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Sen. Bob Corker says he told Trump he now understands what unfair treatment by the media feels like

  • Stopping short of using Trump's "fake news" battle cry, the Tennessee Republican says he now "understands the problem."
  • Corker has been defending himself against accusations that he changed his vote on GOP tax reform because of a late add-on that benefited him personally.
  • He says he changed his mind and voted for the bill because he felt the nation would be better off with the pro-growth aspects of the measure.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker said Thursday he told President Donald Trump that he understands what it feels like to be treated unfairly by the media.

Corker, who has had his run-ins with Trump, said the president called him Wednesday morning to talk about a number of issues.

During the call, Corker said he told Trump, "'I have some empathy, if you will, with what you're dealing with,'" concerning the media. But in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box," the Tennessee Republican said he also told Trump that, in general, he does not like the tearing down of the media.

Stopping short of using Trump's "fake news" battle cry, Corker said he now "understands the problem," after defending himself against accusations that he changed his vote on GOP tax reform because of a last minute pass-through add-on that would benefit him financially due to his real estate holdings.

Corker, who decided not to seek re-election next year, said he was surprised and troubled that a "social media phenomenon can turn real live people that you respect in reporting to start writing things that have been totally debunked, but writing things as if the opposite is true."

The firestorm erupted after the late addition to the final GOP tax bill sparked accusations from critics that Corker, who was involved in the property business before going into politics, changed his vote because of this provision. Critics called it the "Corker kickback."

"Apparently these things get trending. Otherwise-respectable reporters begin to feel like they got to get in on it," Corker said.

The real estate-friendly inclusion allows for a deduction on income made from pass-through entities, like real estate LLCs, including those with few or no employees. The bill cut the pass-through rate from 39.6 percent to as low as 29.6 percent, subject to some limitations. The pass-through measure would also provide a 20 percent deduction for the first $315,000 of qualified business income.

Nonpublic pass-through businesses, such as sole proprietors, limited liability companies and partnerships, pay no income tax themselves. Instead their profits "pass through" directly to their owners, who pay tax on them at the individual tax rates.

In the CNBC interview, Corker insisted he was briefed on key differences between the reconciled bill and the Senate version last week, but he had no knowledge of the pass-through provision in question. Corker also said he requested no specific tax provisions throughout the months-long debate, noting he was not on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee. The senator is, however, a member of the Banking and Budget committees. He's also chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Corker was the only Republican to vote against the intial Senate version of the tax bill that passed on Dec. 2, making good on concerns he expressed in October about not voting for a measure that adds "one penny to the deficit."

During the debate over taxes this fall, Corker and Trump engaged in a war of words with the senator questioning the president's fitness to serve in the White House and saying Trump "debases our country."

But ultimately, Corker put all that aside and supported the final tax bill, saying the prospects for strong economic growth outweighed his concerns over the deficit.

"I did everything I could on the Senate side of the bill to contain the deficit," he told CNBC. But in the end, he said, he felt like the nation would be better off with the pro-growth aspects of the tax bill than not.

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