White House struggles to downplay stunning criticism of Trump from Republican senators

  • The White House on Tuesday sought to downplay the significance of two Republican senators who stunned Washington by forcefully speaking out against President Donald Trump.
  • Following a moving speech by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that "a lot of the language wasn't befitting of the Senate floor."
  • Sanders similarly dismissed Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, who sent shockwaves through Washington on Tuesday when he told reporters he believes Trump's legacy would be the "debasement of America."

The White House on Tuesday sought to downplay the significance of two Republican senators who stunned Washington by forcefully speaking out against President Donald Trump.

In response to a dramatic speech by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who announced that he would retire after his current term, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she thought "a lot of the language wasn't befitting of the Senate floor."

Sanders similarly dismissed Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, who sent shockwaves through Washington on Tuesday when he told reporters he believes Trump's legacy would be the "debasement of America."

"Imagine how incredible and how many good things we would be doing, if people like Senator Bob Corker got on board and started doing their job instead of doing so much grandstanding on TV," Sanders said.

Sanders' responses to Corker and Flake underscored how ill-prepared the White House was on Tuesday to respond to the criticisms being leveled at the president by fellow Republicans. The notion that Flake had said something inappropriate during his speech suggested that perhaps Sanders may not have heard Flake's address.

Flake never mentioned Trump by name, but it was obvious to whom he was referring when he said things like this:

We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country. The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institution, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency, the reckless provocations most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve. None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal.

The White House did not immediately respond to a follow-up question from CNBC about precisely what was inappropriate in Flake's speech.

Corker, likewise, delivered an unexpected broadside against Trump on Tuesday morning, after the president attacked him on Twitter, telling CNN's Manu Raju:

The debasement of our nation will be what he'll be remembered most for, and that's regretful, and affects young people. We have young people who, for the first time, are watching a president stating, you know, absolute non-truths nonstop, personalizing things in the way that he does, and it's very sad for our nation

Corker is also retiring at the end of his current term, a reality which has had a liberating effect on the typically cautious Tennessee Republican, who has emerged as an outspoken critic of the president whose Cabinet he once hoped to serve in.

As with Flake, the White House has yet to reveal any sort of strategy aimed at neutralizing criticism from Republicans like Corker, a reality which left Sanders few options on Tuesday but to accuse Corker of seeking the limelight -- a criticism which tends to ring hollow in a White House led by the ratings-obsessed Trump.

Still, Sanders said Corker "was probably just trying to get a headline on his way out the door."