that to go forward.
Obviously, to make sure (inaudible), but -- and then everything else, I mean, four times he encouraged me to run, told me he would endorse me. I
don't know. It's amazing. Unfortunately, I think world leaders are very aware, much of what he says is untrue, and people here are because these
things are provably untrue. They're factually incorrect and people know the difference.
So, I don't know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard and debases our country in the way that he does but he does. You know, look, I
don't like responding. I -- you can let him go unanswered but -- and it's just not me, we don't do tweets like that, we've responded twice to again
untruths, but it's unfortunate that our nation finds itself in this place.
RAJU: Is the president of the United States a liar?
CORKER: The president has great difficulty with the truth on many issues.
RAJU: Do you regret supporting him in the election?
CORKER: Let's put it this way I would not do that again.
RAJU: So, you wouldn't support him again?
CORKER: No. I think that he's proven himself unable to rise to the occasion. I think many of us, me included, have, you know, tried to, you
know, have intervened, had private dinner, you know, been with him on multiple occasions, to try to create some kind of aspirational approach to
the way he conducts himself. I don't think that that is possible, and he's, obviously, not going to rise to the occasion as president.
RAJU: Do you think he's a role model to children in the United States?
RAJU: You don't?
CORKER: No. Absolutely not. I think that, you know, the things that are happening right now that are -- that are harmful to our nation, whether
it's the breaking down of we're going to be doing some hearings on some of the things that he purposely is breaking down relationships around the
world that have been useful to our nation.
[15:05:09] But I think at the end of the day when his term is over, I think the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth telling, the -- just the
name calling, the things, I think the basement of our nation, will be what he will be remembered most for and that's regretful.
And it affects young people. I mean, we have young people who for the first time are, you know, watching a president stating, you know, absolute
non-truths nonstop, personalizing things in the way he does and it's very sad for our nation.
GORANI: Well, there you have Senator Bob Corker. Let's talk Bob Corker, let's talk more about this extraordinary dispute between President Trump
and a senior member of his own party.
Joining me now from Washington, our CNN political analyst, Josh Rogin, and CNN White House reporter, Stephen Collinson. So, Stephen, could this be a
significant turning point in Washington and the Republican support for the president and the administration of Donald Trump?
STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN POLITICS SENIOR REPORTER: I think you are right to say that these remarks are staggering. The explicit nature of the
criticism of the president. The fact that Bob Corker is prepared to go out publicly and say these things as a Republican senator.
I would not necessary see this is a turning point. Bob Corker is not running for reelection. He doesn't have to worry about a primary challenge
from supporters of Donald Trump. So, while he may be saying things that many Republican senators believe in private, I don't think the dam is going
to break here.
At least at this point, the Republican Party needs to get a win on the board with tax reform as you mentioned. I think that for now is going to
keep them together in pursuit of this, but the fact that there is this sentiment about the president within his own party makes him very
vulnerable perhaps down the road if his political circumstances would change.
GORANI: And by the way, we are hearing that the Arizona senator, Jeff Flake, who is also been a vocal critic of Donald Trump is not running for
reelection. These are live images coming to us from Washington. Josh, what should we make of that? What impact will that have?
JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. A spokesman for Senator Flake is still declined to confirm reports that he will not seek reelection, but
it's very clear that the playing field is very difficult for any senators, especially Republican senator, who are opposed and vocally opposed to
Donald Trump's behavior in the Trump agenda.
And he was facing a very tough challenge from Trump-supported candidate back in Arizona. So, what we see here is as more and more Republican
senators become (inaudible) uncomfortable with President Trump are putting their distance.
They are also giving up on the hope that sort of a moderate establishment wing of the Republican Party can work with President Trump and that spells
disaster for the Trump agenda on a number of items including healthcare, including tax form, including the budget, including the Iran deal.
All of which were discussed to hit President Trump's lunch, 90-minute lunch that just ended with 49 of the 53 Republican senators on Capitol Hill.
GORANI: And Josh, by the way, Jeff Flake is himself confirming he is not running for re-election. Let's listen in for just a moment here.
SENATOR JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: -- we simply become inured to this condition thinking that is just -- it is just politics as usual then heaven
help us. Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending
that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal.
They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused in countenance as telling it like it is when it is actually
just reckless, outrageous, and undignified.
And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy such behavior does not
project strength because our strength comes from our values.
It instead projects the corruption of the spirit and weakness. It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are and what are we going to
do about that when the next generation asked us why didn't you do something? Why didn't you speak up? What are we going to say?
Mr. President, I rise today to say enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes the normal.
[15:10:00] With respect and humility, I must say that we have fooled ourselves for long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the
corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it.
