You have probably seen a lot of tape of Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton’s townhall where Obamacare fans turned out in significant numbers to challenge the need to repeal the law. I spoke with the senator Thursday morning about Wednesday night’s meeting:
HH: Joined now by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. Senator Cotton, welcome back. You were all over MS last night, MSNBC with little clips of a town hall that you hosted. First of all, when was that town hall?
TC: Hey, thanks, Hugh. It’s good to be on with you. That was last night. We had it at Springdale High School in Northwest Arkansas, had about 2,300 people. I heard we had to turn away another five or six hundred, unfortunately. We had moved twice from a 400 person venue to a 1,200 person venue. So we had a pretty big turnout. It’s nice to see so many Arkansans.
HH: First, my compliments for you on how you conducted yourself. I cannot tell what the entire meeting was like, because I’ve only seen a couple of clips, including one woman who I do not doubt for a second believes Obamacare saved her life. But that’s the one clip. It’s the most dramatic clip, and TV always reduces a large event to a very small segment. Give us a larger flavor for how it went last night and what you heard.
TC: Well, it was certainly very large, very free-wheeling, wide-ranging conversation with a big crowd, Hugh. So as I pointed out, a few of them had uncovered that not many people in the crowd were Donald Trump supporters, but that’s fine. They’re still Arkansans, and I still represent them in the Senate, and I’m glad to hear from them. And a lot of talk about Obamacare, Hugh, some talk about immigration, some talk about foreign policy as well. You know, the point I was trying to make last night, as I’ve been trying to make for four years now is I have no doubt that some people benefited from Obamacare. Some people received insurance, and some people have had some problems that were once prevalent in our insurance system now resolved, like lifetime caps on insurance policies. There’s no doubt about that, Hugh. But as some other people in the audience said, they’ve been hurt by Obamacare. They’ve had their premiums go up. They lost their insurance plan. They haven’t been able to access a doctor. I think that we can address the problems with our health care system without creating more problems in it the way Obamacare did. That’s what I’m focused on doing.
HH: Now I’m curious, did someone stand up and actually say that, that Obamacare was not good for them?
TC: Yes, sir. We had a single mother of three who’s working three jobs who lost her health care plan, who thanked me for my positions and for repealing Obamacare and trying to replace it with affordable, quality, personalized care. And Hugh, if we can do that for that single mom, we can do it for the people who said they were worried about their life if they lost Obamacare. Our health care system was broken long before Obamacare came along. Obamacare claimed to fix it It’s actually made it worse in most cases.
HH: Now the reason I bring this up is I didn’t see anyone stand up and make that point in all of the coverage. I’ve been watching the coverage, and I just, I can’t imagine that there aren’t people going there to say my deductible, because they email me. They tweet me. My deductible’s $6,000 dollars, I effectively don’t have health insurance. My premiums have gone up.
TC: Yeah, no, we definitely had some people who would appear to be Republicans, or at least had more Republican concerns like that woman. We had a man who was very worried about the national debt. So you don’t always see those in the national media, but you know, last night is not about the national media, Hugh. Last night was about Arkansans. And as I, when someone was complaining about Donald Trump, I said look, you know, I will support Donald Trump’s policies when they’re good for Arkansas, and I will oppose them when they’re bad for Arkansas. I think they’re going to be good for Arkansas a lot more often than Barack Obama’s were. But in the end, last night, and what I do in the Senate is not about Donald Trump. It’s about us as Arkansans.
HH: Well, that’s what I believe, and I just, the reason I’m talking to you about it this morning, though, is media now has a new narrative. They go to all of these town halls, they find the most emotional, perhaps the most evocative and sympathetic voice, they put it up, and they are trying to do a tea party 2.0 from the left. And it might work, by the way. I think the tea party was organic and spontaneous.
HH: But this appears to be, they’re local people. They’re genuine, they’re real people. I don’t deny that for a second. But there’s a conscious effort of the media to help them in this.
