Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton joined me this morning:
HH: Pleased to welcome United States Senator Tom Cotton to the program. Good morning, Senator.
TC: Good morning, Hugh, good to be on with you as always.
HH: Thank you. Senator, I want to begin because on the television in my studio, Ben Rhodes is holding forth, and the caption says U.S. Foreign Policy in the Age of Donald Trump. Now former Deputy of National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes was in the White House when the Syrian genocide occurred, the Libyan fiasco that descended into chaos, Russia seized Crimea in Eastern Ukraine, the Iranian deal was struck and $1.3 billion dollars in cash given to the Iranian Quds Force, North Korea got 65 nuclear weapons, Turkey slipped further and further out of the NATO alliance, Israel was put on the back burner and relations dropped to an all-time low, immigration swept across Europe, and of course, Ben Rhodes played the media as he said like an echo chamber. Would you pay any attention to this guy?
TC: Man, Hugh, just hearing you recount all that brought back the bad, old Obama era. And it’s hard to recall just how bad the foreign policy of the United States was in those eight years, and what a bad hand the President was dealt when he started. So no, Hugh, given that calamitous record, I would, I think you know, it had an exclamation point put on it, the final days of the Obama era, and Russians were mercilessly bombing women and children in Aleppo in Syria. I’m not sure that I would take foreign policy advice from any people who were involved in crafting the Obama era foreign policy.
HH: I mean, I think I would go away to a monastery and pray for a while if that was my record. Now I have to turn to one of your colleagues, and I know the Senate rules about not criticizing your colleagues. But yesterday, Senator Richard Blumenthal, who is like you a lawyer, he may even be a Harvard Law graduate like you. I’m not sure. And you Harvard Law graduates can be pretty smart. I don’t know where he went to law school. Senator Blumenthal said this about Brett Kavanaugh, long quote:
RB: I hope you agree with me. We’re not going to allow Brett Kavanaugh on the United States Supreme Court without a real fight of our lives. And we’re going to make sure America knows what’s at stake. And it’s not just reproductive rights. It’s also protections for health care. Millions of Americans who suffer from preexisting conditions. And everybody thinks preexisting condition must be something that affects someone else, right? Well, it’s every one of us – diabetes, heart disease, obesity, drug addiction, and yes, pregnancy is a preexisting condition. Are we going to roll back those protections for Americans with preexisting conditions? Absolutely not. Now Brett Kavanaugh is in effect a get out of jail free card for Donald Trump. He is a way for Donald Trump to protect himself, because Brett Kavanaugh has said, just coincidentally, he doesn’t think the president of the United States ought to be subpoenaed to a grand jury. How convenient. He doesn’t think the president is barred from refusing to enforce a law. He thinks a president can refuse to enforce the law even if the courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have said it’s valid and Constitutional. The president would in effect be a monarch. The president would be a monarch if Brett Kavanaugh becomes a Supreme Court justice. I don’t think Americans want an imperial presidency, do you?
HH: So Senator, let me play just the last clip so you can make sure you heard it correctly.
RB: The President would in effect be a monarch. The President would be a monarch if Brett Kavanaugh becomes a Supreme Court justice.
HH: Tom Cotton, what do you say to something like that?
TC: Well, Hugh, I met with Brett Kavanaugh yesterday, and I don’t recognize the person that Senator Blumenthal is describing. Brett Kavanaugh seemed like both a brilliant jurist and a non-threatening suburban dad to me, not a monarch. I am, you know, Senator Blumenthal is entitled to vote against Brett Kavanaugh. I think he’s already said he’s going to vote against Brett Kavanaugh. But virtually every claim he made there is inaccurate. And I should mention that Senator Blumenthal condemned Barack Obama when Barack Obama declined to enforce the Save, the Defense of Marriage Act. And you know, Brett Kavanaugh on the Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. has repeatedly shown himself willing to strike down executive actions of both administrations, which is pretty far from being a monarch. And as far as all of his claims about health care, I mean, Brett Kavanaugh is not going to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services. He’s going to be a Supreme Court justice. It’s up to the Congress and to our state legislatures to decide health care policy for this country. I support giving coverage to people with preexisting conditions. I suspect Richard Blumenthal does as well. That’s not really the province, though, of the Supreme Court.
HH: I am just amazed that the United States Senator goes on and says the President would in effect be a monarch. The President would be a monarch if Brett Kavanaugh becomes a Supreme Court justice. You know, people hear that, and they actually believe this stuff. And it makes me wonder about the basic obligation to be truthful of elected officials. And this is not truthful.
TC: Well, I think Senator Blumenthal us using a little hyperbole there. He knows that Donald Trump and any other president is not going to be a monarch. They’re subjected to the people’s judgment in four years, and we shall get to determine if they win reelection. And as I said, Judge Kavanaugh has shown himself more than willing to stop unlawful executive action. He did that on the Court of Appeals in Washington, and I’m sure he’ll do it again on the Supreme Court if he finds it.
HH: Now I talked yesterday with Chairman Grassley who does not anticipate Kavanaugh hearings in August. He anticipates them in September. So you have this August period where you’re going to be there working. Will you be trying to get your friend, Mike Pompeo, some assistant secretaries? Will you try and get the Navy a general counsel? Will you try and fill up the executive branch?
