Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton joined me this morning:
HH: I am joined by United States Senator Tom Cotton. Good morning, Senator.
TC: Hey, Hugh, it’s good to be on with you.
HH: Thank you. There are two, before we move to the immigration bill, there are two stories this morning which are eyebrow-raising, and which are right in your wheelhouse as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as an Army Ranger and a combat veteran. First, we find that more than 200 mercenaries, mostly Russians, were killed by American forces in an attack on a refinery in Syria last week. And then we find this morning President Erdogan of Turkey is saying about General, Lt. General Paul Funk, it is clear that he has never received an Ottoman slap in his life, responding to General Funk who had said earlier that if Turks hit U.S. troops, they will respond. These are two very alarming stories when combined with the Israeli attack on the Iranian drone, lead me to believe that there’s a lot going on in Syria that the American public is not aware of.
TC: Well, Hugh, you’re right that Syria remains a very complex battlefield. And if anything, as our troops along with our local allies have begun to drive the Islamic State out of their caliphate, almost taking back entirely the territory that was lost nearly four years ago, the battlefield has probably become more complex. The one thing that our adversaries like Russia and Syria need to know, or our allies like Turkey need to know, is that the United States will always take the actions necessary to defend our troops as well as to protect our allies who have been fighting alongside us.
HH: Now Admiral Stavridis was my guest on MSNBC two weeks ago, and he said we urgently need a special envoy to Turkey, because we’ve got this massive Air Force base there. And when President Erdogan is basically threatening American troops and General Funk, that situation is spiraling out of control. Do you agree an envoy would be useful at this point?
TC: Hugh, Turkey is a critical ally, but also a troubled ally. President Erdogan has taken steps in the last three or four years in particular that have diminished democratic accountability and individual rights in his nation, but also, at the same time, have begun to take, or make statements, or take actions like the one you cited earlier that call into question his commitment to his NATO allies. But Turkey has, you know, on Russia’s southern flank on the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, as well as having the second-largest army in NATO, is an ally that we really need to keep. But at the same time, President Erdogan can make it hard to stay on good terms with them. So we need diplomacy at the highest levels of both governments to repair the relationship.
HH: And a last question about this Russia attack. Mercenaries, when you kill mercenaries, are you really engaging the state from which they originated?
TC: Well, Hugh, in Russia, they don’t draw much distinction between special forces and conventional forces and mercenaries and gangsters. And everything goes back to Vladimir Putin and his security services and oligarchs who have enriched him. Again, the United States will not tolerate any action that imperils our troops or our allies, or undercuts the gains we have made in Syria. And that’s something that Vladimir Putin and his Russian troops, whether they’re regulars or mercenaries, need to understand.
HH: Very well put. Now let me turn to the immigration bill. Are you an optimist that the bill introduced by Senator Grassley and co-sponsored by you will get to the floor, will get 60 votes, and will move on to the House?
TC: Hugh, I believe it will go the Senate floor, and it will get a vote. It’s to be determined it if will have 60 votes. But one thing is clear. This is the only bill that can become a law. A lot of senators have focused not just this year, but for ten years on this issue, on passing a bill, not passing a law. In 2013, they passed a bill. The House didn’t take it up. It didn’t get signed into law. The President has been very clear and repeatedly stated his four planks. On the one hand, he wants to give legal protection to young people who are brought here through no fault of their own before the age of accountability. But on the other hand, he wants to control the negative side effects of that. And that means we’ve got to secure our southern border, because we create more incentives for illegal immigration. And we have to end the practice of extended family chain migration, because we’d create a whole new pool of immigrants who could bring in their parents who created the problem in the first place, their siblings, and then ultimately their aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and nephews and nieces and so on and so forth. That’s a coherent, simple, logical package that reflects the President’s framework and that our legislation would enact. Anything besides that is not going to pass the Senate. It may not pass the Senate, but it certainly won’t pass the House and go the President for his signature.
HH: So is it fair to say that if at the end of this month or next month, it might take six weeks, the Dreamers are not on a path to citizenship, that is the fault of the Democratic Party?
TC: No question, Hugh. I mean, President Trump in a move that I think completely shocked Democrats, offered not just legal status for the 690,000 persons who are enrolled in the Obama era DACA program, but offered ultimate citizenship to 1.8 million people. If the Democrats reject that, if they refuse to take yes for an answer, then they have no one to blame but themselves.
HH: Now there are some, I think there’s some Democrats who have been activists on this from the left like Luis Gutierrez who understand this. But does Senator Durbin? I mean, this is, this is actually on the Democrats. If they destroy the Dreamer’s dreams, it’s not the Republican Party or Donald Trump who does that. It’s Dick Durbin and the Democrats. But do they understand we get that?
TC: Well, Hugh, I can tell you the ones who are up for reelection in states Donald Trump won get it. That’s one reason why the Democrats are working overtime to try to prevent votes on these bills. You know, they’ve been demanding votes for months, for years. People complain the Senate, you know, isn’t working as it once did, having open debate and open amendments. And Mitch McConnell promised over three weeks ago that we’d have an open debate and open amendment process on this issue. We get back yesterday, what do the Democrats do? They immediately start blocking votes, because they’re scared to vote on things like the President’s framework bill or an amendment to ban sanctuary cities, and so on and so forth. It’s time that we just vote on these issues. And people need to put their chips down. Now whether Senator Schumer and Senator Durbin get that, I don’t know. But you know, we don’t need their votes. We don’t need the leadership and the most extreme voices of the Democratic Party to support the President’s framework. We need 10-15 Democrats. In 2013, the Democrats didn’t go to Mitch McConnell to pass their immigration bill. They went to a handful of centrist Republican senators. All we need are 10-15 Democrats who if they don’t recognize this is the right thing to do, recognize it’s the electorally smart thing to do.
HH: You know, I can’t, last comment, Senator Cotton, I really can’t believe that they could look these Dreamers in the face having voted against their opportunity to become regularized, and then ultimately citizens. I don’t understand how they would do that. Last comment to you.
TC: I think a lot of them would not. So whatever posture, whatever Chuck Schumer and Durbin say about the votes, we don’t know where the votes are, and we don’t know what they’ll do until we put it on the floor and have a choice. It’s either the President’s framework bill, or it’s nothing.
HH: Senator Tom Cotton, great to talk to you. Thank you, Senator.
TC: Thank you.
End of interview.