While their colleagues Jeff Flake and Bob Corker both excoriated President Donald Trump while announcing they would not seek re-election, many Senate Republicans have said they are confident that the two Trump critics’ decisions would not hurt the GOP’s agenda.
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Both Flake, R-Ariz., and Corker, R-Tenn., have expressed concerns about the general direction of the GOP’s top legislative priority, tax reform, but have also indicated they would not vote against bills just to spite Trump.
J. Scott Applewhite/APSenate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker talks to reporters as he returns to his office from a vote, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 25, 2017.
“Some people think that we carry out our personal feelings on policy but that’s just not what most of us, anyway, do,” Corker said Tuesday. “I’ve got a job as a senator to do the best that I can.”
Flake said Wednesday that he’d worked with Trump on judicial nominees and hopes to work with him on tax policy and on addressing the legal status of the children of undocumented immigrants in the United States.
Those sorts of statements leave many of Corker and Flake’s colleagues confident that their retirement announcements don’t instantly put tax reform, or any other bills, in jeopardy.
“I think they will work with the president where they can in spite of the concerns about the way he handles himself,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said.
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But their openness to the tax reform bill, which is still the subject of negotiations in both the House and Senate, doesn’t mean they have put rubber stamps on that or any other piece of legislation, either.
Flake told ABC News Wednesday that he understands some growth-triggering tax cuts might lead to short-term deficits, but that he is concerned about the long-term impacts.
“I am extremely concerned about our debt and our deficit and so we’re going to have to look at the package and see what it does,” he said.
Corker has been more categorical than Flake, saying earlier this month that he would vote against a tax bill unless it reduces deficits.
Corker and Flake’s announcements certainly don’t make the math for Senate Republicans any easier: They can only afford to lose two of their 52 members and still pass tax reform, given its consideration under a lowered, 51-vote threshold and Vice President Mike Pence’s power as a tiebreaking vote.
Three Senate Republicans have already demonstrated their willingness to vote against a major presidential priority. Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona tanked the Senate’s so-called skinny health care repeal and are far from sure yes votes on tax reform.
Plus, besides tax reform, most other big bills will be considered under a 60-vote threshold, meaning that Republicans will have to get at least a few centrist Democrats on board.
But Senate Republicans appear convinced that their two outspoken colleagues will vote no differently now than they would have before announcing their retirements.
“I don’t expect any difference in the pre-announcement Flake from the post-announcement Flake,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said.