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Will Trump's Twitter War With Sen. Corker Damage His Agenda?


Since his inauguration, President Trump has made it clear that he is not going to toe the party line. He's bucked the GOP time and again, often personally lambasting lawmakers who he thinks have slighted him in some way or whom he sees as standing in the way of his agenda. Most of the time, the lawmaker in question appears to let it roll off, choosing not to intentionally inflame an already combustible relationship. Not so with Bob Corker.

The Republican senator from Tennessee has set off a remarkable war of words with the president. Corker recently announced he's not running for re-election, so he doesn't have a whole lot to lose. The question now is to what degree this whole thing could further damage the president's interactions with Congress and his legislative agenda. NPR's Tamara Keith covers the White House. She's going to talk us through that question and a whole lot more.

Hi, Tam.


MARTIN: Corker is a big deal in Congress. He's a very senior, well-respected member. Are his comments having an effect? I mean, this is a moment where the president desperately needs a legislative win and he wants that to be his tax plan.

KEITH: Right. And here's the thing with Bob Corker. Before he was in a war of words with the president, he was expressing serious concerns about the tax proposal that came from the White House and top Republicans saying that he was concerned about the effect it would have on the deficit. Why does that matter? Yes, Bob Corker is a senior respected Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But he is also one of 52 Republicans in the Senate.

It is a very narrow majority. And any senator gets a whole lot of power when the majority is that narrow. Corker's raising concerns about the tax legislation. There are other senators who are likely not to support it. And so that means, like, maybe you shouldn't poke people in the eye.

MARTIN: So the president has been on Twitter this morning. And he's put out something I want to run past you. Here's the tweets. It says as follows - (reading) since Congress can't get its act together on health care, I will be using the power of the pen to give great health care to many people fast. What does that mean?

KEITH: The president is widely expected later this week to sign an executive order that would allow people to buy into what's known as association health plans or allow more people to buy into them. It would relax rules for those plans. We don't have a lot of details or really any details at this point, but some insurance commissioners oppose this idea because it would limit their ability to regulate plans. Health care advocates say it could undermine the Obamacare insurance marketplaces.

Advocates say that it would put more cheaper options out there for people. And as with many things related to executive action, expect legal challenges.

MARTIN: Right. And the bigger picture is just illustrating the fact that he's having such a difficult time with a Congress led by his own party, which is why, in some ways, it makes sense that he is perhaps reaching out to the other side, to Democrats, who he made an overture towards on immigration. He made this kind of soft deal with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer a couple weeks ago about the so-called dreamers. Now that's up in the air, though.

What can you tell us?

KEITH: Yeah, that soft deal seems to have softened considerably. President Trump tweeting this morning or in a statement on Twitter saying the problem with agreeing to a policy on immigration is that the Democrats don't want secure borders, and they don't care about safety for the USA. The White House released a series of principles for immigration. Democrats say it's a nonstarter. President Trump has said that he wants a fix for DACA.

That's the program for young people who are undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. But Democrats want that too. However, the conditions the president is putting on it, Democrats are not going for.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Tamara Keith breaking it down for us this morning. Thanks so much, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.