In October, President Donald Trump labeled Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker an “incompetent” critic of his tax reform plan who “couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Tennessee.” And Corker, in turn, accused the president of “debasing" the country and vowed not to vote for him again.
Yet the retiring senator—“Liddle Bob Corker,” as the president once called him—nevertheless joined the president on Air Force One to Nashville on Monday for a speech at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention.
For those who know the president, his apparent change of heart isn’t a surprise. White House aides and outside advisers said the president has been known to alter his opinion about people on a dime, often after they’ve praised him or walked back their previous criticism.
Along with Corker, Trump appears to have mended fences with South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of his main antagonists during the campaign. He’s recently had lunch in the West Wing with his former chief of staff Reince Priebus, who was abruptly fired by tweet in July.
Last month, Corker sympathized with the president’s treatment by the press, following what the senator said were unfair reports that he would benefit personally from a provision in the tax bill.
“I have a newfound empathy for what he and others have been dealing with this in this regard,” Corker, who voted in favor of the tax bill despite a wave of criticism from progressives, told Fox News.
The White House and Corker’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
At one point or another almost all the White House senior staff and top administration officials have been on the president’s bad side – from National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – but have stayed in the West Wing.
But the president has also been known to hold a grudge. And aides said he’s unlikely to forgive his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, who infuriated the president after making explosive on-the-record comments about his family in Michael Wolff’s new book about the White House. Still, even Trump’s closest aides wouldn’t completely rule out that they could eventually reconcile.
As for Trump and Corker, people familiar with their relationship said they have spoken on the phone several times in recent weeks, as CNN reported earlier Monday, including about tax reform.
Even though he’s not running for reelection, Corker still needs Trump when it comes to crucial policy issues, including salvaging the Iran nuclear deal – a top priority for the senator. Corker still regularly talks to senior administration officials about the nuclear agreement and other issues.
The feud appeared to start after Corker said in early October that Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “help separate our country from chaos.” The quote soon picked up traction on the Sunday talk shows, where the president likely saw it and began unleashing anti-Corker tweets.
It’s not unusual for a president to invite lawmakers representing a state where he will speak to travel on Air Force One. Indeed, the White House invited the entire Tennessee delegation.
But the president has never hesitated to break with convention, and people who know him say Corker wouldn’t have received an invite if the president was still furious with him.
Corker is not expected to join the president in Atlanta for the college football championship game between Alabama and Georgia.