We know better than that. By now, we all know better than that. Here today, I stand to say that we would be better served, we would better serve
the country by better fulfilling our obligations under the Constitution by adhering to our Article One old normal.
Mr. Madison's Doctrine of Separation of Powers, this genius innovation which affirms Madison status as a true visionary and for which Madison
argued in Federalist 51 held that the equal branches of our government would balance and counteract with each other if necessary.
Ambition counteracts ambition, he wrote, but what happens if ambition fails to counteract ambition? What happens if stability fails to assert itself
in the face of chaos and instability?
If decency fails to callout indecency? Where the shoe on the other foot, we, Republicans, would we Republicans meekly accept such behavior on
display from dominant Democrats?
Of course, we wouldn't, and we would be wrong if we did. When we remain silent and failed to act when we know that silence and inaction is the
wrong thing to do because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke
a primary challenge, because added from Adam ad nauseum.
When we succumb to those considerations in spite what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of our institutions and our
liberty, we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations.
Those things are far more important than politics. Now, I'm aware that more politically savvy people than I will caution against such talk. I'm
aware that there's a segment of my party that believes that anything short, complete, and unquestioning loyalty to a president belongs to my party is
unacceptable and suspect.
If I have been critical, it is not because I relish criticizing the behavior of the president of the United States. If I have been critical,
it is because I believe it is my obligation to do so.
And as a matter and duty of conscience, the notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values to keep America strong are undermined and as
the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140
The notion that we should say or do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ain't historic and I believe profoundly misguided. A
president, a Republican president named Roosevelt had this to say about the president and a citizen's relationship to the office.
Quote, "The president is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree,
which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the
nation as a whole."
He continued, "Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that there should be - - that there should be a full liberty to tell the truth about his acts and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong
as to praise him when he does right.
Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile." President Roosevelt continued, "To announce that there must be no criticism
of the president or that we are to stand by a president right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile but is morally treasonable to the American
Acting on conscience and principle in a matter is the manner in which we express our moral selves and as such loyalty to conscience and principle
should supersede loyalty to any man or party.
We can all be forgiven for failing in that measure from time to time. I certainly put myself at the top of the list of those who fall short in this
regard. I am holier than none, but too often we rush to salvage principle, not to salvage principle, but to forgive an excuse our failures.
So, that we might accommodate them all right on failing until the accommodation itself becomes our principle.
[15:15:05] In that way and over time we can justify almost any behavior and sacrifice any principle. I'm afraid that this is where we now find
ourselves. When a leader correctly identifies real hurt and insecurity in our country and instead of addressing it goes to look for someone to blame,
there is perhaps nothing more devastating to a pluralistic society.
leadership knows that most often a good place to start and assigning blame is to look somewhat closer to home. Leadership knows where the buck stops,
humility helps, character counts, leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly or debased appetites in us.
Leadership lives by the American creed (inaudible) from anyone. American leadership looks to the world and just as Lincoln did sees that the family
of man, humanity is not a zero-sum game. When we have been at our most prosperous, we have been at our most principled and when we do well the
rest of the world does well.
These articles of civil faith have been critical to the American identity for as long as we have been alive. They are our birthright and our
obligation. We must guard them jealously and pass them on for as long as the calendar has days.
To betray them or to be unserious in their defense is a betrayal of the fundamental obligations of American leadership and to behave as if they
don't matter is simply not who we are.
Now the efficacy of American leadership around the globe has come into question. When the United States emerged from World War II, we contributed
about half of the world's economic activity. It would have been easy to secure our dominance.
Keeping those countries who had been defeated or greatly weakened during the war in their place, we didn't do that. It would have been easy to
focus inward. We resisted those impulses instead we financed reconstruction of shattered countries and created international
organizations and institutions that have helped provide security and foster prosperity around the world for more than 70 years.
Now it seems that we, the architects of this visionary, rules-based world order that has brought so much freedom and prosperity are the ones most
eager to abandon it. The implications of this abandonment are profound and the beneficiaries of this rather radical departure in the American approach
to the world are the ideological enemies of our values.
Despotism loves the vacuum and our allies are now looking elsewhere for leadership. Why are they doing this? None of this is normal. And what do
we as United States Senators have to say about it?
The principles that underlie our politics, the values of our founding, are too vital to our identity and to our survival to allow them to be
compromised by the requirements of politics because politics can make us silent when we should speak, and silence can equal complicity.
I have children and grandchildren to answer to and so Mr. President, I will not be complicit of silent. I decided that I would be better able to
represent the people of Arizona and to better serve my country and my conscience by freeing myself of the political consideration that consumed
far too much bandwidth and would cause me to compromise far too many principles.
To that end, I'm announcing today that my service in the Senate will conclude at the end of my term in early January 2019. It is clear at this
moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, is pro-immigration, has a
narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican Party.
