Wisdom was an elusive quality in the Oval Office on Tuesday as President Trump questioned the brains of his secretary of state and the Senate’s top Republican on foreign policy, while allies questioned his wisdom in picking those fights.
Mr. Trump renewed his feud with Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, saying the Tennessee Republican was “made to sound a fool” in a newspaper interview in which the lawmaker warned that the president is putting the U.S. “on a path to World War III.”
“We were on the wrong path before,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “If you look over the last 25 years through numerous administrations, we were on a path to a very big problem — a problem like this world has never seen. We’re on the right path right now, believe me.”
He was referring primarily to North Korea, a belligerent nuclear power whose missile tests will be the focus of talks next month when Mr. Trump travels to China and South Korea. But the president also blames Mr. Corker and others in Congress for the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, an agreement that Mr. Trump plans to decertify this week.
“The truth is the president will not get his major things done without Bob Corker,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on “CBS This Morning.”
Mr. Gingrich said the feud is “not helpful to the country” or to the Republican Party.
“The president has to rein himself in,” he said.
Mr. Trump also took a dig at Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson over reports that he called Mr. Trump a “moron.” In an interview with Forbes published Tuesday, the president suggested that the two men should take an IQ test.
“And I can tell you who is going to win,” said Mr. Trump, who also has suggested that Mr. Tillerson is not tough enough.
Mr. Trump hosted Mr. Tillerson for lunch Tuesday in the president’s private study with Defense Secretary James Mattis. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said later that they had “a great visit” and that Mr. Trump has “full confidence” in Mr. Tillerson.
She chided reporters for focusing on the IQ issue, saying Mr. Trump was only joking that he is smarter than Mr. Tillerson.
“The president certainly never implied that the secretary of state was not incredibly intelligent,” Mrs. Sanders said. “They’re working hand in hand to move the president’s agenda forward.”
Before he met with the beleaguered Mr. Tillerson, the president hosted former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office and lavished praise on his foreign policy expertise. He called Mr. Kissinger “a man of immense talent and experience and knowledge.”
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the Middle East with ISIS and so many other things,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s a much calmer place. I say often, I inherited a mess, but we’re fixing it.”
Mr. Kissinger said he was visiting “at a moment when the opportunity to build a constructive, peaceful world order is very great.”
Noting the president’s upcoming trip to Asia, he said, “I think [it] will make a big contribution to progress and peace and prosperity.”
At this point of the Trump administration, many Republican incumbents would settle for peace on Capitol Hill. In addition to the president’s feud with Mr. Corker, former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon said he is working on a coalition “that is going to challenge every Republican incumbent except for [Sen.] Ted Cruz,” Texas Republican.
“It’s incumbent upon them to back President Trump’s plan, but you don’t see it,” Mr. Bannon told Fox News host Sean Hannity.
While some Republicans questioned the wisdom of Mr. Trump’s attacks on lawmakers whose votes he needs for tax cuts, party strategist John Feehery said the president’s battle with Mr. Corker makes sense in the context of Mr. Trump’s habit as a counterpuncher.
“If you punch him, he will punch you back harder,” said Mr. Feehery, a partner at EFB Advocacy in Washington. “That should serve as a warning to others who might want to share their innermost thoughts with media about how they feel about the president but don’t want to deal with the grief of crossing this president.”
Mrs. Sanders rejected suggestions that Mr. Trump is alienating lawmakers from his own party.
“I don’t think he’s alienating anyone,” she said. “I think that Congress has alienated themselves by not actually getting the job done that the people of this country elected them to do. Time and time again, Congress has made promises and failed to deliver. If anyone is being alienated, it’s people that are promising things and not delivering on them.”
A CNN poll last week found that 29 percent of voters hold a favorable view of the Republican Party, down 13 percentage points from March and the lowest mark for the party since CNN began asking the question in 1992.
Republicans indicate that they prefer Mr. Trump’s vision, with 79 percent saying the president is taking the party in the right direction. A majority of Republican voters — 53 percent — believe leaders in Congress are taking the party in the wrong direction.
Overall approval of the party’s leadership was down to 20 percent in the survey, a new low in CNN polling back to 2008.
In the poll, Mr. Trump received high marks from Republicans for working with members of his own party in Congress, with 75 percent saying he is cooperating about the right amount and 14 percent saying he is not doing enough. But 66 percent of Republicans said the party’s members of Congress are not doing enough to cooperate with the president.
“We’ll be adjusting a little bit over the next few weeks to make it even stronger,” Mr. Trump said of his tax relief plan. “The people of this country want tax cuts. I’m giving the largest tax cuts in the history of this country.”
The president didn’t specify what parts of the plan would be modified. The outline released late last month has been criticized for adding to budget deficits, and some tax analysts say it’s likely to raise income taxes for certain middle-class families.
Mrs. Sanders said the framework of the tax relief plan hasn’t changed and it will be up to House and Senate committees to address any concerns.
In addition to cutting the corporate tax rate and taxes for most individuals, the president’s proposal would encourage companies to bring back $3 trillion in profits from overseas accounts.
“That’s money that’s been there for years that wants to come back into the country, but the tax situation didn’t allow it to happen, and the bureaucracy,” Mr. Trump said. “And that’s going to come back as part of the deal.”
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