TC: Yeah, you know, Hugh, as one lady said last night, that she was from Fayetteville, Arkansas, and she was not paid to be there, and I said to her, you know, ma’am, I know that some people in the national media have claimed that you’re just paid protesters. I couldn’t care less if you’re paid or not. You’re all Arkansans, and I represent you, and I’m glad to hear from you. I will say that it’s not surprising that the national media doesn’t present questions that are critical of the left. And as I had to explain to everyone a couple of times in that auditorium, very big crowd, 2,200 people, you don’t get that often in politics. But we just had an election, and in Arkansas, Donald Trump got 61% of the vote. And if you thought that had changed any, there was a poll out here in Arkansas over the weekend that showed 60% of Arkansans approve of the job he’s doing. So I was there listening to 2,200 people whether they supported me or not, but there’s three million Arkansans that I have to listen to when I do my job every day.
HH: That is so well put, and I want Republicans to remember that. Now let’s talk about specifics, because it also came up, the President’s address in Congress next week. I am hoping that he will call for the rapid execution of a supplemental appropriation for the Department of Defense. It may be the most urgent thing he’s got to get done. Do you know if that’s on his agenda?
TC: Well, I certainly hope it’s on the agenda, Hugh. It’s something that we’ve needed for a very long time. This is not future year spending. This is spending right now at this very moment to stop the continued drawdown of the troop levels in the Marine Corps and the Army to get our pilots the parts and the training they need, whether they’re downrange or whether they’re in a schoolhouse in the United States, and to be a down payment for the much bigger buildup that we’ll need in next year’s budget and in the following year’s budget. I think we’ve lost a little bit of momentum here. We need to figure out exactly what we need. I propose $26 billion dollars before we get into this year’s next budget debate in late March and early April.
HH: You see, it’s also an early, easy win that we need. It’s critically important. And of course, I’m running into lefties who say he hasn’t done anything. I say well, they passed a budget that allows for reconciliation that allows for 51 votes. The Congressional Review Act has turned back two bad rules and more bad rules are about to be repealed. You’ve got to give the guy a month to stand up his government, and he’s got the best national security team since Eisenhower, especially with the addition of General McMaster. But I do kind of get a relentless negativity from everywhere in the media except our friends at Fox, and they sometimes aren’t aware of the pratfalls that attend Donald Trump. When does the media start to cover it all, Senator Cotton?
HH: Hugh, it’s a good question. You should ask more of your friends in the mainstream media. In the end, you know, what I hear from people all across Arkansas, and not just last night at that big event, but at many of the smaller events, you know, whether I’m down at Wal-Mart shopping, or you know, meeting people on the street or in restaurants is they want Donald Trump to succeed, because they want our country to succeed. They want him to create a healthy, growing economy that’s got more jobs, higher wages, make our streets safe, make America respected in the world. In the end, Hugh, that’s what Donald Trump and all of us will be judged on, not the hair on fire media coverage of Donald Trump’s first month in office, but how we perform for the American people.
HH: And the hair on fire has a very alarming side effect. I rank our international challenges in this order – North Korea, ISIS, Iran, the People’s Republic of China, Russia, Pakistan, Pakistan’s instability and they have nuclear weapons. You might have a different set of priorities. But each of those are potentially catastrophic instabilities, potentially catastrophic instabilities. Running around and talking about Donald Trump’s alleged anti-Semitism, when I have never seen any evidence of anti-Semitism by a man whose grandchildren are Jewish, just seems to me to be crazy on the part of the media. What say you, Senator?
TC: You know, I mean, those challenges are all very grave. And you’re right that any one of them could be extremely dangerous just on a moment’s notice. And I would like to see more media coverage of that. I’d like to see more media coverage of what’s happening out here in places like Arkansas with Obamacare and premium hikes, or what’s happening with the impact of illegal immigrant crime in our communities, or the effect that mass immigration has had on wages and jobs for Americans. You know, the media is, for a long time, hasn’t had that kind of substantive focus. It’s more just had, you know, more process and horse race focus. But in the end, we need to focus on what matters for the American people, and that’s actually delivering those results for them, not those, not whatever you see on cable news on a minute by minute basis.
