Scott Broden, The Daily News Journal, August 19, 2016
MURFREESBORO — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker told reporters Thursday he’d “strongly consider” serving as secretary of state for Donald Trump if the Republican presidential nominee wins.
The Republican senator stopped by Murfreesboro on Thursday to serve as the speaker for a Rutherford County Republican Party lunch at the DoubleTree Hotel.
A former construction company owner, Tennessee commissioner of finance and mayor of Chattanooga, Corker won his Senate seat in 2006 and serves as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Corker was on the short list of Trump’s for vice presidential candidate finalists before the Republican nominee chose Indiana Gov. Mike Pence
“I was better suited for (secretary of state),” Corker told reporters after the lunch event.
Corker during his speech also responded to foreign policy questions about Trump’s position on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The senator promised that he does not have any romantic view about Putin or Russia.
“I see Putin as a raw power-grabbing person,” said Corker, noting how the Russian president caused instability in Europe by moving troops into part of Ukraine.
Putin also made it hard for the United States to promote democracy in Syria by moving troops there to protect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, a “huge setback for our nation,” Corker said.
Russia and the United States, however, do have a common interest in confronting terrorism, Corker said.
“Terrorism is a greater threat to Russia,” Corker said.
Corker also assured the audience that he backs NATO even if Trump made suggestions that U.S. support of a country under attack should be based on the contribution from that nation.
“NATO is a fundamental piece to our security,” said Corker, who noted that the U.S. has 40,000 troops in Europe.
The senator, however, agreed with the concern that most other NATO allies are not honoring the goal of having 2 percent of their gross domestic product being spent on their defense, such as Germany with only 1.18 percent.
“It’s inappropriate for our nation” to be the provider of security services for other NATO allies, said Corker, who described the current condition as being “out of whack.”
The comments from Corker about Putin, Russia and NATO impressed audience member Andy Brunelle, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for public defender here in 2014.
“I thought he knows what he’s talking about,” said Brunelle, who is a member of the Rutherford County Republican Party Executive Committee. “He’s very knowledgeable about the issue.”
Corker spent much of his speech talking about the nation’s $19 trillion debt and $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities.
“It is our number one threat to our nation,” Corker said.
The average couple pays $140,000 into Medicare, yet the cost to provide health care for them is $422,000, Corker said.
“It’s a national crisis and a personal crisis,” Corker said.
The unfunded liability for Medicare will continue to be a challenge as more members of the baby boom generation retire, said Corker, who also serves on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and the Special Committee on Aging.
“We have to figure out a way to cut health care costs (and) create more competition on the Medicare side,” Corker told reporters after his speech. “We’ve got to make adjustments in these programs. Social Security is also out of balance. We have to make adjustments. We have to make tweaks.”
Corker also responded after state Rep. Mike Sparks of Smyrna talked about how student debt has risen to nearly $1.4 trillion.
“The cost of higher education is ridiculous,” said Corker, who’s worried about young adults having to pay off $70,000 in student loans. “It’s a national crisis.”
Reach Scott Broden at 615-278-5158 and on Twitter @Scott Broden.