Transcript: Sen. Bob Corker on "Face the Nation," March 18, 2018

Ahead of a potential historic meeting with the North Korean leadership, President Trump fired his secretary of state this week, announcing he would nominate current CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson. Mr. Trump's abrupt dismissal of Tillerson, who had been a vocal proponent of engagement with the North, raised questions about the proposed summit of U.S. and North Korean officials.

Sen. Bob Corker, the outgoing Republican from Tennessee, is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the GOP's most influential foreign policy voices. He joined us to discuss the possible meeting with North Korea, the prospects of Pompeo's nomination in the Senate and a conversation he had with Tillerson after his ouster.

The following is a transcript of the interview with Corker that aired Sunday, March 18, 2018, on "Face the Nation."  


MARGARET BRENNAN: You're leaving the Senate, and you've been pretty candid in your past-- about what you thought of where the president was. You questioned his stability. You questioned his competence. Do you have a reason now that you're being more careful in your language? Have you fixed your relationship with the president?

SEN. BOB CORKER: Well, look, you know, I-- I don't think people realize that we never stop talking. When you say be more careful, I'm-- I'm-- again, I'm assessing things as they are. And as I just mentioned-- there has been a lot of progress made. Sometimes it's-- it's a little un-- uncanny as to how it happens, and it's very unorthodox. And the president-- you know, just-- like a lotta business people just picks up the phone. And sometimes-- things happen-- in a good way. Sometimes not. But-- you know, we've made some-- we have made progress in North Korea. There's no question.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You think progress is a meeting?

SEN. BOB CORKER: Well, I'm-- I'm really talking about the things we've done to bring the international community together to-- to put us in a place where discussions can take-- place. The Iran deal will be another issue that's coming up in May, and-- right now it doesn't feel like it's gonna be extended. I think the president likely-- will move away from it, unless my-- our European counterparts really come together on a framework. And it doesn't feel to me that they are. Now, as we get-- within two weeks of the May 12th date, that could change. But--

MARGARET BRENNAN: You think the president's going to pull out of that Iran deal on May 12th?

SEN. BOB CORKER: I do. I do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Now, you have this timeline in May where you could see the U.S. pulling out of a nuclear deal with Iran at the same time it's starting to negotiate with North Korea about its nuclear program. Do you think it makes things harder to get anywhere with North Korea?

SEN. BOB CORKER: I-- I don't. I mean I know people--

MARGARET BRENNAN: You don't think they're related?

SEN. BOB CORKER: I-- I don't. I-- look, I-- I have used that argument, okay? But at the end of the day I think this-- this whole situation with North Korea and the way that-- it's shaping up right now is-- as I mentioned, is somewhat unorthodox, and I think you're dealing with-- a leader there that probably doesn't think the same way that other countries and their leadership might. So-- I'm not sure that it's gonna end up having a detrimental effect.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think the president should sit down with Kim Jong Un?

SEN. BOB CORKER: I think it's fine-- it-- look, it's going to happen. I think--

MARGARET BRENNAN: You do believe that meeting's gonna happen?

SEN. BOB CORKER: I-- I-- I think ultimately it happens. I do. You've already, you've seen the administration sort of move away from an instant meeting. They've-- said that-- you know, well, they don't know exactly when it's going to occur. And I think there's--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So maybe not May, which is when the South Koreans--

SEN. BOB CORKER: Well, I think you're seeing that happen because the realities of what you have to do in preparation to make sure that it's successful. It takes a while for that to occur. We do have back channels ourselves, by the way-- to North Korea. And-- you know, we have our ways of-- of setting things like that up in an appropriate manner.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And-- do you think Mike Pompeo, who's currently at the CIA but will ultimately-- face confirmation ahead of your committee to become Secretary of State. Is he the right person to be leading that diplomacy? I mean is he already laying some of this ground work?

SEN. BOB CORKER: I think he became aware of his situation-- over the weekend. And you saw where he had already briefed himself up on North Korea a little but more fully than he otherwise would have, probably. It's my sense that Pompeo is much more aligned with the president. And so I think one of the questions he'll get-- you know, during the hearing process, is just ensuring that-- he's gonna be giving honest assessments-- and that full range of options to the president as decisions are being made. My sense is, though, they will get along. They will move much more fully together as they move down the path on foreign policy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you expect to have a new secretary of state by May?

SEN. BOB CORKER: Look, it's-- Margaret, as you know, we're moving into the-- sort of the election season, and things are beginning to feel slightly-- more partisan. I hope that's the case, but we'll see--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Rand Paul says he's gonna block the nomination.

SEN. BOB CORKER: Well, we have 21 members-- and so it takes 11. And we have one member who said they would oppose him. There were two Democrats who voted for Pompeo on the floor as-- who were members of the committee-- for CIA.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Have you spoken with Rex Tillerson since he was fired?

SEN. BOB CORKER: I had a long conversation with him. Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN:  How is he doing?

SEN. BOB CORKER: I think he's doin' fine. I think he-- he feels-- he knows he's laid the groundwork for North Korea. I know he-- he-- he feels like he's moved things along in a good way. Wants to have a very-- good transition with Pompeo. He's a class act in that regard. So I think he's at peace. I think-- he obviously wanted to stay a year. He moved beyond that. I think he was planning to be here this entire-- this entire year also to make it two-- but-- look, I-- I think he-- he feels like he served his country well, and-- and-- knows that-- the president needs to have his own Secretary of State, or one-- one that he more geehaws fully with.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Does it concern you, though, that the president seems recently to be making staffing choices based more on ideology and personal beliefs?

SEN. BOB CORKER: Ah, look, I-- as-- when the president called from Air Force One the other day to-- to let me know what was happening with Rex-- as I said to him-- every Cabinet member serves at his pleasure. He should have people that he feels-- he has confidence in. And I've been on the speakerphone during these debates. Okay? Where the president will call. He'll have his team of people around him in the Oval Office, and we'll be debating an issue. And I do think he likes to hear diverse opinions, but once a decision is made, I think he likes to see it move along quickly. And I think that was one of the frustrations he may have had with Secretary Tillerson.