Arkansas U.S. Senator Tom Cotton returned to the program to discuss the Iran “deal” outlined today:
HH: I’m sorry to have to welcome back in one day Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, not that I don’t like to talk to Senator Cotton, but the circumstance is unusual and is only because the disaster we feared has happened. Senator Cotton, welcome back.
TC: Thanks, Hugh, it’s good to be on with you, even under these circumstances. Actually, I can’t say you’re exactly right. You said the disaster we feared has happened. In fact, it seems to be worse than what we had feared.
HH: Specify, because I don’t have the 100 plus pages. I only have distillations of them.
TC: Well, to put it simply, Iran, which is a terrorist-sponsoring, anti-American outlaw regime, will keep its nuclear program, and we will eliminate sanctions. And much of that will happen in just the upcoming months, but even the conventional arms embargo, or the ballistic missile embargo, will be lifted. So in a matter of eight to ten years, if Iran follows the agreement down to every specific detail, they will still be a nuclear-armed state with a ballistic missile program, a healthy economy whose military has been enriched with tens of billions of dollars, and that’s to say nothing of whether they will follow the agreement, which would be the first time the ayatollahs have done so, and what they’ll do in the immediate aftermath of this deal, flush with that cash and ascendant in the Middle East.
HH: Ambassador Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, began the program today by pointing out that this is surely going to launch a nuclear arms race, and it’s very rare for the Arab states to agree with Israel, but they are on the same page on this. Is that getting through to your Democratic colleagues?
TC: Hugh, the nuclear arms race is already on in the Middle East, and yes, Republican and Democrats alike in the Senate are well aware because of meetings with senior leaders from Middle Eastern countries as well as ambassadors that many countries will not allow Iran to have this kind of nuclear threshold capability without a commensurate capability of their own. Then you will have the world’s most volatile region crisscrossed with nuclear tripwires without the kind of safeguards, and without the kind of vast nuclear infrastructure that the Soviet Union and the United States had throughout the Cold War.
HH: I’ve already had on Senators Graham and Gardner, and I’ll be asking your colleague, Senators Sullivan and Thune and Risch this question. It’s a procedural question. The Senate is due to go on recess on August 10th through September 7th. I have told them, and I’ll tell you, it’ll be hard to persuade my audience that this is as serious as it is if the Congress goes on vacation for four weeks. Think that recess ought to be cancelled?
TC: Hugh, I’m open to modifying the recess, whether it means to stay in session longer, to complete all the hearings of the Foreign Relations Committee, Intelligence Committee and Armed Services Committee need to conduct, or returning earlier so we have more time to debate the final resolution of disapproval on the back end. I would offer a little bit different perspective, though. I think it’s a good thing for Senators and Congressmen to have to go home and listen to their constituents about this agreement. If you recall, Hugh, Obamacare faced some of its toughest times during the August recess in 2009 when Senators and Congressmen went home and had town halls and faced their votes. Furthermore, if you recall, when Obamacare passed, it was in the dead of night on a weekend specifically because Nancy Pelosi didn’t want her caucus going home to hear from the people they serve. So I actually think it could be a healthy thing to have some period of time during this 60 day window that will be coming up for Senators and Congressmen to have to be in their districts and in their states listening to those people they serve, because I’m confident the American people will repudiate this agreement.
HH: You know, I don’t disagree with that if it’s other than a long-standing scheduled recess, because right now, I’m reading from the Washington Wire this morning, it’s been on the books for a long time, August 10th through September 7th. And so if it’s ordinary business, business as usual, and you go off for four weeks, that sense of urgency isn’t there, and it will be hard to find focus. If you go and you come and you go and come, and there are hearings and you focus and there’s new data and you focus, because I mean, this is 150 dense pages and all the annexes, appendices aren’t out, yet. It’ll be easier to maintain urgency in the public and generate crowds for those town halls if in fact your Democratic colleagues go in harm’s way of the public, which they’ve proven increasingly adept at avoiding.
TC: Granted, Hugh, I can understand that viewpoint. And some of this is just a practical question that’ll depend on the timing and be a matter of prudence.
TC: For instance, the 60 day clock has not yet started running, because the Congress has not received certain certifications from, say, the Director of National Intelligence and other officials required to start that clock running. So it’ll really be a practical question and a judgment of prudence based on when the clock starts running, the number of hearings we can have this month, and when we’ll need to vote in September. But I do think it’s a very good thing to have Congressmen and Senators at home listening to those people they serve and having to explain why we are putting a rogue, terror-sponsoring regime on the path to getting nuclear weapons.
