tv Conversations with Retiring Members - Sen. Bob Corker CSPAN November 25, 2018 9:50pm-10:28pm EST
100,000 dollars in total cash prizes, including a grand prize of $5,000. the deadline is january 20. for more information go to studentcam.org. c-span's interview with senator bob corker of tennessee, who is retiring at the end of his turn. he talks about his life, his tenure, the state of politics and thoughts about trump. this is 45 minutes.
>> senator bob corker, walk us through your process to retire this year? sen. corker: it was harder than i thought it would be. when i told people in the senate, i said that i could not imagine serving more than two terms, and i take the seat from the previous leader, he was the majority leader and he recorded me to serve the seed. term limits was a bit out of my campaign. what happens here, as you know, we are sitting in the foreign relations room, i am chairman of the foreign relations committee. but at the end of the day, it just felt like it was the right thing to do. i came here on a mission kind of thing, i never expected to be a career politician, i served as a businessperson most of my life, i think it allows you to serve in a different way when you are not thinking about this for life thing. >> worry under pressure from senator mcconnell to sit down at think about running for a second term? sen. corker: yes, i had people back home, i had a birthday can of thing that we do each year in
august where a lot of people come and come a fundraiser -- and it was like a fundraiser. there was a lot of russian there, and certainly amongst my colleagues, especially with -- there was a lot of pressure there, especially amongst my colleagues, but it was the right thing to do. my family and i had talked about it for a long time. i like to do one more thing in my life, i will be 66 years old and i live to the end of the next six months of my term, and again, they came appear to serve the two terms and i felt like sticking to that was the right thing to do. and then people came back again in january and asked me to reconsider. but i think i have made the right decision. decision,ou made the after you announced it, what were you thinking? you go through a period of time where you are excited, about the future, then you go through a period of time where people are coming back to see you, you see people around the world who have heard your voice and it matters to them, and they start coming, asking you to reconsider. so i did a little bit of that for about 2.5, three weeks, then
-- but honestly, i am excited and i want to finish strongly. we still have a lot going on. i am very concerned right now about the tariffs being placed on our own companies, farmers and others. we have a lot to do. i want to finish strongly, but i have a sense of excitement and anticipation, although i have not an earthly idea of what i will do next. >> when you first decided to run 12, 13 years ago, what motivated you? sen. corker: you know, it is a long story. i went on a mission trip to haiti as a young man, in my late 20's, i started my first company at 25, it was growing at 80% per year. i knew that i was going to be financially successful. it had a huge impact on me, but i couldn't be traveling around on mission trips with a rapidly growing company. i started working in our inner-city and i thought that we
had thousands of people without decent housing. i led the creation of a nonprofit to help dozens of people have decent housing as a civic endeavor. then, the governor asked me to serve on a task force and then asked me to serve on a board at the state level and i saw the impact the public policy can have on people. i served as our state commissioner of finance for the new governor, and in that position, you ran the state and saw the impact there. i was asked to run for mayor of our community, the most rewarding four years of my life. but it just felt to me that at the national level, we has significant issues that needed to be dealt with. so i ran, it turn into a nationalized kind of race, the only new republican that came in. hopefully i made a difference. >> i read that when you were mayor you had a program called
chattanooga results. what was that? sen. corker: something where you could measure what you are doing. we could see how much violent crime we were reducing, how effective we were in responding to our citizens needs. but you could look at it literally every day if you wish, but we went through all of our statistics monthly. >> is there a way you could apply that here in washington and in the senate? sen. corker: i just came from testifying before this new committee that has been set up to deal with our fiscal issues and budgeting, and you could. what would happen to really make it effective, you would ruin lots of careers, you need to combine committees and do all kinds of things to make it work properly, but you could. i will say this, the federal government is so much different than state and local
governments, certainly every agency commission have those types of metrics for senators and house members to see. so i would say, it would be more difficult to do in the senate as a legislative body, but you certainly could do it for every agency that we have in the federal government, and it would be a huge step forward. >> when you look at tennessee republicans, they mention bob corker, lamar alexander, howard baker, conservative, but moderate. what is it about tennessee republicans that separates you from other members of the the gop? sen. corker: you say moderate, but we just look at it stylistically as a way of bringing people together. meaning that on fiscal issues, i would never take a backseat to anyone on fiscal issues. at the same time, i think it is the way that you approach people that you deal with. in this committee, we never start a single legislative item without it being bipartisan. we start trying to solve a
problem. i think something has been in the water in tennessee. we have been able to have people who try to bring out the best. we try to solve problems. people who end up being national figures. we just have that in tennessee, and hope it continues. >> what motivates your politics? sen. corker: a desire to solve problems, to affect people, in a positive way. there is no place like the public arena to be able to do that. i did that in business in my companies, hopefully, and it is real. as a mayor, you can touch it and it is real. that is what makes it more rewarding. here, you're a little bit more separated, but it is a desire to create positive change and it has motivated me in everything that i have done and it has been the greatest privilege of my
life to be here. >> what is the learning curve for you? i built shopping centers around the country, i was a mayor and commissioner of finance, i bought property, so i came here with no foreign policy experience. at that time, i was a very junior member, but i began traveling. i went to tough places. i have been to 75 countries, on behalf of our citizens. many of them over and over again. one of the things i learned in coming to the senate, not just on foreign policy but other issues, there is so much stuff company. your staff can set you up on things that seem superficial. the way to make an impact is when you master things, you become more knowledgeable than anyone else and when the time arises, you are the person people look to.
