WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump golfed Monday with Sen. Lindsey Graham and discussed the GOP’s “very aggressive fall agenda,” according to the White House, nurturing his relationship with one leading Senate Republican amid fallout from his feud with another.
Trump and retiring Sen. Bob Corker a day earlier had exchanged very personal insults.
The bonds between the president and Senate Republicans are being tested at time of very high stakes for the governing party, both on the international and domestic stage, White House officials and political experts said.
Corker of Tennessee, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is critical to the aftermath of whatever Trump decides is the fate of the Iran denuclearization deal and to the U.S.’s nuclear standoff with North Korea.
He also may be a swing vote on the GOP’s sweeping tax cut vision — Trump’s best chance this year at a major legislative victory — but he has said he may oppose the plan. Without Corker, Trump would have to woo other senators.
Trump’s golf meeting with Graham and remarks Monday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about the upcoming budget vote served as reminders that much is left to be accomplished by the Republicans on Capitol Hill.
While at Trump’s golf course in Sterling, Virginia, the president and Graham (R-S.C.) discussed “our legislative priorities including immigration, tax reform, government funding and health care,” according to the White House.
Graham, like Corker, in August had strongly condemned Trump’s comment that “both sides” were to blame in the racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
He joked Monday about their time on the links.
“How bad did he beat me?” Graham tweeted. “I did better in the presidential race than today on the golf course! Great fun. Great host.”
Meanwhile, in Kentucky, McConnell defended Corker without criticizing Trump. “Sen. Corker is a valuable member of the Senate Republican caucus,” McConnell said, according to The Associated Press. “And he’s also on the Budget committee and a particularly important player as we move to the floor on the budget next week.”
If Republicans don’t achieve legislative results, they risk their congressional majority, said Evan Siegfried, a New York-based GOP consultant.
“The bottom line is they need tax reform,” he said, adding that the party will ask itself: “What is it that we have as a party now that we can go back and hang our hat on in 2018?”
University of Richmond School of Law professor Carl Tobias said Trump’s personal relationship with Congress is key.
“To preserve the majority that the president needs and wants, it doesn’t help to go to war or to undercut,” Tobias said.
Trump in Sunday tweets claimed Corker had “begged” for his endorsement and “didn’t have the guts to run” without it.
The senator disputed the account, tweeting that Trump was left unattended at the “adult day care center” and telling The New York Times the president was setting the country “on the path to World War III.”
The tension carried into Monday when Vice President Mike Pence condemned “empty rhetoric and baseless attacks” contrary to Trump’s leadership against the Islamic State and Pyongyang.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Fox News called Corker’s tweets “irresponsible,” saying his rebuke hurts the standing of the United States. “World leaders see that,” she said.