The party that has so long defined itself by its belief in those things. It is also clear to me for the moment that we have given up from the core
principles in favor of a more visually satisfying anger and resentment.
To be clear the anger and resentment that that people feel at the Royal mess that we've created or justified, but anger and resentment are not the
governing philosophy. There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal by mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems.
[15:20:07] And giving into to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle -- the impulse to scapegoat little threatens to turn us into a fearful backward-
looking people. In the case of the Republican Party, those things also threaten to turn us into a fearful backward-looking minority party.
We were not made great as a country by indulging in or even exalting our worst impulses turning against ourselves, glorifying in the things that
divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake.
And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard
one and vulnerable they are. This spell will eventually break, that is my belief.
We will return to ourselves once more and I say the sooner the better because we have a healthy government, we must also have healthy and
functioning parties. We must respect each other again in an atmosphere of shared facts and shared values, comity, and good faith.
We must argue our positions fervently and never be afraid to compromise. We must assume the best of our fellowmen and always look for (inaudible).
Until that day comes, we must be unafraid to stand up and speak out as if our country depends on it because it does.
I plan to spend the remaining 14 months of my Senate term doing just that. Mr. President, the graveyard is full of indispensable men and women. None
of us here is indispensable nor were even the great figures of history who toiled at these very desks, in this very chamber, to shape the country that
we have inherited.
What is indispensable are the values that they consecrated in Philadelphia and in this place, values which have endured and will endure for so long as
men and women wish to remain free.
What is indispensable is what we do here in defense of those values. Our political career does not mean much if we are complicit in undermining
these values. I thank my colleagues for indulging me here today.
I will close by borrowing the words of President Lincoln, who knew more about healthy enmity and preserving our founding values than any other
American who was ever lived. His words from his first inaugural were a prayer in his time and are now no less than ours.
We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies, though, passion may have strained, it must not break the bonds of our affection. The
mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched as surely as they will be by the better angels of our nature.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The majority leader.
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Mr. President, colleagues --
GORANI: Well, that was quite an extraordinary speech from a Republican senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake, who has been a vocal critic of Donald
Trump announcing he will not be seeking reelection saying that, quote, "traditional conservatives may have a narrower path to the Republican
He really, really just fired a few remarkable salvos at the executive branch saying, "The conduct of some in our executive branch is not normal.
That reckless outrageous behavior is billed as telling it like it is. It is not acceptable."
this is a direct attack obviously on the Trump administration and he also posed the question when the next generation asked us, why didn't you do
something about what's going on in the country today? What will we say? Would we accept, he asked, such behavior from the Democrats?
Let's get to Josh Rogin for reaction here. What do you make of this? I mean, we had Bob Corker earlier today calling basically the president a
liar, saying, he wouldn't support him again today and now Jeff Flake. What's going on in the Republican Party here?
ROGIN: Well, the Civil War inside the Republican Party, which has long been at a simmer has now boiled over. This is an all-out revolt I can
honestly say. I've never seen a senator attacked the president of his own party in such a direct and brutal manner. I mean, it was a call to arms
for all Republicans to reject not only Trump's behavior, but his politics and his policies.
[15:25:12] And it's a warning -- Jeff flake is sounding the alarm that the Trump era threatens not only our democracy, in his opinion, but also
America's leadership in the world and the fate of the liberal world order that the U.S. has spent decades building. It's a shocking speech that will
have long-term implications.
GORANI: Right. Certainly, it was a staggering speech. John McCain, who has also been criticized by the president and criticized the president as
well as on the floor of the Senate. Let's have a quick listen.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: -- obviously, the Flake part comes from his direct predecessor. It is the Flake family and families like them that
came and worked and slaved and raised families and made Arizona what it is.
And it has never had a more deserving son than Jeff Flake and his beautiful wife, Cheryl, and children. So, I would just like to say, Jeff, I've known
you now for number of years. I know you have served Arizona and the country and there's one thing that I'm absolutely sure of and that you will
continue that service, which is part of your family.
It's part of your view of America. It's part of your willingness and desire to serve Arizona and one of the great privileges of my life has been
to have the opportunity to know you and served with you.
So, as we look at all of us at some point at our time and we have spent here whether they be short or whether it be long is a fact and we think
about what we could have done, what we should have done, what we might have done, and the mistakes we made and the things we're proud of.
Well, when the Flake service to this country in this Senate is reviewed, it will be one of honor, brilliance, and patriotism, and love of country, and
I thank you and God bless you and your family.