that applies not just to foreign policy, but everything else. in the beginning, i was very involved in the financial crisis. i had just been here a year and a half when it broke. i spent a lot of time on the issues. so, to foreign policy, you have to be there, you have to be in afghanistan, in syria, in iraq, you have to be in pakistan, in these places understanding what is happening to be able to deal with the issues, and to establish relationships with the people there who are running these countries. >> what has surprised you the most? sen. corker: oh, gosh. you know, people, when you get to my state, they ask you to write books. i probably will not do that, but i would have to think about that. look, it is, i don't know that i could --
>> in terms of your interaction with leaders? families want the same things that we wish for. families love their kids, they want to see better lives for them. i think what would be surprising to some people is the tremendous role that the united states plays in the world, the admiration that people have for the cues that the united states, they take from what we do. that is what it is important for us to be a beacon in the world and conduct ourselves in a manner that represents the best. and when we stoop to uncivil discourse, pettiness, we have to remember that the entire world looks to us. they do. they do. and most countries want to emulate us.
so it is not just our own citizenry here that we affect. we affect the entire world. and i am not sure that every american -- i know that i would not appreciate it, the way that i do, without having been in the role that i have been in. steve: you worked with three presidents, let us talk about them. first, george w. bush. what were your interactions like with him? senator corker: he was unpopular when i came in. the war in iraq was under way. the surge was a big debate coming in. but he was obviously very personable, a very personable person. he made decisions and stuck with them. i interacted as a new senator with him quite a bit because so much of the focus then was foreign policy. and i still talk to him sometimes today. steve: the bailout was a huge issue in 2008.
what role did you play? >> i played a big role. for some reason, i got a call at 10:00 one night and was asked to join a couple of other republican senators to meet with bernanke and paulson. again, it was because i had spent a lot of time on those kinds of issues. i spent a lot of time, you know, voting for tarp was one of the most difficult decisions one can make, that i am a market oriented person and i was concerned that people would show up on fridays, go to their atm's and there would be no cash. i got even more involved in the auto bailout, i was the last questioner and asked some questions that apparently stimulated some thought, and so we put it off for a couple of
weeks. i went to new york and learned more about their balance sheets than i think even the ceo's did and their supply chains. i was very involved in that and i think it had a positive impact on detroit in the process, and car manufacturing across the country. that was a place where i feel like i made a big difference, a really big difference, without even passing legislation, because george bush but the corker principles in the document, to extend them credit, and then president obama came in and follow those principles. and again, if you master something and know more about it than anybody else at the time, you end up being the source that people look to. steve: to help solve the problem president bush said in an interview that his choice to be seen as either -- if he were to choose between being herbert hoover or fdr, he decided to go with the fdr route. what does that tell you the role
of the federal government should play, whether it is helping with a bailout, or in any other way? senator corker: i am not a bailout person. if you remember, gm ended up filing for bankruptcy and what -- it was done in an orderly fashion and in many ways, what the federal government did was provide better financing for that to occur. ideology plays a big role in how we go about approaching our jobs. there are times in our nation's history when you have to step outside a box to solve problems. i will say that that whole era has brought about, i think, and help to bring about some of the populism that you see today, right? it has been a small source of some of what we see happening in
