CLINTON—He ruled out running for president himself but declined to comment on Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, and U.S. Senator Bob Corker on Tuesday said there is bipartisan concern over the Iran nuclear deal.
Corker, a Tennessee Republican, has been asked in the past whether he might run for president. He was asked again during a lunchtime speech in Clinton on Tuesday, this time by Clinton businessman Joe Hollingsworth.
“That ship has sailed,” said Corker, chair of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.
He said the campaign for the November 2016 election, which features an unusually large field of 17 Republican candidates, is the most entertaining contest he’s seen in a while.
Four of the candidates are senators, and two are on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Corker, who’s not endorsing anyone.
He declined to comment on whether Trump, who has not ruled out a third-party bid and continues to rise in the polls despite a series of perceived gaffes, is good or bad for the Republican Party. But asked about the email controversy putting a drag on the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton, Corker, a former businessman and Chattanooga mayor, said there are legitimate questions about how the State Department has handled emails.
Corker, who said he “catches a lot of grief” for being bipartisan and reaching across the aisle, focused most of his Tuesday speech on fiscal issues and Iran.
He said neither party has performed well on fiscal issues, and politicians of both parties are afraid to offend the public by taking on big issues, leaving a tremendous burden for future generations.
On Iran, Corker said he worked hard to ensure that Congress would have an up-or-down vote on the executive agreement, a non-binding political commitment. It would curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
Corker said the international deal relieves pressure on Iran, which he called the number one exporter of terror, while relying on them in the Middle East.
“We ended up, in my perspective, with a really terrible agreement,” Corker said. “To me, it’s a lopsided deal where the leverage flips in nine months.”
Corker, who has traveled to about 65 countries, said Iran now has 19,000 centrifuges, with 10,000 of those operational. Six thousand would be allowed under the agreement, but the country has no practical need for any, he said. The agreement would end a weapons embargo in five years, a missile embargo in eight, and allow immediate missile testing, Corker said.
He said it’s not clear if Congress will have the votes to override a presidential veto on the Iran agreement. But at least one influential Democrat, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, is opposing the agreement. And Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, will also oppose the deal, which is meeting resistance in Congress.
During Tuesday’s speech, Corker also fielded questions on Cuba, tax reform, the recent shooting at military recruiting centers in Chattanooga, ISIS, and the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.
The senator spoke to about 200 community and business leaders at Junior Achievement of East Tennessee in Clinton. It was part of a six-county trip that started in Chattanooga on Saturday at the Department of Navy Memorial Service to honor the service members killed in the July attack. It also includes stops in Knoxville, Kingston, Chattanooga, and Jackson, and Chester County.
Besides the Foreign Relations Committee, Corker also serves on the Banking Committee and Budget Committee.
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