GORANI: John McCain, the senior senator from Arizona, who has been the target of criticism from Donald Trump. He announced that he was battling
brain cancer. He famously gave that thumbs down when he came to OK'ing to passing a piece of healthcare legislation that was supported by the
So, Josh, again to you, because here we have John McCain, Jeff Blake, earlier in the day Bob Corker, three senior Republicans and they are openly
now criticizing the president. Jeff Flake in a remarkable way which we just heard now, putting in a historic perspective and saying when future
generations ask us what were you guys doing, what will we tell them if we do not act.
So, making this really a matter of political responsibility for politicians to act now, but let's talk a little bit about what does this say about
where America is today, where the Republican Party is today.
ROGIN: Well, the Republican Party and the country are both severely and bitterly divided. Jeff Flake's speech is just the latest example of that.
When he talked about the space for moderates running in Republican primaries narrowing that's totally true.
And it's a progression that's been going on for many years, but has become advanced, and really a prohibitive in the Trump era. Now how that will
play out in 2018 is yet to be determined.
If the Republicans run a bunch of Trump favored or base favored right-wing candidates, they could lose to Democrats and that could ultimately result
in the Democrats taking over the Senate, which is the exact warning that Jeff Flake was giving to his Republican colleagues.
But the broader implications of Jeff Flake just the blistering criticism of President Trump are that he is trying to create the space for Republicans
all over the Congress and all of the country to speak up and say that they --
GORANI: But they wouldn't speak up if there -- if they feel they have the chance, right? I mean, Jeff Flake is not running because he felt like he
wasn't going to overcome the challenge for a Trump-supported candidate, right?
ROGIN: Well, that's right. What he said was his political considerations were keeping him from speaking his mind fully and I'm sure that affects
almost every Republican making that calculation.
But you do see as more and more Republicans place their love of country over their love of their own jobs in their view, more and more are speaking
out, and that's what Jeff Flake was calling the Republicans to do. We'll have to see if other Republicans will heed his call in the coming days and
GORANI: We will see because the midterms are fast coming up. A quick one with Stephen Collinson, one of the things that Jeff Flake said is that
there is really little room now for traditional conservatives that the Republican Party should not give in to the impulse to scapegoat people, it
will damage the party ultimately, that this is basically satisfying an anger and resentment to blame other people for the country's problems
especially, immigrants and other minorities.
Where do think this message will resonate?
STEPHEN COLLINSON, "CNN POLITICS" SENIOR REPORTER: I think it's going to resonate in a couple of places. First of all, Jeff Flake is going to be -
go down as a hero for the establishment wing of the Republican Party and everybody else in Washington and elsewhere and around the world who opposes
But this is going to be seen as a victory by many of Donald Trump supporters. The revolution that Donald Trump ignited in the Republican
Party in the 2016 election is raging and it's consuming more members of the establishment.
They are Trump supporters, the populist nationalist wing of the party, people like Steve Bannon, are trying to purge people like Jeff Flake, like
Corker, like Sen. John McCain out of the party. They're trying to take over the party.
So, while it's - while Flake is going to be seen as a hero by Trump opponents, this will be seen as a major advance from a lot of people who
support the president and support the changes he's wrought, the populist economic nationalism, his style of politics that he's brought into American
So, I think it shows the strength in many ways. The fact that this Donald Trump's Republican Party now, not Jeff Flake who was an orthodox
conservative who was part of the conservative consensus in the Republican Party over the last 20 years.
GORANI: Right. I understand Mike Pence, by the way, the vice president, and Jeff Flake were good friends, maybe still are good friends. I don't
know how that's going to affect that. Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia joins us now.
In most democracies, when a party is so completely divided, they usually end up losing elections. But this might not be the effect that this has on
the GOP, right, in the United States?
LARRY SABATO, ROBERT KENT GOOCH PROFESSOR OF POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Well, they are deeply divided. No question about it. Let's not
ignore that Democrats are also divided between the establishment wing and the Sanders progressive wing.
But I think the Republican split is much deeper. This is really shocking, what Sen. Corker from Tennessee said this morning and now what Sen. Flake
has said. It's their words that cut deeply.
And anybody who talks with members of Congress, Republicans privately when they could really tell you the truth, they have said similar things. Very
conservative Republicans have said very similar things about Donald Trump.
Is it going to lead anywhere? I doubt it for the reason Stephen Collinson just cited. The old GOP is dead. It is gone. The new GOP is Donald
Trump, Donald Trump, Donald Trump.
GORANI: OK. But, Larry, where does this lead? Because there are, in the United States, traditional conservatives, Republicans open to immigration,
more middle-of-the-road conservatives in America. Where does that leave them? Or have those voters as well disappeared and turned into supporters
of Trump's Republican Party?
SABATO: Let's remember, they all just about ended up voting for Donald Trump in 2016. They said they weren't going to. In the end, all but a
couple of percent ended up voting for Donald Trump.