HH: I think it’s also a very good thing to have a plan, and prudence would require that Senators McConnell and Speaker Boehner and their chief leadership team get together and say okay, we have a huge mountain to climb. And we’re at base camp of 54 Republicans and a couple of Democrats, and we have to get to 67. And so here’s how we’re going to do that. Do you see any sign that it’s going to be other than ad hoc and he just hope it works out?
TC: I do see those signs, Hugh. Remember, this should be the best day that the administration has, and the advocates of this deal have in pitching this deal. And I don’t think they had a very good day. You see great reservations from many of their champions in the media. You hear very little from Democratic Senators and Congressmen. Those Democratic Senators and Congressmen who have said more have expressed their doubts. Even Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, has expressed severe doubts about this plan. This deal is kind of like big spending packages that get passed in the dead of night in Congress. They don’t hide the good stuff in those things, Hugh. The good stuff is already out. Now, in the coming days, the American people are going to learn all of the terrible details about this deal, and it’s going to go downhill from there, and I think you’ll see more and more individual Senators and Congressmen in the Democratic Party say they simply can’t support this agreement.
HH: Yeah, that’s what Ambassador Dermer did, and that’s why I led off the show with him. He laid out the four best arguments. And I assume the elevator pitch will get better here, and if I can keep you over one segment, I’d love to, because here’s what I think we also have to explain to people. What happens if the Senate actually votes no and the Congress actually votes no and overrides the President’s veto? We’ve got 30 seconds to the break, Senator, do you want to take a swing at that before the break?
TC: Well, Hugh, if we reject this deal, which we should, then we can simply impose the old sanctions, and we can re-impose new sanctions. Remember we were the weakest link in these negotiations. The government of, say, France, the socialist government, wanted to draw a harder line. So in many cases, it was the United States that insisted other countries accommodate Iran’s interests. We would return to a position of strength, not a position of weakness and supplication.
HH: If I can keep you, I will. I want to ask you about the inspection regime. It’s not really an inspection regime. It’s a free pass. But we’ll talk about that if Senator Cotton can stick around.
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HH: On the lower third of CNN right now, Obama, criticism of Iran nuclear deal is misguided. Senator Tom Cotton, the President’s not going to let up on any of you for even a moment.
TC: Hugh, the President’s deal is misguided, and it would be an historic and grave mistake for Congress to ratify it. Again, we started these negotiations in the President’s own words to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program. The result of this deal is Iran gets to keep their nuclear deal, they get tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief. We also lift the arms embargo. And what does the United States have to show for it in return? Iran can become a nuclear threshold state in a matter of months if they violate the agreement, as they’ve done with every major agreement in 36 years under the ayatollahs, or in barely a decade if they follow the agreement. That’s not a good deal. That’s a bad deal. And as the President said, no deal is better than a bad deal.
HH: Now one of the things that is unique to you is the experience of searching door to door in an Arab country. Now of course, Iran’s a Persian country, but you had to lead Rangers looking for things. They get 24 days’ notice before we show up to look for things. How much can be moved in 24 days?
TC: Well, Hugh, the inspections regime is wholly inadequate. We certainly can’t trust the Iranian regime to cooperate with weapons inspectors. This is not a government like South Africa that wanted to come clean and truly, truly dismantle its nuclear program. And just think about the terms you’re talking about here. Even the very dedicated inspectors at the IAEA are going to land in Tehran. They’re not going to speak the language. They’re going to be working with an uncooperative government. They’re probably going to be given vehicles without air conditioning and hotel rooms without warm water. And they’re going to be looking for something that could fit in, say, the size of a basketball gym in a country that is two and a half times the size of Texas. That is a recipe for failure and a recipe for a nuclear Iran.
HH: That’s the kind of talking point that we need to express this. Good luck, Senator Cotton, in making that. Will you be writing about this, this weekend, for anyone?
TC: I’ll be both speaking and writing in the coming days, and really for the next several weeks. I think this is a defining moment not just for this Congress, not just for his year, Hugh, maybe not just for this decade, but for this century.
HH: Well, you’ve got a new baby. By the time that baby’s in high school, they’ll be a nuclear state.
TC: Hugh, actually, by the time my little baby is in 5th grade, under the terms of this deal, they could be a nuclear-armed state.
HH: That’s remarkable. I mean, it just goes by so fast. What a terrible deal. Senator Tom Cotton, good to speak with you, thank you.
End of interview.