The White House on Tuesday escalated its feud with Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerDeficit hawks voice worry over direction of tax plan The Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Overnight Finance: White House requests B for disaster relief | Ex-Equifax chief grilled over stock sales | House panel approves B for border wall | Tax plan puts swing-state Republicans in tough spot MORE, 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.
The claim from Sanders was “not true,” Corker’s office stated.
Sanders on Tuesday bristled at Corker’s charge that chaos sown by Trump endangers national security, rattling off a list of accomplishments that included new sanctions on North Korea and battlefield gains against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“Sen. Corker may have an opinion, but the facts certainly don’t lie,” she said. “The president’s been very successful on this front.”
Asked if Trump agrees with some of his supporters, including former chief strategist Stephen Bannon, that Corker should step down, Sanders replied, “I think that’s a decision for Sen. Corker and the people of Tennessee.”
Some GOP allies worry Trump’s feud with the influential senator could imperil the administration’s push to overhaul the nation’s tax code.
Trump can only afford to lose two GOP senators on a tax bill, and Corker has said he will not support a plan that adds to the federal budget deficit.
If Trump is unable to sign a tax overhaul, it would represent another major legislative failure and raise questions about his ability to deliver on his campaign promises.
“I think it’s not helpful for the country, it’s not helpful to the Republican Party,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) told CBS News.
The president expressed confidence his remarks would not hamper his tax plan, brushing aside concerns he is alienating Corker.
“I don’t think so. I don’t think so at all,” Trump told reporters. “I think we’re well on our way. The people of this country want tax cuts, they want lower taxes.”
Corker is only the latest in a long line of top Republicans who have feuded with Trump. The fights have added fuel to battles within the GOP that are likely to play out in primary elections across the country in 2018.
Bannon, who has reclaimed his post as Breitbart News chairman, torched Corker on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity” on Monday night, calling him “an absolute disgrace” and demanding he resign immediately.
Corker would have attracted a primary challenger had he not announced his retirement. Instead, Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnEquifax breach is the wake-up call we expected Tennessee governor considering Senate run Five major potential Senate candidates MORE (R-Tenn.) is running to replace him and will likely have the support of Bannon and his allies.
As the White House went after Corker, it seemed interested in calming down any trouble with Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTrump relationship with Tillerson has been tense for months: report Bill O’Reilly: With Trump, Tillerson coverage, the media takes us all for ‘morons’ Overnight Defense: Tillerson, Trump deny report of rift | Tillerson says he never considered resigning | Trump expresses ‘total confidence’ in secretary | Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad MORE, who reportedly called the president a “moron” behind closed doors.
After Trump suggested to Forbes magazine that he was smarter than the secretary of State, Sanders said Trump had “made a joke” and stressed that Tillerson enjoyed the president’s full confidence.
Trump ate lunch with Tillerson and Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Tillerson, Trump deny report of rift | Tillerson says he never considered resigning | Trump expresses ‘total confidence’ in secretary | Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts Trump, honor Obama’s agreement to release Guantanamo detainee MORE, a meeting Sanders described as “great.”
This post originally appeared on The Hill