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Republican Lawmakers Raise Serious Concerns Over Trump During His First Visit To The Hill


On a day when President Trump went to Capitol Hill to show unity with his party, two veteran Republican lawmakers raised serious concerns about him in public. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker turned up his criticisms of Trump in TV news interviews. And a few hours later, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake went to the Senate floor, announced he won't seek re-election and said that Trump's approach to governing is, quote, "dangerous to our democracy." We begin our coverage with NPR's Scott Detrow on Capitol Hill.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Ever since he announced he won't run for re-election, Bob Corker has gotten increasingly blunt. Today he took his concerns about President Trump to a new level.


BOB CORKER: The president has great difficulty with the truth on many issues.

DETROW: Corker told CNN he had tried to talk to Trump, to work with him to help the president begin governing more seriously.


CORKER: I don't think that that's possible. And he's obviously not going to rise to the occasion as president.

DETROW: In the end, here's how Corker thinks history will mark the Trump presidency.


CORKER: The constant non-truth telling, the - just the name-calling, the things like - I think the debasement of our nation will be what he'll be remembered most for. And that's regretful.

DETROW: All pretty damning criticism, but because Corker has been saying this for a while and because Trump immediately responded with a tweetstorm of attacks, other Republicans just shrugged their shoulders. House Speaker Paul Ryan and others said the focus should be on the big tax bill Republicans want to pass by year's end.


PAUL RYAN: So put this this Twitter dispute aside. The fact is, we have a historic chance of actually fixing this tax code, giving people pay raises and getting the American economy growing.

DETROW: And when Trump came to the Capitol to have lunch with Senate Republicans, most of them left the meeting saying everything was fine.

SUSAN COLLINS: It was pleasant. The president was very relaxed. He went through a lot of his executive orders and the 70 bills that he's signed. He talked about - encouraged us to get his nominees moving.

DETROW: That's Maine Republican Susan Collins. But then Jeff Flake took the Senate floor.


JEFF FLAKE: There are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our principles. Now is such a time.

DETROW: Flake did more than risk his career today. He announced the end of it. Flake won't run for re-election next year. He had been facing a tough race after repeatedly criticizing the president. That won him scorn from Republican voters and no extra love from Democrats. Still, Flake had never gone as far as he did from his Senate desk.


FLAKE: Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified. And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.

DETROW: The White House dismissed Flake's criticism and Corker's, too. Here's Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that we support the American people on this one. I think that the people both in Tennessee and Arizona supported this president. And I don't think that the numbers are in the favor of either of those two senators in their states. And so I think that this is probably the right decision.

DETROW: But Flake said on the Senate floor, this is about more than an election.


FLAKE: The principles that underlie our politics, the values of our founding are too vital to our identity and to our survival to allow them to be compromised by the requirements of politics because politics can make us silent when we should speak, and silence can equal complicity. I have children and grandchildren to answer to. And so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit or silent.

DETROW: Flake and Corker have made their voices clear, but they're not going to be facing GOP voters anymore, voters who Republican lawmakers all realize remain mostly protective and supportive of the president. Scott Detrow, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.