The White House on Tuesday escalated its feud with Sen. Bob Corker, sending an unmistakable signal to other Republicans that public criticism of President Trump will be met with a fierce public scolding.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders used her news briefing to tear into Corker, saying he had “rolled out the red carpet” for the Iran nuclear deal. She also voiced ambivalence about calls from Trump allies for the Tennessee Republican to resign.
The barbs followed a fresh Twitter blast from Trump, in which the president gave the 5-foot-7-inch Corker a new disparaging nickname, “‘Liddle’ Bob,” and said he had been made to look like a “fool” in an interview.
While many Senate Republicans were hoping to move on from the dispute, which began over the weekend, the White House appeared interested in underlining the consequences for any Republican who crosses Trump.
In comments criticizing Trump over the weekend, Corker openly worried that the president could lead the country into World War III and said that almost every other Senate Republican shared his concerns.
Those remarks had to alarm a White House that has struggled to move forward with its agenda.
Still, the attacks on Corker are unlikely to help Trump notch a much-needed legislative victory.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman is a key player on the issues expected to dominate Washington this fall, including tax reform. He also joins a growing list of Republican senators who may have reason to balk at White House demands.
Sanders seemed ready to take on Corker from the opening of her briefing, saying the senator was partially responsible for the Obama-era nuclear pact with Tehran, which Trump has called “the worst deal ever.”
“Sen. Corker worked with Nancy Pelosi and the Obama administration to pave the way for that and rolled out the red carpet for the Iran deal,” Sanders told reporters.
The criticism was especially cutting, given that Trump is expected to decertify Iran’s compliance with the agreement in the coming days. Corker will have a major say over whether Congress acts to reimpose sanctions on Tehran if the president takes such a step.
Challenged on the remark later in the press conference, Sanders said she stood by her comments.
Conservatives have long criticized Corker’s role in the Iran deal, arguing that he had virtually assured its creation by supporting a process that allowed a vote of disapproval against the deal that required 60 votes to pass. The vote was blocked by Senate Democrats in a 56-42 vote.
On Tuesday, Corker’s office defended the review legislation, saying he drafted it against the wishes of the Obama White House to ensure lawmakers were able to review the agreement.