Corker says Obama's Republican outreach was merely 'optics'

McClatchy Washington BureauFebruary 27, 2014 

Senator Bob Corker, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

MICHAEL BONFIGLI — The Christian Science Monitor

Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters Thursday that President Barack Obama only engaged in unprecedented conversations with Republican senators last years for "optics" and that they were never serious.

"That process, believe it or not, tore down trust," he said to reporters during a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Corker of Tennessee was one of a handful of senators that Obama spent time with last year to negotiate a way out of the impasse in Washington over trimming the deficit and cutting spending.

Obama made calls to senators, some of them more than once. He treated them to dinners at tony Washington hotels. Corker was one of the few that even golfed with the president.

The senator said Obama was a "pleasant person to be around" and was well-versed in the policies pushed by the senators. But he faulted Obama for not wanting a solution and then criticized senators after the talks broke down.

"I wouldn't engage in those conversations if I were them, because I don't think they were ever earnest. I think it was optics, it was disappointing, and if anything when I left there, it broke down trust," he said.

Corker said negotiations with the White House do not work because Obama is "afraid to stretch his base."

"He's appealing to the base right now. That's been the problem. That's why we haven't had the ability to solve the major problems of the day," Corker said. "He's afraid of his base. He's not willing to take his base and to stretch it into a place where we actually reach an accommodation with the other side. I would say to him, please don't do that again, unless you're in earnest wanting to solve a problem, don't do that again. You're better off not acting like you want to solve a problem you really don't want to solve. That breaks down trust."

More recently, he said he has questionned the Obama administration's plans -- or lack of plans -- in Ukraine and Syria. "Right now it appears the president really doesn't have a plan," he said.

He didn't just reserve his blunt talk for Obama.

"The Senate has been on the verge of a death spiral for several months," said Corker about the day that Democrats voted to change Senate rules.

Corker predicted that tax reform and immigration will not pass this year.

"I've come to the conclusion that the United State Senate will not ever function in an appropriate way with the leadership that we now have in place. It's not going to. I'm going to do everything I can," he said.

He said he spent last week's congressional recess traveling the country on behalf of the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the first time in the hopes of changing the makeup in the Senate.

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