Now, I have some of them that -
GORANI: But now, have things changed? But, Larry, have now things changed? You have three senior Republican senators, one of them basically
calling the president unfit and a liar, Bob Corker.
Another one saying, how will we look our children in the faces a generation from now when we tell them we didn't do anything to stop this. So, will
that change anything in the traditional Republican voters' support for Donald Trump, do you think?
SABATO: I'll believe it when I see it. I've heard too many promises by too many Republicans. Remember, both Corker and Flake aren't running for
reelection. So, they can say what they like. Notice the silence from all of the others who are seeking reelection, or hope to, when their terms come
Until you have people breaking by the dozen in Congress, it's not going to make much difference.
[15:35:00] GORANI: All right. Let me just - sorry, my producer Laura is saying something. Laura, what did you say?
So, Steve Bannon, who, obviously, used to be a chief advisor to Donald Trump went back to running Breitbart. I'm telling our panel and our
One of his allies has said Steve Bannon has added another scalp to his collection, meaning Jeff Flake, who has announced he wasn't seeking
And, Stephen Collinson, this is what we're talking about here that Trump wing of the Republican Party feels like it may have scored here, right?
COLLINSON: Right. And let's face it, Jeff Flake has paid with his career for the fact that he was willing to stand up and criticize the president.
I think you don't have to be a cynic in Washington to believe that there aren't that many Republicans right now who want to make a similar choice
just given the fact that the Republican base is going to be so important in the primary races before the midterm elections and in the midterm
Just look at the political consensus here. If you stand up and criticize Trump, you incite the wrath of Steve Bannon and everybody else.
Now, Bannon, let's remember is trying to get a roster of primary candidates to challenge establishment Republicans who are facing reelection next year,
to try and get them out of the party, to send them the same way as Flake and Corker.
So, that's the reason you're not hearing many Republicans lining up. They might not be defending the president publicly over the way that he has been
waging a feud today, but there is not a great deal of criticism.
Most of them, for example, the House Speaker Paul Ryan is just saying I wish they'd stop tweeting at each other. I don't think we should view this
as some major tipping point that the Republican Party is turning against Donald Trump.
That could happen down the road if he became deeply unpopular, if there were some revelations from the Russia probe, for example. But, right now,
politicians are going to vote with their political interests. And their political interests right now, clearly, do not include openly criticizing
GORANI: All right. If you could just standby Larry Sabato, Stephen Collinson and Josh Rogin, we're expecting the White House press briefing to
start any minute now in Washington DC. And, no doubt, Sarah Sanders will be fielding questions on what Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, the two Republican
senators, who criticized Donald Trump today, said in just the last few hours.
We'll be right back. Stay with CNN.
GORANI: Welcome back. An extraordinary day in the United States. I just want to reset this breaking news for you. High-level establishment
Republicans are now coming out against Donald Trump.
[15:40:04] We've just heard from Jeff Flake, a senator from Arizona, who had some scathing words for Mr. Trump as he announced he wouldn't seek
reelection in 2018. Obviously, feeling freer to speak his mind.
Flake criticized the tone of American politics and said the norms and values that keep America strong are being undermined by the Trump
Earlier in the day, another jaw-dropping statement we heard from a senator, a Republican senator, Bob Corker. He was once a supporter of Mr. Trump.
You see the two of them there last July. He was also a potential pick for vice president. But, believe me, no longer. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: You would think you would aspire to be the president of the United States and act like a president of the United
States, but that's just not going to be the case apparently. And it's up to others who serve in elective capacity, whether they're governors or
mayors or senators to try to conduct themselves in a manner that is more becoming of a leader. But he's, obviously, not up to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: This is Bob Corker from Tennessee. He is not seeking reelection. Jeff Flake from Arizona not seeking reelection either. Both men feeling
like they can speak their minds.
But Jeff Flake is saying future generations - he really, really said in a generational context which was interesting, and saying that the executive
branch, what is going on there, should not be considered normal, that it is outrageous and reckless behavior.
On the midst of it all, the White House press briefing is about to begin. Sarah Sanders - it was rescheduled for 03:30. It's now 3:41 PM in the
United States - on the East Coast in the United States. So, we'll bring you that live as it happens.
And by the way, a programming note, Jeff Flake, who you just heard there on the floor of the Senate, will be appearing live on "The Lead" with my
colleague Jake Tapper and that will be broadcast live next hour.
I want to bring back my guests, political analyst Josh Rogin, Stephen Collinson in Washington, and Larry Sabato as well.
