This has not been a good week for our president. And any week that’s not a good week for our president also doesn’t go on our senior senator’s list of Best Weeks Ever.
In 2016, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, made it clear that Donald J. Trump was not his first pick for the GOP presidential nomination. Then an amazing thing happened, a thing that, bless our hearts, we now know as President Donald J. Trump.
Despite his front-end concerns, Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, jumped on and has remained firmly on the Trump train and its one-way trip to who knows where. It’s politically understandable, but I’ve been periodically taking Cornyn’s temperature as Trump has cemented his status as an unprecedented, nontraditional president, complete with unprecedented, nontraditional problems.
Because of my high regard and respect for Cornyn (he’s the kind of Republican who gets my vote), I’m looking to him to be among the first to put country over party when Trump’s excesses and excuses become too much even for those in the GOP to ignore.
I’ve asked Cornyn about this enough to earn this response from Drew Brandewie, the senator’s communications director, when I inquired if Cornyn would have his usual Thursday conference call with Texas journalists this week: “In case you’re working on your next installment in your series about Sen. Cornyn and the president, below is what he said to reporters (Wednesday). I hope it’s helpful.”
Yes, it is. Thanks.
When asked Wednesday about Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen’s in-court claim that Trump directed him to violate campaign finance laws, Cornyn said, “There was an allegation made, and we need to get to the bottom of the allegation. Having been a lawyer and judge, I just think we ought to see how this thing plays itself out. It’s hard to make a rush to judgment.”
Fair enough, just as it’s fair to note that Andrea Griswold, an assistant U.S. attorney on the case, told the court that Cohen’s claim that Trump directed him to make the hush-money payments to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump is more than just one guilty defendant’s allegation. Griswold said Cohen’s claims are backed by evidence, including “records seized (from) Mr. Cohen’s premises, including hard copy documents, seized electronic devices, and audio recordings made by Mr. Cohen.”
“We would also offer text messages, messages sent over encrypted applications, phone records and emails,” according to Griswold.
So there’s that.
In response to another Wednesday question, Cornyn said, “Nothing we heard (Tuesday) has anything to do with Russia or the reason why Director Mueller was appointed special counsel.”
Correct. That topic remains pending. We don’t know what special counsel and former FBI Director Robert Mueller knows. But we now do know what Cohen said under oath and what a federal jury decided about former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort. The latter, it must be noted, did not include any allegations about Trump.
Cornyn also was asked Wednesday whether Manafort should be pardoned by Trump, who praised his former campaign chairman as “a brave man.”
“I think it’d be a mistake,” Cornyn said.
And on Thursday, in the wake of Trump telling Fox News that Attorney General Jeff Sessions “never took control of the Justice Department,” Cornyn defended Sessions and said, “It would be bad for the country, it would be bad for the president, it would be bad for the Department of Justice for (Sessions) to be forced out under these circumstances. So I hope he stays the course, and I hope cooler heads prevail.”
So I think we have the start of a list of things that Trump could do that would cause Cornyn — and other Republicans? — to part ways with the president.
FYI, at a Thursday White House meeting with Trump and others, Cornyn praised the president for his aggressive action toward China, which Cornyn said “represents the foremost national security and economic challenge to our country of any other country in the world.”
“Not Russia? Not Russia?” Trump said sarcastically, interrupting with a smile of self-satisfaction.
Cornyn is not on the ballot this year, but it’d be political malpractice for him not to keep an eye on Trump’s popularity in Texas. Trump carried the state by a 52 percent-43 percent ratio over Hillary Clinton. An NBC/Marist poll taken this month showed 47 percent of Texas registered voters approve of Trump’s job performance and 45 percent do not.
That’s a slim margin for a Republican president in a Republican state. Among all Texas adults polled, 46 percent disapprove of Trump’s performance and 43 percent approve.
Remaining firmly on board the Trump train could be becoming less attractive for Texas Republicans like Cornyn, who wound up not doing a call with Texas journalists Thursday.
I had asked to be on the call, a request that drew this response from Cornyn spokesman Brandewie: “After several columns criticizing Sen. Cornyn over the last year, you’d like us to put you on the phone with him for another? If I am missing something here, please let me know.”
My questioning of Cornyn is based on the respect he’s earned and the lack of respect earned by the president he continues to back.
I’m now glad to hear Cornyn setting some markers — a Manafort pardon, a Sessions firing — that could have him looking for the exit door from the Trump train.