Did Bob Corker “dance around questions” regarding Donald Trump’s readiness as a potential Commander in Chief, or did he get blindsided by MSNBC’s Morning Joe? Mika Brzezinski and Mike Barnicle began the interview asking about the presidential race, prompting the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair to object. “Well look I didn’t come on the program to talk about politics,” he told Barnicle after being challenged to defend Trump’s readiness. “I think that you know you asked me to come on to talk about public policy.” When both Brzezinski and Barnicle continued to press Corker, he told them and Willie Geist that he’s a lot more worried about the lack of leadership from the current White House — and State Department too:
GEIST: Does it concern you as the Chairman of Foreign Relations that you don’t quite know what he would do as commander in chief about ISIS?
CORKER: Well it concerns me that we’ve got another 4 or 5 months under an existing president that does have the input of lots of people and has had for 7-1/2 years and that we’ve allowed Syria to devolve into the greatest humanitarian crisis of modern times.
We still have no plan. Kerry lays prostrate really in front of Lavrov. I mean I’d love to hear the tapes of their conversations after he leaves when he talks about Plan B. When all of us know there is no Plan B. Russia knows there is no Plan B.
Corker extended his remarks on Kerry in particular:
BARNICLE: Senator we respect your position. You said you don’t, you didn’t come on here to be a judge about anything having to do with politics. But could you quickly before we go, could you explain what judgment, what you meant when you said that Secretary Kerry is lying prostrate in front of Lavrov?
CORKER: We met with Secretary Kerry in Munich, a number of us on both sides of the aisle. As he began this whole discussion around succession of hostilities. He has no cards to play. So he sits down in front of Lavrov. What are we going to do if Russia continues as they are killing civilians in Syria? Nothing. We’re going to do nothing. Lavrov knows we’re going to do nothing. So what is the leverage that he has?
And so to me I mean seriously it has to be somewhat of an embarrassment for a Secretary of State to go into these meetings knowing that Russia stepped into the vacuum 5 or 6 months ago. Has all the leverage in determining the future of Syria. And then basically you have Secretary Kerry with hat in hand going to these meetings. He has no leverage, none, zero. We lost our leverage when we didn’t enforce the red line back in 2013. We lost our leverage a year-and-a-half ago when we had an agreement in principle to deal with a no fly zone if you will along the Turkish border and in the northwest triangle of Aleppo to give these refugees a place to go. But we didn’t do it. The president didn’t act. He had people on his behalf negotiating those things but we didn’t act.
And over time Russia stepped into the vacuum and Russia is going to determine the future of Syria. The problem is the innocent people that wake up each day with the hopes and aspirations that all of you have and that I have, are being slaughtered, being slaughtered. And we have enabled that. And it’s just a fact. And it’s just so saddening, saddening to all of us. It’s disappointing. It’s disastrous. Disastrous to see what is happening there. And yet there is no Plan B. I’d love for you to ask Secretary Kerry or President Obama, tell us what Plan B is? President Putin and Lavrov know there’s no Plan B. So how can we have any leverage? So to me, look, I’m sorry, I know many of these people.
It is the greatest humanitarian disaster in modern times. And the United States of America by our inaction, by us big hat no cattle, making statements about red lines, encouraging these people out as we did, our Ambassador on the ground encouraging these people out. We have enabled this to occur.
Corker did say that he’s not terribly impressed with either major-party candidate, saying neither has been “crisp” on a number of issues. Brzezinski tried to challenge Corker to go farther on Trump, but he again objected to analyzing the race and wants to keep focus on what’s happening now:
CORKER: Mika I’ve got a job to do here. And it’s not to be the referee on a presidential campaign. You may get up every day and this may be the only thing you think about–
BRZEZINSKI: No, no, no. It would just mean a lot to me.
CORKER: I happen to care about what we’re doing right now. … And look I didn’t come on this program to be that referee. But let me say I do believe that Donald Trump is growing in his understanding of these issues … But a candidate is just not what I’m focused on. I’m focused on Iran, I’m focused on Syria, I’m focused on the South China Sea. We have numbers of issues that can go haywire while this president is in office that are being unattended to.
That doesn’t sound like a dance as much as it suggests that Corker was told one thing about the interview and got questions of a different nature. He appeared prepared to discuss current foreign-policy issues, not electoral issues, and grew annoyed when he couldn’t focus on now rather than speculating about what may come. And Corker didn’t shy away from making his frustrations plain.