So, could - Larry Sabato, I want to get to you on this, these establishment Republicans who are not feeling like they have the political chances that
they think they should have if the Republican Party had stayed closer to the center, could they reemerge in some other form, could there be - I
don't know - a independence or join the Democratic Party or somehow - they must be a reflection of one part of the electorate in the United States.
SABATO: They're very unlikely to switch parties. I don't think Democrats are going to pick up many of these establishment Republicans.
Look at Flake and Corker. If you examine their voting records, you will see that they are not moderate conservatives. They are very conservative.
They have always voted a very conservative line.
This is about Donald Trump. It isn't so much about philosophy as it is about this one aberrational president. If they had come out and said these
things while Trump was seeking the nomination, or even as the Republican nominee, maybe they could have had an impact.
At this point, I think Trump will have to fall below the 30 percent level, Hala, before Republicans in general, particularly the establishment
Republicans, feel free to criticize him partially in public.
GORANI: So, Josh Rogin, this isn't necessarily a big ideological rift within the GOP. It's really Trump-specific.
ROGIN: I think it's both, OK? There is a huge ideological rift that Sen. Flake alluded to, actually spoke about it directly. The Trump ideology of
protectionism, nationalism, populism, that is what the traditional Republican Party has always stood against and has rejected, and that's the
nature of the dispute.
Then, of course, there's the sheer personality of President Trump. As Sen. Flake said, someone who has trouble telling the truth, who Sen. Corker said
he believes is not a good role model for children.
I agree with Larry here that there is not likely to be a ton of Republicans following Sen. Flake down this path right away. But, let's remember here,
we're only ten months into this administration, OK? We have a long way to go.
And when I talk to Republicans, especially Republican lawmakers, they tell me that they're not sticking with Trump or at least staying silent on Trump
just because they're afraid of the political backlash, but also in it because they want to get something, they think they're going to get tax
reform, they think they're going to get something on healthcare.
If that doesn't happen, I think that could also be a sign that more Republicans are going to break ranks.
GORANI: Well, and there's 14 months left here for both those senators on Capitol Hill. A lot can change in politics and, frankly, really in any
area in 14 months.
Stephen, usually, when a party is in disarray, the opposing party sees an opening. Can the Democrats capitalize on this?
COLLINSON: Well, doesn't look like it so far. The Democratic Party is still trying to digest what happened with Hillary Clinton's defeat in 2016,
refashion their message, try and work out a way how they can win those voters, those blue collar voters back in the postindustrial Midwestern
states that they lost to Donald Trump.
So, while the divisions are perhaps less poisonous in the Democratic Party, you still have this sort of populist economic split in the party that
you're seeing in the Republican Party.
Now, it's possible, to your point, about what happens next in the Republican Party that we could see down the road. Perhaps one of these
dissidents emerge and run a primary challenge to the president in the 2020 reelection race.
The problem with that is it's very difficult to see a route to the nomination in the way the Republican Party is now for an establishment
traditional conservative. It just doesn't seem - if you look at the various routes through the states to the nomination that that is a viable
And that's something that people like Marco Rubio, Cory Gardner, the senator from Colorado, more moderate, but still very conservative,
potential presidential candidates. That's going to be a real problem for them.
Where do they go in their own party right now? It looks very difficult.
GORANI: And I want to remind our viewers that we are waiting for Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, to make an appearance in the briefing room at
the White House. She'll certainly be taking questions on what we heard from Jeff Flake, the senator from Arizona, as well as Bob Corker from
We also heard from the senior senator from Arizona as well, John McCain, who has been the target of attacks by Donald Trump during the campaign and
after the campaign after he famously voted against passing a piece of legislation on repealing and replacing Obamacare a few weeks ago.
So, Larry Sabato, historically speaking, when we look back at this time in America, how significant will some of the changes we're witnessing right
now live going to be in the bigger picture?
SABATO: Look, it's bound to make some difference in terms of the 2020 elections and the balance there. I think Stephen is correct that it's
going to be very difficult for any Republican to deny Trump nomination if he runs, if he's still president. But it's just very difficult to see
anybody defeating Trump.
However, there's always the chance of some new independent coalition that might involve some Democrats, but mainly would involve independent
centrists and never-Trumpers.
Here is the irony, though. When you look at the actual profile of the electorate and the people most likely to vote that way, they would end up
making it easier for Trump to win reelection. His voters are the most solidly committed of all of the voters.
And so, when you talk about independent candidacies or new alignments, it actually potentially, at least, makes it easier for Trump to win
So, a lot of this is going to settle down. If, as I said - if Trump falls below 30 percent approval in the Gallup poll and other polls, then
something might actually happen. As Josh said, if nothing is done, nothing accomplished, then you might see Republicans lashing out at Trump, trying
to do something about Trump even without the chance of impeaching him.