TC: Yeah, so Hugh, first off, I think Chairman Grassley is why we’re looking at early September hearings. You know, the Democrats have requested millions and millions of documents, many of which Brett Kavanaugh did not originate, write or substantively review. We’re still going to produce more documents than anyone’s ever received. Of course, now the Democrats are complaining they don’t have enough staff and enough time to review those documents, so it’s clear they’re just playing Stallball, trying to run out the clock on Judge Kavanaugh, and we’re not going to let them do that. But we are going to have a thorough, searching review of his record for the American people to see, and for all undecided senators to review as well. In the meantime, we’re going to spend the month of August on a couple of issues – 1. Passing some legislation the House passed before they took their five week recess last week. So this week, we passed the Defense bill, for instance. We’re also going to work on some more spending bills later this month for the Department of Defense. The second, as you say, we’re going to confirm more members to the subcabinet as well as some of the more, some judges to the Courts of Appeals and some trial judges as well. So we just did six yesterday. So those are our two priorities for the month of August. I think it’ll be a productive time for us.
HH: Is the general counsel for the Navy on your short list, because I do think if we’re going to get to 355 ships, we’ve got to get the Navy staffed.
TC: I don’t think, Hugh, I don’t think Senator McConnell has announced the August nominations we’ll be considering when we get back after our upcoming recess. Obviously, the general counsel of all of the services is a high priority. And as soon as that nomination is ready, I suspect Senator McConnell will want to move it across the floor.
HH: Let’s talk a little bit about Pastor Brunson, if we could. Your colleague and friend, Mike Pompeo, has been in the news a lot, as has the President, as has a number of people, demanding that President Erdogan immediately release Pastor Brunson. What’s your position on this? And is there anything that the average American can do to advance the freedom of this American being held by a NATO ally?
TC: First off, I just encourage all Americans to pay for Pastor Brunson being held unlawfully in Turkey. President Erdogan had committed to releasing him, and he did put him out of jail, but he’s still on home confinement, which is a little bit better, but it’s not what it should be, which is him home with his loved ones and his friends. The Defense bill that we just passed in the Senate yesterday that the President will sign soon contains a 90 day pause on F35 procurement for Turkey for the Secretary to review and see what kind of threat that poses. I think we should consider using that as leverage to get Pastor Brunson back as well. That means 90 days, a 90 day pause, but it could be longer than that as well, and if necessary, either the President or the Congress should consider it if Pastor Brunson is not soon released.
HH: Now Senator, I’ve asked a couple of people, and it’s been ambiguous. I believe you authorized the construction simultaneously of two United States aircraft carriers. Am I correct about that?
TC: Yeah, that’s right, Hugh.
HH: Will they both be built within four to five years? Will they both be doing their sea trials within four to five years?
TC: We hope so. These are the new Ford-class carriers. The Ford itself, Hugh, as you know, has had some troubles. Sometimes, that’s the case when you have a new weapons system, especially one as large as an aircraft carrier. But we hope that those have been ironed out, and the construction time on these next two will move much faster.
HH: All right. If that’s the case, will they be full F-35 ships, because there was a published report in the National Interest last night that China has developed an airborne anti-ship missile which could threaten all of our carriers. And I’m beginning to wonder, you know, what is your assessment of their defensive capabilities as well as their offensive striking power?
TC: Hugh, I don’t know if the decision on their air wing is made, or even could be made this far out. I will say that our Navy is taking real strides to harden the defenses of our carrier battlegroups. Some of those things are classified, obviously, but the threat is real to those carrier, and the Navy recognizes that the threat is real. And working with the Congress and especially the Armed Services Committee, we’ve been taking steps to try to counteract those threats from China.
HH: Okay, my last question goes to you as chairman of the, as a member of the Intelligence Committee. Facebook took down 30-plus accounts yesterday that appear to have been linked to the Russian efforts to meddle with our elections. Do you believe we’re on top of Russia’s attempt to screw around with this again?
TC: Better than we were two years ago, Hugh, but we always have to be vigilant. This is not a one-time action by Russia. Russia has been manipulating Western opinion for decades. It’s just what they do. So we have to remain vigilant, and it’s good to see a company like Facebook taking that step. There’s probably more steps that can be taken, but it is very important that we monitor it very carefully. It’s very important that our state election authorities recognize the threat that they face, that their cyber defenses are ready, and that they have an auditable paper trail for elections so we can be sure that we have integrity in our ballot box.
HH: And is the effort on the Intel Committee bipartisan? I saw Senator Tillis. I saw Senator Warner. You often speak to it. It does seem to me like the Senate Intelligence Committee is actually acting in a bipartisan fashion vis-à-vis foreign interference with our elections.
TC: On that question, yes, Hugh. Now of course, we have our difference. You know, Ron Wyden, for instance, you know, sometimes finds himself in a minority of one on a 14-1 vote on questions about surveillance or espionage overseas. Sometimes, we will have a party line vote behind closed doors, but it’s pretty rare. And even when we do, it’s just honest, genuine differences of opinion about the right policy. Overall, though, the Senate Intelligence Committee, like the Armed Services Committee, is one of the more bipartisan committees in the Congress.
HH: Well, I appreciate you spending time with us. Please go back and do your best to stop a monarchy from taking root in the United States. Tell Senator Blumenthal we’re with him against that. We don’t want a monarchy.
TC: (laughing) So there, we can all agree on, Hugh.
HH: (laughing) Okay. Thank you, Tom Cotton. Richard Blumenthal, a monarchy, honest to God, he ought to be laughed out of town.
End of interview.