The outspoken junior senator from the great state of Arkansas joined Hugh at the Heritage Foundation to talk politics and the Iran deal. Here is the audio and transcript.
HH: United States Senator Tom Cotton joins Eliana Johnson of National Review and me in the Heritage Foundation studios. Senator Cotton, I think you may be the only member of the Senate not running for president. Is that still the case?
TC: Well, Hugh, it’s certainly the case for me.
TC: The only challenge I face these days is trying to assemble baby cribs and strollers and car seats.
HH: Are we getting close?
TC: Ten days from today is the due date, and no later than 14 days from today.
HH: Congratulations. No later?
TC: I think, oh, we’ve got a date for inducement, yeah.
TC: I think mom may be ready to go right now.
HH: Are you going to…
TC: So if I get a text message and run out of here, you’ll understand why.
HH: Would you please talk to Mrs. Cotton and tell her that you never miss Monday, and so if the baby comes on a Monday, you’re just going to have to call from the delivery room, because you’re pretty regular on Monday.
TC: Well, I can’t say that I’m going to provide all that much help in the delivery room, since we haven’t had any training or classes or anything. We did get baby CPR last week, so we’ll be ready to slap his back if he starts choking on something.
HH: Isn’t it Rangers lead the way? Don’t you know how to do everything? Don’t they teach you delivery at the Ranger school?
TC: No, I always found it relatively easy to cope with the battlefield, the blood and gore you might see. But I don’t care too much for the antiseptic hospital side of it.
HH: All right, well, we’ll let you off the hook. Now Senator Cotton, two big stories today. They’re named Marco and Hillary. So Senator Rubio declared for president. We played his speech in the first hour. He talked about a new generation of leadership necessary for America. A) I know he’s your friend, but what do you think about this new generation leadership, well aware that you’re talking to a 59 year old?
TC: (laughing) 59 is not a new generation, Hugh?
HH: (laughing) No, it is. It’s a generation younger than Hillary.
TC: Well, it will be the first time in some time that the Republican nominee is apt to be substantially younger than the Democratic nominee. And if you just look over recent open elections, 2008, 2000 and 1992, although it technically wasn’t an open election, often times, the American people when they’re looking for change are looking for a new generation. And we have a lot of great candidates running, and I think they’re all providing good contrast not just to Hillary Clinton, who’s been at the height of American politics for at least 23 years, maybe 41 years, depending on how you look at it, but also a Republican Party that is the source of new ideas and policies and reforms that are going to prepare the American government to meet the 21st Century demands of the American people, whereas the Democratic Party is largely out of ideas. It’s intellectually exhausted and running on stale, tired ideas from the 1970s.
HH: So Senator Cotton, what did you make of yesterday, President Obama, or two days ago saying about Raul Castro I don’t need dilemmas that began before I was born, in many respects, dismissing the need for troops, American troops, in Korea? I mean, it was really one of the more naïve statements I’ve ever heard an American president make, simply just saying I’m going to do this because it began before I was born. What about the Cuba rapprochement, then we’ll deal with the Iranian question?
TC: Well, the President has a pattern of making naïve statements, and certainly we do have problems today that date back just not to 1961, I believe, when the President was born, but date back centuries. And we’re still dealing with those challenges in today’s world, and it shows a kind of intellectual indifferent attitude to confront those challenges, which are very real threats to the United States.
HH: Let me then ask you about the Iran deal. The President got very upset. And Eliana, I think you might have to hit that microphone right next to you in case you want to, that probably doesn’t work, so maybe you want to use this one over here, okay, in case you want to jump in. The President got very mad at John McCain for saying John Kerry was delusional on my show on Thursday. And he said this down in Panama on Saturday. What do you think of Senator McCain’s characterization of Senator Kerry and the President’s reaction to it?
TC: Well, maybe the President, after meeting with Raul Castro, is focused on suppressing domestic dissent and any objections of his policy. John McCain is a decorated war hero, a man that spent over five years in a prison of war camp. If he wants to opine on critical national security matters as a United States Senator, and as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, I think the American people want to hear what he has to say And frankly, when you compare what President Obama and Secretary Kerry have said, or the white paper they released to what senior Iranian leaders have said, with the white paper they released, you have to ask what agreement did we reach at all? I would say there is no deal. There is no framework. There is just a long list of concessions the United States made. And Iran, to the extent that it made any concessions, is now walking those back, pocketing what we made, waiting for the next round of negotiations to get more for less.