HH: Now Senator Cotton, let me turn to my biggest complaint about Team Trump, which is they are slow to stand up the government. There are some reports this morning that we’ll get a couple of appointees for State. DOD is largely, I don’t know if you’ve have any nominations pending before the Armed Services Committee. I don’t think you have a Secretary of Navy officially up there, yet, or a Secretary of the Army. Mr. Viola withdrew, and I know you don’t have an undersecretary nominee. And 18 Circuit Court judges, I don’t know if any of those are Arkansas seats. Are there?
TC: No, Hugh, we’re actually fully stocked on our courts.
HH: Okay, so you don’t have to worry about that. But have you talked to the leader about getting this judge pipeline rolling?
TC: Well, actually, Hugh, Mitch McConnell has been talking to Senate Republicans for a long time. That’s one of his top priorities, is to get judges nominated and confirmed in the Senate. We have over a 100 empty vacancies, as you say, 18 Circuit seats. Senators obviously play a large role in the screening and the winnowing down of those choices, especially at the district court. If we had an opening in Arkansas, I would be right on top of it. We don’t, so I haven’t been. But you know, that’s again, when you think about the things that matter and the things that last in this first month, probably the biggest thing has been the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, and at a slightly lower level, you could say the same thing with the Circuit Courts and the district courts. And I really hope that my Senate colleagues are doing so in their states, and that now that Jeff Sessions is on board, he and Don McGahn and the White House are starting to really get busy on nominating those judges, because those are seats we need to fill.
HH: Chuck Grassley has scheduled hearings, I believe, on March 20th, which would get him on in time for the April hearing, which has the April sitting, which has one of the most important free exercise cases probably in the last 30 years, the Missouri Playground Tire Recycling case, which I can explain at great length to someone down the road. And so I’m just hoping that the Senate works hard. Now last question, Senator, I don’t know if the minority can keep you from going into formal recess, but if Donald Trump has nominated people, I am hoping he recess appointments them when you guys go away, because I don’t think you’re getting any cooperation from the Senate on just ordinary stuff, your Democratic colleagues. Am I right about that?
TC: Hugh, can I just say the intersection of the Free Exercise clause and the Missouri Tire Recycling is why people tune into all across the nation.
TC: So first, on your first point, Hugh, yeah, Chuck Grassley has scheduled a hearing on Neil Gorsuch for about three weeks from now, and we all hope that we can confirm him before our Easter recess, because the Court, as usual, has some pretty consequential cases to be heard in April. On the recess appointment, I believe that the motion to adjourn or recess is a debatable motion, Hugh, which means it takes 60 votes. I’m not sure about that, though. I’m still learning some of the more obscure aspects of the Senate rules.
HH: Well, you did go to Harvard Law. They’re not very detail-oriented there.
TC: (laughing) That’s right. They’re for grand concepts.
HH: (laughing) Grand concepts. And did you see, did you ever had Laurence Tribe? Did you ever have Laurence Tribe?
TC: Regrettably, no, I missed Professor Tribe.
HH: Well, the other night, Professor Tribe and E.J. Dionne, who’s a good friend of mine, were on with Lawrence, who’s a fine guy. And they were talking about invoking the 25th Amendment. Is that insane or what?
TC: Oh, man, Hugh, again, this is the kind of hair on fire coverage and sentiment you’ve seen on the far left and in the media. We just had an election. Donald Trump won, and you know, Donald Trump is trying to deliver on his campaign promises. If people don’t like his performance, they’ll have a chance to send a message in the midterms in 2018 and vote him out in 2020. That’s the way our country’s always worked.
HH: Senator Tom Cotton, always great to talk to you. Thank you, Senator. Well done last night. I kind of assumed that if you can patrol the Baghdad suburbs, you’re not going to worry too much about a town hall with some upset people. I’ll be right back, but you’ll listen to them. You’ll listen to them.
End of interview.