WASHINGTON - Sen. Bob Corker, one of the few Senate Republicans who's been eager to work with the White House on domestic and international issues like Syria, expressed utter disappointment in the president's handling of Syria and, in unusually frank terms, questioned his abilities as commander in chief.
"The president just seems to be very uncomfortable being commander in chief of this nation," an exasperated Corker said Wednesday in an interview on Capitol Hill.
"He's very good in an interpersonal setting, he just cannot follow through," he added. "He cannot speak to the nation as a commander in chief. He cannot speak to the world as a commander in chief. He just cannot do it, and I don't know what it is."
The Tennessee Republican is supportive of the president's proposal for military action in Syria, following President Bashar al-Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians last month. Corker authored the Senate resolution with Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the foreign relations committee, to give the president authorization to use force.
The resolution passed the committee last month, but a full Senate vote on the measure has been delayed indefinitely as the Obama administration seeks a possible diplomatic solution. While Corker said he still supports President Barack Obama on potential military force, he argued it's getting more and more difficult to stand by his side.
He even revealed that he fired off an email to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough Wednesday morning expressing his disappointment with the president's address to the nation, saying "you guys are really hard to help, ok?"
"I'm still there, but they make it so hard to help them when they don't make the case in the way that it needs to be made," said Corker, expressing dismay that Obama did not make the case of how the United States' credibility is at stake when it doesn't follow through on its foreign policy. "It's just a complete muddlement."
Corker said he hadn't heard back from McDonough and didn't expect to, since "it was a pretty pointed email."
Corker even said during his interview with CNN that he "shouldn't be saying everything" he was saying but said his "temperature level is up slightly" after Tuesday night's speech.
The senator specifically pointed to the "red line" the president drew last year referring to chemical weapons. "He never discussed that last night, never talked about how important it is for us to have credibility in the region."
Corker, who was part of a small group of GOP senators that had dinner with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday, said the president is "confident and very engaging" in a private setting. The two have met often on policy issues and went golfing together as recently as May, something the president rarely does with members of Congress. But Corker reiterated Obama is "very uncomfortable being commander in chief" on a more public stage.
When the president went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet separately with Senate Democrats and Republicans, Corker said Obama "framed the discussion" in a way that made Corker think the president would talk about the "red line" and U.S. credibility during the speech. But Corker now feels he "could not be more disappointed" by the content of his address.
In his remarks, the president tried to sell military intervention should the diplomatic option fail. He made the moral argument--citing the horrific images of adults and children dying from the attack---and tried to lay the political and strategic reasons for why force would be of national security interest to the U.S. and to the region.
"If fighting spills beyond Syria's borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel," Obama said. "And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad's ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path."
"This is not a world we should accept," he continued. "This is what's at stake."
But Corker was frustrated there was no mention of the United States' "credibility" should the country forego following through with its ultimatum on chemical weapons. "I heard no word---not one word of it."
The administration's latest handling of the Syria situation, Corker said, has hurt Obama "tremendously" in his relations with members of Congress---relationships the president had been trying to strengthen through more outreach this year. "He's a diminished figure here on Capitol Hill, I can assure you that," he said.
Corker said he'll still try to work with the president on certain issues like he has with immigration and the country's fiscal problems, "but at the moment I'm very discouraged."
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