HH: Eliana, a quick question from you?
EJ: Yeah, I hear from conservatives two different things. First, I think there’s a group that thinks the President is a radical. And so what we’re seeing happen on the world stage right now is exactly what he’s intended. And another groups says he’s naïve, and so he doesn’t know what he’s doing. And what are your thoughts on where the President’s coming from? And does it matter in terms of how Republicans deal with him, negotiate with him, talk to him?
TC: I don’t think the results in Switzerland earlier this month were the result of incompetence or naïveté or bad negotiating strategy, although some of that may be present. But I think it’s the result of an ideological commitment. So the President is ideologically determined to have a grand rapprochement with Iran, and he can’t do that unless he has some kind of nuclear agreement with them, no matter the terms of that nuclear agreement. This goes back to his earliest days in office when he did not stand by the Green movement when Ayatollah Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinjad stole an election in May and June of 2009. It goes back to statements he made during the campaign. Now why he has that commitment is really a question of motives, and I don’t know what his motives are, and I’m not eager to question them. But I would say it’s a matter of his ideology, not incompetence or naiveté.
HH: Now can Secretary of State Clinton distance herself from this Iranian deal, however this turns out, and this Iranian policy, however it unfolds, which I think is going to be disastrous and badly, but can she get away from it?
TC: Secretary of State Clinton fully owns the Iran policy of the Obama administration. She and one of her senior advisors, Jake Sullivan, helped conduct the negotiations secretly in Oman throughout 2012 that led to the joint plan of action that has reached us to the point where we are today. So as to quote Jeb Bush from your show a few weeks ago, there’s no way that Hillary Clinton can Heisman, stiff-arm the President’s foreign policy, not just on Iran, but anywhere else.
HH: Now today, it was announced that the Russians are going to sell the S-300 missile defense system to Iran as a result of the breakthroughs achieved. How can they say that in good faith when there is no agreement? I mean, this doesn’t make any sense.
TC: Well, this just goes to show that Russia is not a partner. We certainly shouldn’t be treating them as a negotiating partner or friend in the P5+1. They’re a rival and an adversary. Vladimir Putin has said that for years. And their agreement today to transfer missiles to Iran as well as transfer more goods in exchange for oil just show they are a continual irritant in the United States, and our interests and policies around the world. It also goes to show how hard it would be if we consummate a final deal to actually impose new sanctions dealing with Russian not just at the U.N. Security Council, but in bilateral relationships as well.
HH: See, and we’ve got about a minute to the break, Tom Cotton, that the President waived that off last week. He said this isn’t going to be a Security Council kind of deal that Russia can veto. I didn’t really quite understand what he meant, and then he went on to say that Iran is going to have a weapon in 13, 14, 15 years again, almost conceding the points of the critics. Has the President in essence conceded your case and said it doesn’t matter?
TC: Well, the first point is to continued negotiation, they haven’t discussed how they would impose new sanctions. I would say the President, though, is logically contradicting himself. In his Rose Garden speech on this framework, he said on the one hand sanctions haven’t stopped Iran from accumulating centrifuges, nor would new sanctions stop them. On the other hand, though, he said if Iran violates the terms of this proposal, we would impose new sanctions. Both of those things can’t be true.
HH: Okay, I’ll be right back with Senator Tom Cotton of the great state of Arkansas.
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HH: Senator Cotton, I want to go back to something we closed with in this short segment. The President has conceded that Iran under the terms of the non-agreement agreement hologram will have a nuke. Even under the best conditions, they will have a nuke in 12 years. That’s before your soon-to-be born child will be out of junior high school.
TC: That’s right, Hugh. It’s hard to interpret his comments in the NPR interview any differently, or the White House’s own fact sheet. They say their goal now is not to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, but to prevent them from getting one within just one year. And many of the terms last for ten years. So I don’t see how you could interpret it in any way other than Iran could have a nuclear bomb in just 11 years, and that’s if they follow every single term of the proposal, which Iran does not have a history of doing with nuclear agreements. Now he said 13 to 15 years, but regardless, whether it’s 11 years or whether it’s 15 years, that’s within most of our lifetimes. As you say, it’s before my unborn child even gets into high school. And I don’t want American to live under the shadow of a nuclear Iran for the rest of our life. Look what happened when North Korea got the bomb after just 12 years when they reached the agreed framework in 1994.
