By Michael Cass / The Tennessean
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Thursday that he skipped President
Barack Obama's speech last month in his hometown, Chattanooga, after the
White House chief of staff sent him an advance copy of the text that
morning and he decided it was simply "a political speech."
Corker, a Republican, stressed that he's working closely with the
Democratic president's administration to try to solve the nation's most
pressing fiscal problems, which he described as the biggest threat to
America's security. He said he knew he would be meeting with Obama two
days after the July 30 event in Chattanooga, where the president talked
about a "grand bargain" in which the federal government would cut the
corporate tax rate, close tax loopholes and put more money into
"The speech was not about advancing a grand
bargain at all," Corker said during a meeting with The Tennessean's
editorial board. "He knew what he was doing in Chattanooga. I knew what
he was doing in Chattanooga. It had nothing to do with what we were
doing at the White House."
Corker also predicted that the House of
Representatives would pass some version of immigration reform, which
would allow a conference committee to hash out a compromise between the
House legislation and the bill the Senate passed by a 68-32 vote in
"My gut is that there is an opportunity for us to get
something done this fall," said Corker, whose border security amendment
helped push the Senate bill over the top.
Earlier in the day,
speaking at a lunch hosted by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, the
state's junior senator talked about the importance of using "smart
power," a mix of force and diplomacy. He said the United States needs to
cultivate a healthy relationship with China and "recalibrate" its
relationship with Egypt, where fighting between the ruling military and
the Muslim Brotherhood has led to 1,100 deaths since Aug. 14.
"I understand we've got to suspend some aid," he said. "The last thing we want to do, though, is cut off our ties."
The greatest threat? "It's us."
When an audience member asked about the greatest threat to national security, Corker's replied, "It's a no-brainer: It's us."
inability to have the discipline and courage to deal with the fiscal
issues our nation is dealing with right now is by far the greatest
threat to our nation. Nothing else compares."
Corker is one of
several GOP senators meeting regularly with White House officials to
look for ways to replace the deep, automatic budget cuts known as
sequestration with more targeted cuts. He described the White House
chief of staff, Denis McDonough, who took the job in February, as "a
breath of fresh air" who reaches out regularly to lawmakers, shows up on
time and doesn't take disagreements personally.
Corker said the
White House gave him the courtesy of sending over Obama's speech before
the president left Washington for Chattanooga. He said he woke up that
morning feeling uneasy about the prospect of not being present in his
hometown, where he was mayor from 2001 to 2005. But once he and his
chief of staff, Todd Womack, read the speech, he said, "I sort of
figured my day job was important to do."
Corker and other
Republicans were criticized for not appearing with Obama. But he said
he's in the middle of almost every major issue in Washington, including
The solution, he said, will be a bipartisan one
that can get 27 to 30 Republican votes in the Senate, sending a message
to the House that it's OK.
"We've got to have a centrist bill that
creates pain on both sides," he said. "That's the only thing that's
going to solve our nation's problems."