By Crystal Burns
Retiring Republican Senator Bob Corker visited Gibson County last week with admittedly no agenda.
“It’s recess, and this is my favorite thing to do – travel the state,” Corker said.
The two-term veteran offered a candid look at President Trump’s White House and the staff turnover that has come to define it.
“Over the last 15 months, you really don’t know what’s going to happen,” Corker said. “Every day’s a new day in the world we’re living in. It’s been fascinating.”
Corker said the president’s schedule is “unusual.”
“He’s on the phone all morning,” Corker said. “He’s on the phone all night. He’s getting input from people all over the country.”
Corker said that could be a good thing in what appeared to be a looming trade war because the president has a tendency to evolve on issues.
“I’m a little concerned about this trade war that’s beginning to maybe take place,” he said. “I was in Dyer County just a few minutes ago and just like here, people care deeply about our ag community. I care deeply about it. An observation is sometimes the president doesn’t always do what he says he’s going to do.
“My sense is since these tariffs have been announced and not implemented, maybe this evolves a little bit,” Corker said.
Corker sought his first term in 2006 on a platform of fiscal reform to tackle the growing national deficit.
“Now the situation is far worse,” he said. “It’s not even close to where we were in 2006.”
The country has $21 trillion in debt and about $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities. The $1.3T omnibus bill will add another $2T in debt over the next decade. Corker said instead of bidding each other down, Republicans and Democrats bid each other up. Corker voted against the bill.
“I thought it was terrible that we would make no attempt whatsoever to pay for it by cutting other programs or finding some way to do so,” he said.
Before taking questions, Corker expressed his appreciation to Gibson Co. voters for allowing him to serve two terms. He admitted it was difficult to think about leaving but said it was the right decision.
“It’s been a great privilege,” he said. “Washington works in many ways in the way it was designed.” Corker said that senators and representatives more fully represent the people back home more than you might think. He also said he is pleased to see a younger generation that is truly engaged. “To me that bodes well for our future,” he said.
The Greater Gibson County Chamber of Commerce hosted Corker at the Trenton Teapot Museum. All chamber members and local and county elected officials were invited to RSVP to the event. Attendance was capped at 60 people due to limited space. Corker took questions from the crowd after his opening remarks.
Milan Mayor B.W. Beasley took the opportunity to thank Corker and his staff for their help in acquiring 220 acres from the Milan Army Ammunition Plant for retail development. Others questioned Corker on his future plans – he said while the senate abides by stringent ethics rules, people can talk to him preliminarily, but he is uncertain what’s next for him, allowing teachers to carry guns, America’s moral obligations to the world, and the significant turnover in the president’s cabinet and the number of unfilled positions in the State Dept.
Addressing the State Dept., Corker said he was a fan of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s nomination
“The world we live in up there, for lack of a better word, is a knife fight every day,” he said. “Big-time company CEOs are not accustomed to that.
“In fairness, it just didn’t work,” he said. “We’re in a bad place right now where a lot of these positions are not being filled. The culture at the State Dept. is really bad right now.”
Corker said he does not know enough about Mike Pompeo yet to know if he would support his nomination but said Pompeo has said the State Dept. and appointments will change rapidly if he is confirmed.
Corker said he believes that Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Matthis “helped keep our nation out of a lot of trouble.”
Corker said he does believe America is providing appropriate moral leadership in the world. He said the famines and humanitarian crises happening in the Middle East and Africa are due to the “terrible people” leading those nations and he doesn’t know how to deal with corrupt, genocidal leaders.
“I don’t know how you solve those problems,” he said.
On gun legislation, Corker said one of the pieces attached to the omnibus bill is “a step in the right direction” because it directs local and state governments to coordinate with federal databases to help keep guns out of the wrong hands. He also said the executive branch is moving to ban bump stocks and Tennessee has similar options to take at the state level if leaders so choose. Corker said he does not see teachers carrying guns in schools as a sensible solution to the problem of gun violence.
Corker warned against the “bad actors” dividing the nation through social media.
“Our nation has got to be aware of this,” he said. “It’s creating greater divisions in our nation.”
Corker said that traditional media outlets have started to pick up on the “trending” social media topics that are often created for nefarious purposes, but he doesn’t want people to lose faith in “real media.”
“As an elected official, I don’t want to be out bashing the media,” he said. He said he would rather encourage media to “step up their game” and self-discipline instead of rushing to get stories to the public.
Corker was complimentary of the Gibson Co. leaders that worked together to land a $300 million, state-of-the-art Tyson Foods facility at the county industrial park in Humboldt. He was in Humboldt for the announcement last November and said he was glad to tag along.
“I love so much seeing the tremendous enthusiasm and care for the community that your elected officials show,” he said.
Corker serves as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and is an active member of the Banking Committee and the Budget Committee. He was Tennessee’s commissioner of finance and mayor of Chattanooga before being elected to the Senate in 2006. He may be reached by phone at 202-224-3344 or by mail at U.S. Senator Bob Corker, 425 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510. His Jackson office is on 91 Stonebridge Boulevard, Suite 103. The phone number is 731-664-2294. To email the senator, go to www.corker.senate.gov and click on Email Me.