EJ: I was talking with a foreign policy expert who has helped advise some of the potential 2016 candidates, and he said to me something that I was surprised to hear, which was that he doesn’t think 2016 will be a foreign policy election, because there won’t be that much room between the positions Hillary Clinton is likely to stake out, and the position of the eventual nominee on the Republican side. What are your thoughts on that? And how would, what advice would you give to the Republican nominee about creating contrasts between their record or their positions and those of Hillary Clinton?
TC: Well, I don’t think 2016 will be only a foreign policy election. Elections never are, in part because the economy is still so weak and so many people are still struggling to make ends meet. They’re working part-time jobs, or if they have full-time jobs, they haven’t received a raise throughout the Obama administration. So there’s still very real concerns that working Arkansans, working Americans all around the country have. But when Ronald Reagan got elected in 1980, it wasn’t only a foreign policy election. It was very much about the stagnant economy of the 1970s and soviet revanchism throughout the 1970s. I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton will be able to stiff-arm President Obama’s policies around the world in part because she is the author of so many of those policies. She’s the one who took the reset button to Russia with Russia now invading countries in Eastern Europe and their rebel-supplied thugs shooting civilian airliners out of the sky. She’s the one who started down the path of these negotiations with Iran. She is responsible for a whole host of Barack Obama’s failed foreign policies. And as we’ve seen over the last 24 hours, she is showing no inclination to distancing herself from President Obama’s policies, whether domestic or foreign. So the Republican candidate, whoever he or she may end up being, simply needs to run on traditional conservative principles of peace through strength, standing with our allies, confronting our adversaries, providing global stability and order that’s benefited the United States and the world since World War II ended.
HH: Now as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee, I just want to cover one base after the Raul Castro thing. Any indication that the administration intends to relinquish Guantanamo, and B) Is there anything in our agreements with Cuba that prevent Russia or China, two of our adversaries, geopolitically, with the assets available to deploy to Cuba, from doing so?
TC: So to answer your first question, Hugh, no, we’ve seen no indication of that. It’s important to distinguish when you’re talking about Guantanamo, the detention facility from the naval base as a whole.
TC: I was there with most other freshmen on the Armed Services and Intel Committees just a few weeks ago. And while the detention center gets most of the attention nationally, we can never underestimate the value of Guantanamo Bay Naval Station for projecting power throughout the greater Caribbean basin, protecting our allies, protecting our interests throughout the greater Caribbean basin, to include the northern part of South America. Now second question, is there anything in our coming agreements that the administration is reaching with the Castro regime that would allow countries like Russia and China to have access to Cuba, that’s not yet been briefed to Congress. I’m not sure that they have reached that conclusion. It would obviously be very unwise and dangerous to allow such kind of, that kind of interference in the Western Hemisphere where the United States for 200 years has been the dominant hegemon for peaceful purposes.
HH: Apparently, Russia few within 20 feet of an intelligence plane yesterday, or two days ago. And Putin, of course, has invaded Crimea and Ukraine. He’s selling this, and I don’t put anything past him, because he seems revanchist, almost provocative. Does this come up at all on the Hill, that he may just be not the most rational of people?
TC: Well, Vladimir Putin spent a lifetime in the KGB. That’s how he grew up. And he’s still a KGB officer through and through. And buzzing our aircraft earlier this month in Eastern Europe is nothing new. They’ve been doing that to NATO allies for several months now, in additional to all the points that we’ve discussed about invading Ukraine, shooting a civilian airliner out of the sky with their rebels, even supposedly kidnapping an Estonian intelligence officer last September. They continually probe the borders and the boundaries of acceptable conduct with our NATO partners in places like Estonia. And that’s one reason why we need to stand up to Vladimir Putin, stand up to Russia, make it clear that the cost of aggression against NATO in particular, but against his revanchism in general, is unacceptably high.
HH: Senator Tom Cotton, always a pleasure, thanks for joining me at the Heritage Foundation.
TC: Thank you, great to be on with you.
End of interview.