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Flake and Corker Speak Out, But The Rest of the GOP's Silence May Be Louder

Two key senators spoke up in opposition to Trump, but the rest of the party is moving on.
Image: Senators React To President Trump's Firing Of FBI Director James Comey
Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) speaks to reporters about President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, on Capitol Hill on May 10, 2017 in Washington. fileMark Wilson / Getty Images file

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Corker and Flake speak out, but the rest of GOP’s silence may be louder

WASHINGTON — Two stunning developments took place inside the Republican Party on Tuesday. The first: Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., denounced President Trump, calling him unfit and devoid of moral leadership.

"His governing model is to divide and to attempt to bully and to use untruths,” Corker said.

"When the next generation asks us: 'Why didn't you do something? Why didn't you speak up?' What are we going to say?" Flake asked. “Mr. President, I rise today to say, ‘Enough.’”

Those striking statements followed last week’s other GOP criticisms of Trump and the Trump Era. “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication,” former President George W. Bush said. And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took aim at “some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”

The second development yesterday: The rest of the GOP moved on. Speaking to reporters after Corker’s volleys against Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell deflected the questions about Corker and Flake, and they insisted that the party remains unified on tax reform.

So the question becomes: What will October 24, 2017 be known for more — Corker’s and Flake’s extraordinary condemnation of their party’s own president, or the rest of the GOP staying silent and continuing to march in step with Trump?

Remember, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake aren’t running for re-election in 2018; John McCain won’t ever run for office again; and George W. Bush is far removed from politics.

As Ross Douthat writes in the New York Times, “In the end, if you want Republican voters to reject Trumpism, you need to give them clear electoral opportunities to do so — even if you expect defeat, even if it’s all but certain.”

“If Corker really means what he keeps saying about the danger posed by Trump’s effective incapacity, he should call openly for impeachment or for 25th Amendment proceedings — and other anti-Trump Republicans should join him,” Douthat adds. “If Flake really means what he said in his impassioned speech, and he doesn’t want to waste time and energy on a foredoomed Senate primary campaign, then he should choose a different hopeless-seeming cause and primary Trump in 2020.”

Flake suggests that his speech yesterday could be a Joe Welch-vs.-Joseph McCarthy moment. “The moral power of Welch’s words ended McCarthy’s rampage on American values, and effectively his career as well,” Flake says in a Washington Post op-ed about Welch’s “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” takedown of McCarthy in 1954.

But historian Kevin Kruse reminds us of another anti-McCarthy speech by Margaret Chase Smith — four years earlier in 1950. So what was yesterday? Welch in 1954? Or Margaret Chase Smith in 1950?

Flake and Corker are doing damage to Trump with the middle of the electorate

But as we focus on Trump’s base — and how most of the GOP has joined hands with them — make no mistake: The criticisms that Trump has received from his own party have done serious damage with independent voters.

In our September NBC/WSJ poll, just 34 percent of independents had a positive view of Trump, and 41 percent approved of his job — up from 32 percent in August.

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Flake not running for re-election gives GOP a fighting chance to hold on to the seat

As for the 2018 consequences of Flake’s announcement that he won’t run for re-election, the truth is that it helps the GOP.

It gives them the potential to find a different candidate other than Kelli Ward. And it also introduces the possibly that Democrat Krysten Sinema might get a challenge from her own party.

Arizona is still a rough race for the GOP next year, but this free-for-all gives them a better chance of holding on to the Senate seat.

GOP Senate votes to kill rule allowing class-action lawsuits against banks and credit-card companies

Per NBC’s Frank Thorp, the Senate voted 51-50 Tuesday night to nullify an Obama Era rule allowing consumers to join together to sue banks or credit card companies, with Vice President Mike Pence coming to the Capitol to break the late night tie. (Lindsey Graham and John Kennedy were the GOP “no” votes.)

More Thorp: The bill, which already passed in the House on July 25 on a nearly party-line vote of 231-190, now goes to President Trump’s desk for his signature. The bill has drawn strong criticism from Democrats who are linking the undoing of the rule in the wake of issues surrounding Equifax and Wells Fargo.

Our take here: Trump’s economic POLICIES haven’t matched his RHETORIC from the 2016 campaign. But do his voters care?

What matters more: Who paid for Steele dossier? Or whether what’s in the dossier is correct (or mostly correct)?

NBC News: “A law firm representing the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund opposition research that eventually became a controversial dossier on then-candidate Donald Trump, a source confirmed to NBC News Tuesday. The Washington Post, which first reported the funding of the research earlier Tuesday, said it shows the Clinton campaign and the DNC helped pay for what would become the dossier that contained unverified and salacious allegations about Trump.” The Post also reported that the dossier was first financed by a GOP donor.

That Clinton and the DNC paid for the dossier hands President Trump and his allies a talking point. Trump tweeted, "Clinton campaign & DNC paid for research that led to the anti-Trump Fake News Dossier. The victim here is the President." @FoxNews

But what is more important: Who paid for the dossier? Or whether what’s in the dossier is correct (or mostly correct)?

Diplomatic efforts between the U.S. and North Korea are in peril

NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Vivian Salama: “Diplomatic efforts between the United States and North Korea are in peril with Pyongyang shunning talks in response to President Donald Trump’s increased public attacks on Kim Jong Un, according to multiple U.S. government and congressional officials.”

“Joseph Yun, a top American diplomat to North Korea, has been warning of the breakdown in meetings on Capitol Hill and seeking help to persuade the administration to prioritize diplomacy over the heated rhetoric that appears to be pushing the two nuclear powers closer toward conflict, sources familiar with the discussions told NBC News.”

“The warnings from Yun and Congressional officials come as the president prepares for his first official trip to Asia next month and as tensions between the two nations are near an all-time high. Officials throughout government worry that a lack of diplomacy increases the risks of military action in the region.”

Pay attention to Virginia’s downballot races

“While the gubernatorial contest between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie has dominated the attention in Virginia, all 100 seats in the state’s House of Delegates are up for election in November. And races [they] could end up being the true bellwethers to gauge the Democrats’ strength ahead of the 2018 midterms,” NBC’s Jordan Jackson writes.

“‘[I]f Democrats managed to pick off 10 or more GOP-held seats, it would send a signal that voters are in the mood to punish President Trump and Republicans — a mirror image of the GOP legislative gains in 2009 that foreshadowed Republicans taking back the House in 2010,’ the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman recently wrote.

“Democrats in Virginia need to gain 17 seats to take back the majority in the House of Delegates. And in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in exactly 17 Republican-controlled districts – including the district where Roem is taking on Marshall.”