published Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

Senators' golf game with president tees off tea party


by Chris Carroll
President Barack Obama, second from the right, talks with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., far right, as he plays on the golf course at Andrews Air Force Base alongside Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., far left, and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., second from the left.
President Barack Obama, second from the right, talks with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., far right, as he plays on the golf course at Andrews Air Force Base alongside Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., far left, and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., second from the left.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

"Hey, if you want everybody in the world to know you had a hole-in-one, you play with the president. I literally have gotten texts from all over the world."

— U.S. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., on shooting an ace on No. 11 at Andrews Air Force Base

"[Obama] was easy to be with. It was a really fun day. Saxby's hole-in-one on 11 made it even more fun. ... We all agreed we weren't going to give any readouts on any kind of policy discussions, but it really was mostly a day of, you know, enjoyment and fun."

— U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

  • photo
    Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., hits out of a bunker at the golf course at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Corker was playing a round of golf with President Barack Obama, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

WASHINGTON — When Chattanooga Tea Party President Mark West unfurled his newspaper Tuesday morning, he scowled at what he saw: U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., grinning next to President Barack Obama on the golf course at Andrews Air Force Base.

Across the state line, Atlanta Tea Party Patriots co-founder Debbie Dooley rolled her eyes when she heard all about U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss's hole-in-one and presidential chumminess.

"I won't be surprised if he gets booed at the Georgia Republican Party state convention," Dooley said.

Productive bipartisan meeting or lighthearted foursome on the fairway, it flat-out peeved the tea party duo that both senators accepted Monday's invitation to hit the links with the leader of the free world.

"Just because they have 'Senator' in front of their names doesn't mean they're entitled to a better understanding of this nation than folks in Tennessee," West said. "We know there's absolutely no common ground with Obama."

But the senators have powerful defenders, and the split illustrates an ongoing fight between establishment types and tea party leaders. The dispute centers on whether Republicans should break bread with President Obama or march to a completely different drum.

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., and Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney -- not exactly friends of Obama themselves -- praised the senators for spending time with the president, saying it's important to make friends in Washington.

"There needs to be a serious discussion taking place about the direction of this country," Devaney said. "For someone with Bob Corker's conservative credentials to have the ear of the president for three hours is always a good thing."

For tea party leaders, the round of golf provides evidence that Obama will bully Corker and Chambliss into supporting immigration overhauls and new taxes.

"Obviously the president is having these events so that six months from now he can pick up the phone and say, 'Hey, Bob, I need your vote,'" said Nashville Tea Party President Ben Cunningham. "I assume Bob Corker knows that."

Corker and Chambliss don't seem fazed by the barbs from back home. Neither faces re-election anytime soon; Corker won in a landslide last year, and Chambliss decided against running again in 2014. Perhaps because of that, both men feel fine about socializing with a man some vocal constituents see as an irredeemable pariah.

"Anytime you can visit with the president and express the ideas of the tea party for three or four hours," Chambliss said, "you ought to do it."

Corker said that, despite a close relationship with President George W. Bush, it was the most time he'd ever spent with a chief executive. In a lengthy interview, he described Obama the golfer as "easy to be with" over 41/2 hours.

Excluding the Secret Service protection, Corker added, the 18 holes were "like going out and playing with three buddies." (U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., also played golf with the president Monday.)

While Corker declined to provide specifics of the group's discussions, he indicated that foreign policy and fiscal issues were bandied about and said follow-up talks have been scheduled with the president.

Told of the tea party's disdain, the former Chattanooga mayor raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders as if to say: What do they expect?

"Anytime with all the foreign policy issues, fiscal issues that we are dealing with as a nation -- anytime you can discuss those with the president ... it's a good thing," he said. "I think it's a valuable thing for a senator to do.

"I'm glad I did it," Corker added, "and I'd do it again."

The Georgia Republican Party and several prominent Tennessee Republicans did not respond to requests for comment on Monday's round. Those include former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Gov. Bill Haslam, a longtime friend of Corker's.

Their silence stood in stark contrast to tea party advocates all too willing to sound off.

"I don't have time to play golf," said U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, a Georgia Republican running for Chambliss's Senate seat. "I don't have time to go hunting and fishing much anymore, because I'm trying to save America economically."

But another House Tea Party Caucus member rejected that line of thinking.

"We live in a town where relationships are good and give you the opportunity to talk to one another," said Black, a Nashville-area Republican. "That doesn't mean you're going to change who you are or change your mind about what you believe. I see no problem with it."

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