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Republicans Who Distance Themselves From Trump Struggle In Primaries


Republicans who speak out against President Trump are often the ones who have already decided to retire. One of those Republicans is Senator Bob Corker. He objects to the steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump is imposing on other countries, including U.S. allies. Here's what Corker said on the Senate floor yesterday about fellow Republicans who are not backing him up.


BOB CORKER: Gosh, we might poke the bear is a language I've been hearing in the hallways. We might poke the bear. The president might get upset with us as United States senators if we vote on the Corker amendment. So we're going to do everything we can to block it.

GREENE: Well, one reason why those who confront the president are retiring - Republican voters who are sending a simple message - support President Trump. We saw this again last night. Republicans who distanced themselves from the president are struggling in Republican primary races. And let's talk this through with NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Hi, Kelsey.


GREENE: Let's start with Bob Corker, who we heard from there. What message is he trying to send here over tariffs?

SNELL: Corker was trying to execute this strategy that would have allowed him to push back on the president by having a check, essentially, letting Congress be the last people to have a say over any tariffs that are issued for national security reasons. Now, that may seem like a very narrow space to be pushing back against the president, but so far, it's the only time we've actually seen Republicans in Congress actually try to press legislation on it. And he is frustrated because leaders basically told him no. And that's kind of been the theme over the past several months is that it's very hard for people in Congress to press back against the president.

GREENE: Frustrating as it is for people like Corker who clearly wanted to send a message saying don't be intimidated by this president, there is a political reality that we really seemed to see play out last night. Mark Sanford, South Carolina congressman who survived a major sex scandal if we remember, he could not overcome his own criticism of the president.

SNELL: That is true. And it was not criticism necessarily that led to him voting against the president. It was criticism about the way he handled things, the way he spoke. But that was enough to, you know, get an angry tweet from the president saying that people should vote for his opponent, the woman who won, Katie Arrington. And in her speech, she said we are the party of Donald J. Trump. And that has been the message that voters have wanted to hear. The more you can be with the president here, the more voters are happy. Now, the Sanford thing is really interesting because he was - as I was talking to Republicans all over Capitol Hill yesterday before the tweet, they were saying they thought he'd be safe, that he is a conservative guy. He is with the president usually.

GREENE: Well, this division within the party over whether to support the president or not, another division playing out has been over the issue of immigration, which the party has really been struggling with. A lot of lawmakers have suggested they might work with Democrats on that issue. It sounds like the party might be coming together around at some sort of deal.

SNELL: They are, and it fits with the theme we've been talking about. There was a group of Republicans who were going - trying to get this discharge petition, this thing to say that leadership doesn't know best and they should vote on an immigration deal with Democrats. Well, they fell two signatures short, and now leaders are talking about voting on something that largely aligns with what President Trump wants - the four pillars on immigration and, you know, a more moderate version that would support the DREAM Act. But they don't expect that DREAM Act to pass.

GREENE: All right. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell reporting on a fascinating political dynamic in this election year. Kelsey, thanks a lot.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.