our politics today. steve: you served during the eight years of obama presidency. what was your relationship like with him? senator corker: i served with him on a committee, and just like you, steve, you go to the grocery store sometime and you see the same people time and time again because your patterns are the same. i would ride the tram with president obama when he was a senator, we would always go down to vote at the same time. i was talking to him when he was making his decision about running. i had a warm relationship with him. it was good. i spent a lot of time with his chief of staff, denis mcdonough. he was very different than george bush. george bush was very open and just, kind of a guy's guy. president obama was not that
way, but he was obviously very smart. he knew a lot about his issues. it was hard to get them off script. i would get phone calls from him on air force one and you could tell he was on his script. you would say, mr. president, what about this? and he would come back on his talking points. so he was more put together in that way, not so much free and open discourse, but i had a good relationship with him. we tried to counter the iran deal, unsuccessfully, but we got 99 votes in the senate to take back some power from the president because he was doing an executive agreement with iran. and, you know, things got a little tense during that period of time, but the relationship was warm and respectful. steve: did you or would you ever consider running for president yourself? senator corker: when you look at politics today and you look at
where we are in the senate and the house and you look at how much power we have given over to the president, again, look at the current issue of tariffs -- that is our responsibility -- i will say it is going to take a president to solve many of the problems that we have. the balance of power has gone so much in that direction, and i know that. and again, it has been such an honor to be a senator, to weight in on issues, to try to influence, but at the end of the day, the president is a very, very powerful place. from the point of view of trying to make change, it is certainly enticing. on the other hand, at this point, i think to want to be president, you want to wake up every day and be the be-all and end-all, and i'm just not in the place today. maybe that changes. steve: so you aren't closing the door?
senator corker: well, i am not focusing on it either. we will see what happens down the road. steve: president trump. what is your relationship like with him? senator corker: well, actually, i probably know him better than any other president. he talked to me about being a vice president, which is not something i could do, and shared that with him quickly. he talked to me about being secretary of state. i got to know his family early on, got to know him, and he is the most successful president, probably, in modern history. if you know when to call, you can get them on the phone immediately, and i happen to know when to call. he obviously likes meeting with people, likes talking with people. so there has been a warmth there. there has also been tension there. we have had policy disagreements. so one of the things that is great about knowing you are going to serve two terms -- i wasn't even sure i was going to
run for a second term. that was a big debate, by the way, but it gives you a sense of independence. you are always able to speak your mind and away in in the way that you think is best -- speak your mind and weigh in on the thinks that you think is best. we have had more moments and we have had not so warm moments. we are not on the warm side of each other on the tariff issue, i think we are on the not so warm side, but i think that would change at some time. steve: when is the right time? senator corker: the president gets very little sleep, he stays up late at night. i go to bed at 10:00, so i do not call past been, but a great time to catch him, for me, is early in the morning. his chief of staff doesn't interfere. there is no one he -- he has a wonderful assistant who is kind of a scheduler or gatekeeper but she is not there either. early in the mornings, they are
a great time to catch him. seriously, i have had no difficulty whatsoever talking to him during the tense times and the not so -- warm times. steve: can you walk us through the process is like with regards to him asking you to potentially consider being his running mate? senator corker: it was pretty quick. he made the decision on a friday, and, you know, we went to trump tower, chief of staff, todd womack was with me. i met with him a couple of months before. some of you had asked that it would be a good thing for us to talk, and i made some positive comments about one of his foreign policy speeches, which was really meant to try to influence the direction he took on foreign policy. but look, we sat and talked.
