WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump and Sen. Bob Corker renewed a caustic intraparty battle Tuesday just hours before the president was scheduled to visit the Senate to discuss the Republican plan to overhaul the federal tax code.
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Mr. Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said the president should stay out of negotiations over the tax-overhaul effort. Mr. Corker has played a key role in the tax bill so far, cutting a crucial deal with Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) on the Senate's budget, allowing for up to $1.5 trillion in tax cuts over a decade. That set the parameters for the tax bill, which can become law even if Mr. Corker ultimately opposes it.
"I would just like him to leave it to the professionals for a while, and see if we can do something that's constructive," Mr. Corker said on ABC's Good Morning America.
Those remarks drew a rebuke from Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, a member of Senate Republican leadership team, who said he expected the meeting with Mr. Trump to be substantive. Mr. Corker had described the meeting with the president as a "photo-op."
"I don't think these comments by Sen. Corker are helpful at all," Mr. Wicker, who is up for re-election in Mississippi next year, said on CNN.
The exchanges reflect tensions within the Republican leadership in Washington as they take on what many consider to be a must-pass measure to revise the tax code and deliver on a key campaign promise. The importance of action on taxes rose significantly after the GOP Congress failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act after years of vowing to make that a priority.
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Mr. Trump responded on Twitter, where he called Mr. Corker a "lightweight," referred to him as "liddle' Bob Corker," said the two-term senator "couldn't get elected dog catcher." He said Mr. Corker, who isn't seeking a third-term, helped former President Barack Obama "give us the bad Iran deal," and portrayed him as an opponent to tax cuts.
Mr. Corker returned fire, saying "nothing that he said in his tweets today were truthful or accurate, and he knows it and the people around him know it."
"The president has great difficulty with the truth, on many issues," Mr. Corker said on CNN.
Mr. Corker had been one of Mr. Trump's supporters during the presidential campaign, and was mentioned as a potential candidate for vice president. Asked if he would support Mr. Trump again for president, Mr. Corker said Tuesday, "I would not do that again."
"No way," Mr. Corker said. "I think that he's proven himself unable to rise to the occasion. I think many of us, me included, have tried to...I've intervened, I've had private dinner. I've been with him on multiple occasions to try to create some kind of aspirational approach, if you will, to the way that he conducts himself. But I don't think that that's possible, and he's obviously not going to rise to the occasion as president."
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) played down the effect of the feud on the Republican push to rewrite the tax code.
"I don't think it changes our efforts on tax reform," Mr. Ryan told reporters Tuesday, adding that Mr. Corker is "going to vote for tax reform because he knows it's in the best interests of Americans."
Mr. Ryan said he hoped Messrs. Corker and Trump would resolve their differences when Mr. Trump visits the Senate GOP policy lunch on Tuesday.
Many Republicans now believe coming up short on a tax-code rewrite would cost them control of the House majority, and Mr. Corker's comments risk undermining it.
But some Democrats said the same logic could be applied to the president.
"I'd put this back on the president," Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat up for re-election next year in conservative-leaning Montana. "Why is the president responding when he should be focused on tax reform?"
--Richard Rubin contributed to this article.
Write to Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com and Kristina Peterson at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 24, 2017 12:36 ET (16:36 GMT)