GORANI: Right. So, it's all about whether or not they believe an association with Trump could be toxic, could hurt their chances for
But, I guess, Josh, let me ask you this, isn't one of the big issues that the Democrats just don't have a figurehead. I mean, their biggest stars
are over 70 years old.
ROGIN: The Democrats have a lot of decisions to make and a lot of soul- searching to do. But I think the general sense, speaking to Democratic lawmakers right now is, if the Republicans are intent on fighting amongst
each other, let's stay out of the way and let them do it.
I mean, there's just nothing that the Democrats can add to this huge feud -
GORANI: But they need a strategy - but, Josh, isn't that what got them in trouble in the first place? I mean, let's just let them fight it out.
Let's just - let them see that Donald Trump does not fit the rest of it. Do they have a strategy? Do they have stars that they can put forward that
are under 70 years old that maybe have a chance in 2020? And if so, who is that man or who is that woman?
ROGIN: I think they are working through that right now. There are going to some lessons learned from the Hillary loss. There's going to be an
attempt to reconcile the sort of centrist establishment wing of the Democratic Party with a more economically nationalist Bernie Sanders wing,
hopefully. Maybe not.
Let's see if they can come together. There's going to be a lot of Democratic lawmakers trying to feel out whether or not they have a chance
to run for president in 2020.
It's a test that the Democrats know that they have to take on and that they haven't really approached in earnest yet, and it's hard to again sort of
focus on the dysfunction in the Democratic Party when the dysfunction in the Republican Party is so enormous and so shocking.
And it is really affecting the making of policy because, let's remember here, it's not the Democratic Party who is in control of all these
institutions. It's the Republican Party. So, it's incumbent upon them to do something about healthcare as they promised, to pass tax reform as they
promised, to pass a budget, to manage foreign policy.
In the end, that's the fiduciary responsibility of the people who hold these offices. And if they're not getting it done in this feud that we saw
erupt today on the senate floor can't help that process one bit. It just is not in their favor.
GORANI: So, that's what's going on inside the United States. And as we, by the way, continue to wait for Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, to
make this appearance.
But, Stephen Collinson, obviously, this isn't just about what happens in the United States. It's what - how this impacts, how this affects the
United States abroad with its allies, with its adversaries when it comes to foreign policy. I do wonder what impact you think this has on how the
United States is able to play a role internationally on the world stage?
COLLINSON: That's a good question. The president is heading out next week on the most important foreign trip of his term so far -
GORANI: Sarah Sanders just walked up to the podium. Let's listen in.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: - it was worth a shot. Good afternoon. All right.
President Trump had a productive meeting at today's Republican Senate Caucus. The president discussed the urgent need for the Senate to focus on
cutting taxes for hardworking American families.
We must also make American companies more competitive, so they can create more jobs and boost wages for American workers. And we must simplify the
burdensome tax code that is currently rigged in favor of the wealthy and well connected.
As the president tweeted this morning, the markets continue to hit historic highs, and unemployment is at a 16-year low. There is a spirit of economic
optimism sweeping the nation, but our economy cannot take off like it should unless we deliver historic tax cuts and reforms.
This is the president's top legislative priority and he was encouraged today by the show of unity by Republicans on the Hill about getting this
During the policy lunch, the president also discussed the urgent need for the Senate to confirm his slate of eminently qualified nominees, in spite
of Democratic obstruction, so that they can get to work on behalf of the American people.
The president will continue to work closely with the Senate to deliver on a legislative agenda that puts the interests of the American people first.
This morning, the president welcomed winners of the Minority Enterprise Development Week awards. This awards program is designed to celebrate the
outstanding achievements of minority entrepreneurs, as well as individuals and organizations that are leading the way in advancing minority business
The award winners who visited the White House certainly meet that criteria, and the President was proud to host them. He's laser-focused on building
an economy that works for all Americans and delivering tax cuts and reforms for these hardworking entrepreneurs by the end of the year.
On the national security and foreign policy front, for the eighth time, Russia has blocked UN Security Council action to hold accountable those who
use chemical weapons, including terrorists in the Assad regime.
By blocking the extension of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, Russia has once again demonstrated it does not care about stopping the barbaric use of
chemical weapons in the world and will do whatever it takes to protect its ally, the Assad regime.
Blocking the extension of the investigating authority means nothing less than Russia's endorsement of the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons
against innocent women and children. We will continue to push back against this.
And with that, I'll take your questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, President Trump previously tweeted that Jeff Flake is a very weak and ineffective senator. Do you know if he has any
reaction to Flake announcing that he won't seek reelection?