i talked to his daughter, one of his sons, his communications people, his campaign manager at the time, and very quickly i just knew it wasn't the right thing. i am a policy person. i don't consider myself a politician. and just the way the race was going to be, i knew that me being in that role was not going to be a good thing for either one of us. but -- so we decided that early, i share that with him about 4:30 in the afternoon after arriving in his office about 10:00 and meating with all his people. but then we traveled to raleigh, north carolina, and i had a lot of time with him on the plane. very quickly i shared with him it was not the right thing we , talked about things, and the conversation was not one that had a lot of pressure involved, but one that was more warm, a
way of getting to know each other. steve: how is mike pence doing? senator corker: i think mike -- by the way, mike was a good choice for him. i thought the mix was good. the sort of the republican base that mike appeals to is very different than the one that president trump naturally would. i think he has done fine. i don't know -- i think he's doing fine. he comes to the senate for lunch with republicans once a week, as you know, he is employed and paid by the senate as vice president. i don't know how much in the way of pushing back on policy is taking place there, policies that policies that might be destructive to our country, so
maybe would be better for someone else to ask. but i think from a standpoint of just public image, he has probably been a good fit for the president. steve: i wanted to ask you about one tweet you wrote last october -- and these are your words -- "the white house is becoming an adult day care center. someone obviously missed their shift this morning." explain. senator corker: i am not much of a tweeter, but i got home on sunday morning, i had done a hot yoga class with my wife, and i was getting ready to change and go to church, and my phone started acting as if something weird had just occurred, and it had. it was a tweet from the president. he was not happy with me over some things that were taking place. i was very close, as you know, to secretary tillerson. i met with him often, and i considered the input that he was
giving to the president to be very good, along with mattis. and i knew that some things were occurring that were destabilizing, ok. i just happened, because of my position -- and so i made some comments that week about the importance of tillerson and mattis and kelly at that time. and the president to not like it, so he tweeted something out. i was standing in my closet, getting ready to jump in the shower and go to church, and i just kind of typed it out, and our staff took a deep breath and said, let's think about this for about 20 minutes or so, and in about five minutes, both of them are were sitting here watching this interview right now, both of them said, let's let it go. so i don't do it directly, they send these things out, but it was my words. it created set of an interesting period of time.
but i don't tweet much and i don't plan on doing that much in the future. steve: the state of the republican party today is what? senator corker: who knows? you know, i am a republican because i believe that america's role in the world or involvement in the world makes the world a better place and a much better place for americans. it makes it safer for us. i am a republican because i believe the fiscal issues matter deeply to our nation and inattention to them makes us weaker and is certainly terrible for future generations. i am a republican because i believe in free trade, fair trade, but free trade. and i am a republican because i believe that we should build up the institutions of government, the institutions of government actually make our nation
stronger, and all you have to do is go to venezuela and see when they disappear what happens in a nation. so all of that is turned upside down right now, and all of that is turned upside down currently. and so it is difficult for me, who still hold dearly to those things. it is difficult for me to understand exactly what the state is of the republican party and whether it is going to be -- whether this is a permanent alteration that is taking place, or whether it is just something that is transitional. steve: john boehner said, "it is the party of donald trump." is it? senator corker: well, i am not running for reelection, but people who are tell me that out on the trail, when you are out running, no one cares about issues anymore on the republican
side. they want to know one thing, do you support the president? and i think you saw it with mark sanford's race, a guy who is very much of the ilk i just laid out, he was defeated by someone who claimed total allegiance to the president. so we are going through a period of time where the politics of the republican side is very personality based. and again, is this transitional or when this personality is no longer president, will the party migrate back to its standard foundations? we will see. steve: i would like to ask you about some of our allies, france, germany, great britain and canada. what is the state of relations between our allies and with nato in particular? senator corker: they are very perplexed. and the relationship is poor.
