White House chief of staff John Kelly on Thursday defended President Donald Trump’s periodic public attacks on Republican members of Congress, saying the president “has a right to defend himself.”
“Let me just say that when members of Congress say things that are unfair or critical, the president has a right to defend himself,” Kelly said during Thursday’s White House news briefing. He was asked about Trump’s recent spat with Sen. Bob Corker, in which the president nicknamed the Tennessee Republican “Liddle” Bob after Corker criticized him.
Kelly said he was not worried about Trump’s congressional feuds — which have also involved Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell, Jeff Flake, John McCain and Lisa Murkowski — jeopardizing his legislative agenda. The president, he said, “is a straightforward guy.”
“That’s one thing I have found he is,” Kelly said. “I found him willing to work with anyone. The agenda being what is good for America, you have seen him reach out to the people on the other side of the aisle.”
“When I read about things I perceive to be unfair or critical, I call members of Congress and ask if there is anything I can do to help you with that misconception you have or explain to you why he did this or that?” Kelly laid out. “Oftentimes members that I talk to say, ‘I didn’t realize it came out that way. I’m sorry,’ or, ‘No, I meant it,’ but it was a grown-up comment, and I will take that to the president.”
But there are members who are sometimes “grandstanding” and enjoy the attention, Kelly said.
Trump on Sunday accused Corker of begging him for an endorsement ahead of the 2018 midterms; Corker decided not to seek reelection. The attack on the Tennessee lawmaker came as the White House presses for major tax legislation, for which Trump will need full GOP support.