Tennessee’s U.S. senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, discuss their relationship with President Obama in a report by Michael Collins. In the past it’s included dining and golfing together as well are strident criticism – and the senators’ new committee chairmanships add a new dimension in the coming year.
The new roles will require the senators to work more closely with Obama’s aides and cabinet secretaries — and possibly Obama himself — further testing a relationship that both sides say must include frank talk and mutual respect, the essential elements of policymaking in Washington.
“Part of being here is discussing our differences, but also trying to move the country ahead through seeking common ground,” Corker said.
Two hours after Corker declared on Fox News in November that Obama is on course to be one of the worst presidents ever, the White House called — not to complain, but to discuss another issue, Corker said. Obama himself sometimes phones from Air Force One when he has something important to discuss.
“I deal with people throughout the administration every single day,” Corker said. “I’d say the relationship is one of understanding that while there are differences, the constant purpose of our interactions should be seeking solutions.”
Alexander describes his relationship with Obama as “cordial, courteous, proper and infrequent.”
At a recent bill signing at the White House, Obama singled out Alexander and Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who currently chairs the HELP committee, for their work on child-care and block-grant legislation and praised them as lawmakers who know how to get things done. Obama also got involved during negotiations on student loan debt in 2013 and was good at helping Democrats and Republicans reach a deal that cut nearly in half the interest rate paid by all undergraduates, Alexander said.
But Alexander said his dealings with the White House have often been frustrating.
“The problem with the White House is they seem to have no capacity for crafting a consensus, for making a deal,” Alexander said, arguing the administration should be digging deep into issues with congressional Republicans and Democrats and then helping them forge an agreement.