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Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton on What’s Next in the Senate on Obamacare Repeal

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The transcript:

HH: Joined now by United States Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Good morning, Senator.

TC: Good morning, Hugh. How are you?

HH: I’m terrible. I think American health care is in deep trouble. The Obamacare death spiral is continuing. And the Senate effort has collapsed. What happens next?

TC: Well, Hugh, you’re right that the American health care system is still groaning under the weight of Obamacare. That’s why we can’t simply accept failure as an outcome. I am pleased to see that Senator McConnell has said that we’re going to move forward with the very bill to repeal Obamacare on which 49 Republican senators voted just 18 months ago in December of 2015. And I know that both John Kennedy and Luther Strange, two new Republican senators over the last year, would vote for that bill as well, 51 votes.

HH: So will you vote to take up the House bill with the guarantee that the first amendment is full repeal?

TC: Of course, Hugh. I don’t see how any Republican senator who voted just 18 months ago for this very piece of legislation could now flip-flop 18 months on with Obamacare still inflicting so much harm on Americans, and the fact that we campaigned on this for four straight elections. So I’m pleased to see that Senator McConnell, after much hard work trying to craft legislation that could win the votes of 50 senators is now going to return a bill on which again, 49 Republican senators have already voted, and Luther Strange and John Kennedy will vote.

HH: So if that is successful, and I believe it is a career ender to vote against a bill that you voted for in ’15, it’s a career ender, you just ought to resign…

TC: Well, Hugh, just on most issues, Hugh, you know, we deal with complicated topics, and you know, you hear from people back home on both sides of the issue. That’s the case on almost everything. Even when something’s wildly popular, you know, if 70% of Arkansans agree with something, that means I’ve still got about a million Arkansans who disagree with it. So you can defend one vote, or you can defend the other vote. It’s very hard to defend both votes.

HH: Both votes. And so, but then what, if it were to pass, if you’re right, because I think the political consequences are nightmarish for anyone who is hypocritical enough to reverse votes, Susan Collins, by the way, voted against it. She can actually stay consistent and vote against it.

TC: Yeah, Susan Collins was the lone Republican senator to vote no in December of 2015.

HH: Right. She can…

TC: I assume that she would vote no again. And it’s a perfectly defensible position. I disagree with that position, but I respect Susan’s perspective on it.

HH: Yup. So if it passes, then it goes to a conference committee. What do you think would happen in conference? Would a grand coalition of negotiation begin with Democrats? Would the House, would we try and get a straight up or down vote in the House? What do you think would happen?

TC: Well, first, Hugh, I’m not sure that it will go to a conference. Again, the vast majority of House Republicans voted for this very bill in December of 2015 as well. I’m not sure if it’s the full 218, but I suspect it’s close enough that with the new House Republicans, that very same bill on which most of them voted in 2015 would pass as well. So I believe that we’d be able to send this bill straight to the President for his signature. Now the phase in is two years out, so you know, it repeals the legislation now, and then it gives us a couple of years to craft a solution. It also allows senators, congressmen in both parties to take their case to the American people. In 2018 will be another election, but maybe the most defining election in which the American people get to decide who they want to craft the long term solutions for our health care system.

HH: And I’m all, I’m completely comfortable with it. If this happens, I will retract my criticisms of Heller, and I will salute Mike Lee for having been a genius. I’ve been very down on Senator Lee. He took my money and he won’t take my call. I did a fundraiser for him, and now he’s hiding from me. So I’m very down on Senator Lee this morning. I appreciate you coming on. Let me ask you about the Iran decision yesterday, because this is being lost in the health care debacle. The President agreed to go along with the Iran deal on the urging of many people in his administration. I am disappointed by that decision. What’s your reaction, Senator Cotton?

TC: I’m disappointed as well, Hugh. I understand the perspective of several administration officials. I think the President’s heart and instincts are with us, Hugh, but he has many respected officials working for him who want to, a little more time to preserve the status quo to complete their review of Iran policy. That’s a prudent step to take, but it’s getting time to stop reviewing and start deciding. Now the case I made to Secretary Tillerson last week was that we don’t have to certify under the Corker-Cardin legislation, it passed two years ago, 98-1. I was the one vote against it. One of the certifications required is under that legislation that this deal, even if Iran is complying with it entirely, is it in the vital national security interests of the United States? I wouldn’t make that certification. I wouldn’t say those words. The President said the opposite during the campaign. And Hugh, remember, under the legislation, the only consequence of failing to make the certification is that Congress can pass a law to impose sanctions. Well, Congress can do that now. So you shouldn’t listen to the media, to the Democrats saying that failure to make that certification would somehow blow up the deal or violate our obligations. It has nothing to do with the terms of the deal itself. It’s only under that legislation. And in fact, I would say that failing to make that certification would have given Secretary Tillerson more leverage with our European partners showing that there’s a large number of officials in Washington who are dissatisfied with the terms of the deal, and that if they don’t give more in terms of getting tough on Iran, next time, it may be under the deal itself.

HH: Senator Cotton, good luck. Are you having a conference today? Is there going to be a meeting of Republicans?

TC: Every Tuesday at lunch, Hugh, yes, sir.

HH: Please tell them for me that they wear the brand of Obamacare if they vote no on Senator McConnell’s thing, and people will never forget. They will never forget. They will not forgive politically. Good friendships can continue, but they can’t stay in office. Please relay that for me.

End of interview.


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