by the way, with heavy heart on their side, meaning -- i just had the foreign minister in from canada, and, i mean, it is not good, but it is with a heavy heart from their standpoint, because have had such a relationship with our nation for so long. france being our earliest ally but the other nations being with us so much. it is as if right now what is happening is a purposeful destruction of relationships just because that is the way things have been, and if that is the way things have then, then we have got to change that. so the relationship is not good. but i think that they too look at this and they wonder whether this is a personality thing for
a period of time, it's transitional, and i think their hopes are that at some point, the relationship will return to the strength of relationship that we had for many, many years. steve: how would you fix it? senator corker: well, i think, look, it is always easy to try to destroy what someone else has created for the sake of destruction. i think that what i have seen in our state is we have had a situation where we have been fortunate enough to have governors that build on the successes of other governors, and we have been able to do that. when a republican comes after a democrat, they build on the successes. we are going through a time right now, a populist period of time in our nation, and by the
way, there are real forces driving that. you have middle-income citizens the don't feel any, for 30 years, any real appreciation in their standard of living. it creates forces and creates anger, and people feel like culturally they are losing out, if you will, to other people. but i think that it is always easy to run in and destroy, tear up, and try to demonstrate to people you are strong, but it is much harder, much harder, to work with your friends, that includes other countries, to build alliances and not just strengthen your own nation, but also make the world better place, which is good for americans as been dominant holder of the world's gdp at 25%, 23%. again, it is a different style. it is a style we have demonstrated hopefully as the chairman of the foreign
relations committee. again, it is the role that those of us in elected office should try to carry out is bringing people together, bringing the best out in human beings, making sure we are aspirational in what we do versus trying to stimulate hatred, resentment, and anger, and by the way can elect you to office, but in the process help destroy the institutions and the greatness of our nation. steve: is donald trump doing that? senator corker: oh, i will let you -- i think the interview is almost over now and i will let you speak to that. the president let's face it, there have been some good policies put in place. stylistically, tone, words, i would handle myself in a manner
-- a very different manner than he does, but he was elected president on his first run. and we have had some good things happen. i mean, the deregulation, from my standpoint, has been very good. the pro-growth tax reform, which is something i have run on for years, i wish it would have been a little fiscally sound, and i try to make that happen through the senate process, but again, i think it will improve the standard of living of our citizens. so we have had some good policies put in place, but at the same time, there's been a lot of division in our nation that does not -- you would not have to had the division and anger and resentment and you could've generated the same policy outcomes easily. steve: do you remember what you were thinking when you are sworn in by vice president cheney? 12 years ago, what was going through your mind?
senator corker: that is a great question. steve: were you nervous, excited? senator corker: you know, i am sure i was excited. there was a lot of change. we had friends up here. i was getting ready to be living up here during the week. i have always commuted back home on the weekends. but, yeah, i was excited. our office was a little basement room. and people were coming in to see. you know, it took probably six weeks to begin to realize the way i needed to carry out my responsibilities, but, yeah, the anticipation, i think, would have been the feeling, but there were a lot of big issues, if you remember, at the time to deal with, and we promply became -- promptly became immersed in those. steve: you said you don't know what is next, but what would you like to do next? senator corker: i have talked to
a lot of people that have left the senate. i have talked to people about what -- one of the benefits is i was a for real businessperson. i can go back and do that very easily. and it is a natural thing to do. senators have difficulty transitioning out because of the intellectual stimulation. we don't get as much done in the senate as i would like to get done. but you look at my schedule today, there are a lot of very interesting things happening, so want to do something that i wake up every day -- i have never had a day of work in my life come even though i have worked really hard. when i was in my first business, i would stay up one night a week all night just to keep up with the growth in the paperwork. i want to do something that stimulates that passionate
desire to get up and make a difference and to work with people who share a goal. and i have no idea what arena that is going to be in. i really do not. i was really anxious about that about three months ago. i am less anxious about it now. and one of the worst things you can do leaving the senate is to make a bad decision. again, i will be 66. you get yourself involved in something that is the wrong thing and it takes you a while to unwind that was so i will take my time and hopefully be prudent, and hopefully whatever time is left in my life will be the most productive. steve: senator bob corker, thank you for letting us come to this building. the chair of the senate foreign relations committee. we appreciate your time. senator corker: thank you. thank you so much. i have enjoyed working with you over the years. steve: thank you so much.
quakes when the new congress starts in january, there will be more than 100 new house and senate members. the democrats will control the house. the republicans, the senate. you congress, new leaders. watch the process unfold, on c-span. >> c-span's washington journal, live every day with news and policy issues that impact you. coming up monday morning, a bloomberg reporter and in pr white house correspondent, at the white house. and the center for strategic and will talknal studies about the pentagon's failing its first-ever comprehensive audit. be sure to watch live at 7:00 eastern monday morning. join the discussion. representative niki
tsongas of massachusetts set down for an interview reflecting her life and career in politics. she talked about her time in congress and her plans for when she leaves office at the end of this year. this is 30 minutes. steve: representative niki tsongas, walk us through your decision-making process not to seek reelection. rep. tsongas: it wasn't an easy one, but i will have been in office 11 years. i came to office having never sought office before. i never sought office myself. i was fundamentally motivated by the fact it had been 25 years since massachusetts had elected a woman to congress. as i often say, women can't win if women don't run. there was an opening that came about because my predecessor was leaving to go head up umass lowell. in an instant, i decided it was