SANDERS: I haven't spoken with him directly since the announcement by Sen. Flake, but I think that, based on previous statements, and certainly based
on the lack of support that he has from the people of Arizona, it's probably a good move. Matt (ph)?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Sarah. So, we have two Republican senators now, just today - Senators Corker and Flake - calling the president's
behavior unacceptable and dangerous, saying that he regularly tells untruths.
Sen. Flake just called on his fellow Republicans to end what he called complicity and accommodation. I'm wondering, what's the White House's
response to this criticism coming from two Republican senators?
SANDERS: I think that we support the American people on this one. I think that the people both in Tennessee and Arizona supported this president, and
I don't think that the numbers are in the favor of either of those two senators in their states. And so, I think that this was probably the right
[15:55:13] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, why is the president involved in this feud with Senator Corker? Is there some concern on Capitol Hill that what
you should be focused on is getting your agenda of tax reform through, and that petty feuds like this just distract from the bigger issue? So, why is
the president engaging in this?
SANDERS: Look, the president is focused on doing this. That's what he spent the majority of his day talking about. He went to the Hill and met
with Republican senators to talk about tax reform, to push his legislative agenda. That's what he's spending a good bit of this week doing and will
continue doing next week until we get the job done.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But why does he engage like this?
SANDERS: Look, you've got an individual in the president - he's a fighter. We've said it many times before. The people of this country didn't elect
somebody to be weak. They elected somebody to be strong.
And when he gets hit, he's going to hit back. And I think Sen. Corker knows that, and he's maybe trying to get a headline or two on his way out
the door. Jon Decker.
JON DECKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "FOX NEWS RADIO": Thanks a lot, Sarah. Since the president has taken office and politics, as you know, two
Republican senators, Sen. Corker of Tennessee and Sen. Flake of Arizona, have both announced they're not running for reelection.
In your view, is the president remaking the Republican Party? And if he's doing that, is he remaking it in a positive way?
SANDERS: I wouldn't say necessarily he's remaking it because you have a couple of individuals that are no longer running for office. Look, he's
got a great relationship with a number of Republican senators. He's going to continue working with them and make sure that we get things done for the
He wants people to be in the Senate that are committed to actually moving the ball down the field, and I don't think these two individuals
necessarily have been as focused on that. The president wants to get things done, and that's what we're going to work through through the fall.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, I understand that neither of these two senators we're talking about now have been allies, to say the least, of the
president. But this has been an extraordinary series of attacks on the president from major figures in the Republican Party, not typical political
attacks. I mean, saying that the president is responsible for the debasement of the nation, that a breakdown of civility is the fault of the
president, and that enough is enough.
We've seen similar remarks from John McCain, the party's former nominee. In any of this - does any of this make the president pause and wonder if he
is doing anything wrong. That he bears any responsibility for what these senators are saying is a breakdown of civility in our country?
SANDERS: Look, I think the voters of these individual senator states are speaking in pretty loud volumes. I think that they were not likely to be
reelected, and I think that shows that the support is more behind this president than it is those two individuals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is there so little pushback from other Republican senators on this? I mean, Mitch McConnell is the Republican leader. Bob
Corker is still a committee chairman. Should there be -
SANDERS: Look, Leader McConnell stood with the president just last week here at the White House and talked about how they were working together,
how they were getting things done, how they were focused on actually moving the agenda forward. And so, I think that's a pretty clear indication of
where his support lies and what we're working to do. Steven (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I could just pick up on what John (ph) was talking about, one of the criticisms from Sen. Corker today was the idea that
history will most remember President Trump for debasing the country.
And you hear, in Sen. Flake's remarks, the idea that - he seemed to be writing it for history. How do you think history will view not only the
remarks of the two senators today, but also former President Bush last week?
SANDERS: I certainly think history is going to look at this president as somebody who helped defeat ISIS, who built an economy that was stronger
than it's been in several decades, who brought unemployment to a 16-year low, who's created over 1.7 million jobs since being elected.
I think those are the things that people actually care about, not some petty comments from Sen. Corker and Sen. Flake.
And I think they're a lot more concerned about the big policy initiatives that this president is driving, including historic tax cuts, which we're
going to get done by the end of this year, and then start focusing on some other things.
Those are the things this president will be remembered by, and I think those are pretty good - certainly, good facts and ones that we're happy to
standby. Peter (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Sarah. The president at lunch today asked senators for their - a show of hands on two candidates for Fed Chair Jerome
Powell and John Taylor. Since being that Powell and Taylor are the president's favorites for the Fed chairmanship, why would he ask input from
the Senate on this?
SANDERS: Those are certainly individuals that he's looking at. And as we've said, we don't have any announcements on that at this time. But the
president is taking that decision extremely seriously and he's being very thorough in the process. And he'll have an announcement on it soon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, is the White House concerned at all that these conflicts, which keep escalating, could impact the president's agenda?