Senator Tom Cotton joined me this morning:
HH: Pleased to welcome this morning Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Good morning, Senator.
TC: Hey, Hugh, good morning. It’s good to be on with you. You know, normally, I don’t join you on the top of the hour, so I don’t get to hear your French, which sounds about as bad as my Arkansas-accented French probably would if I spoke it.
HH: Bonjour, hi. My Canadian audience is large and significant, at least in Windsor, and therefore I have to say bonjour hi to them. Senator Cotton, a very serious story broke. More than 40 dead, 850 detained in Venezuelan violence, according to the UN, between January 21 and 26. 850 people detained, including 77 children, 40 people believed to have been killed by the government, 26 of them shot by pro-government forces, 5 killed in house raids, 11 during looting. So it’s spiraling into a cycle of violence there as Maduro’s thugs try to hang on. What should the United States do?
TC: Hugh, you’re right. Those are some alarming stats, and that’s one reason why the President was correct to recognize interim President Guiado as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, not Nicolas Maduro, and to martial a large international coalition to do so. We’re taking further steps, just announcing new sanctions and freezing assets, or turning over assets to that interim government. The time has come for Nicolas Maduro to go. And as violence continues in the country, I think he has to ask himself whether or not his armed forces generally support him. I’m sure many of the senior generals who benefit from his crooked kleptocracy would like to see him continue in office so they can continue riding the gravy train. I’m not so sure that all of the privates and the lieutenants whose families are starving and lack medicine and toilet paper would agree, though.
HH: Have you talked with President Trump about Venezuela?
TC: We have spoken about it, yes.
HH: How about with your friend, Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor Bolton?
TC: Spoken with the major players in the administration as well as my colleagues in the Senate about the issue. This is something I think where almost everyone is on the same page. And frankly, a lot of Democrats are supporting this decision as well.
HH: Now I am a civilian. You are a combat veteran. When people talk about the use of military force, I always like to hear people who’ve heard shots fired in anger at their head. What do you think about military force by the United State in coordination with Brazil, Colombia and other allies in Venezuela if the killing continues? It’s just killing right now.
TC: Never advisable as a first step, Hugh, but it’s something that always has to remain a possibility as an instrument of our national power to protect our interests and the interests of our allies. Nicolas Maduro knows that, especially to protect the tens of thousands of American citizens that we currently have in Venezuela.
HH: You have a seat on the Armed Service Committee. Yesterday, Ambassador Bolton walked into a briefing with a yellow pad that had on it 5,000 troops to Colombia. Are you informed of that?
TC: That was an interesting moment, Hugh. I’ll leave it at that.
HH: Okay, so you’re not going to comment any further. That’s a decline to comment, isn’t it, Senator?
TC: I’ll decline to comment on any concrete decisions, but it’s interesting that Ambassador Bolton walked in with his yellow pad facing out.
HH: Yeah, I thought so, too, because he doesn’t make many casual moves. Let me turn to, and so, we will come back to that, and I hope that people are aware we’re close to military action there. Huawei, which is a particular focus for your attention on the Intelligence Committee, has been indicted, I think, by the way, underscoring that you’ve been right all along. Why should, would you explain to the Steelers fans why we have to worry about Huawei?
TC: Well, Huawei or ZTE, or really, any Chinese telecom, but those two are the biggest, and Huawei is by far the biggest, are effectively arms of the Chinese Communist Party. Allowing them to build out the new 5G network in our country or even in our allies’ telecommunications system would be akin to turning over steel or aluminum production to the Soviet Union in the Cold War, or allowing the Soviet Union to build our bombers or fighters, or our aircraft carriers. Telecommunications and information systems are critical to the 21st Century way of warfare. And no one can reliably believe that any Chinese company, especially one as large and state-influenced as Huawei is not ultimately doing the bidding of the Chinese Communist party and the Chinese intelligence services and the People’s Liberation Army.
HH: There is a conversation underway with Poland right now, which is about to contract for its 5G network about whether or not we would even deploy troops to a new “Fort Trump” if they go with Huawei, whatever it is. What do you think about that, because that’s…
HH: Isn’t that cutting your nose off to spite your face?
TC: Yes. So no nation should use Huawei or ZTE for any purpose, in my opinion, in building out their network systems, especially no country that is friendly to the United States or has a treaty of mutual security assistance like Poland does, or any other European nation. I understand that many of these nations want inexpensive telecom equipment. I also understand that many of them are trying to curry favor with Beijing because of Beijing’s growing economic power. However, I suggest they all follow the lead of Australia, which has essentially banned Huawei and ZTE from those kind of network operations in their country.
HH: Would you limit American involvement in countries that did not?
TC: We should use every tool we have, primarily our moral leadership on this issue to influence our allies not to be building out their networks with Huawei and ZTE, networks across which our traffic is going to travel, and that our allies’ traffic is going to travel.
HH: Now two of your colleagues, Senator Kamala Harris and Senator Elizabeth Warren, have declared that they want to be president of the United States, and they are running. I believe you had Senator Warren as a professor, and I think Senator Harris serves on the Intel Committee with you. Am I correct on both assertions?
TC: Yes on both of them. But it’s not just two. It seems like every other Democrat over there on their side of the Senate chamber is declaring for president these days.
HH: Well, I’d just like to focus on those two for a moment. Since you have served with Senator Harris and have been taught by Senator Warren, what are their strengths and weaknesses?
TC: Well, I’ll say that Senator Warren was a better professor than she is a senator, although she probably thinks I was a better student than I am a senator, and I wasn’t a very good student.
TC: Look, I mean, I work well with both Liz and Kamala, and we work together on certain issues. But I’ll just say their politics is a little bit far to the left for me, and also, I think, far to the left for the majority of the American people. They’re not addressing the genuine concerns that working folks have in Arkansas and I think around the country. And that becomes increasingly clear as they campaign on more and more extreme and strident views.
HH: Now Senator Harris proposed Medicare for all last night. Senator Warren wants a wealth tax of a fairly steep nature. Both of those are not traditional Democratic platforms, though they are becoming so. Do either of them make a lick of sense, in your view?
TC: No, I mean, Medicare for all, Hugh, will mean Medicare for none if you look at the cost of that and the way the government will continue to spread its influence in our health care system as opposed to trying to take sensible, common sense steps to control the cost of health care and the cost of prescription drugs for all Americans. She, you know, Elizabeth Warren calls for wealth tax, I would call it simply property confiscation, money that’s been taxed multiple times before. And if you keep taxing it, ultimately, you’re going to run out of rich people, Hugh. That’s the problem. You know, like Margaret Thatcher said about socialism, you run out of other people’s money. And once you’re done taking all the money from the rich people, you’ve got to go to where the money really is in this country. And the money in this country really is in the middle class, because there are hundreds of millions of people who work in the middle class in this country. There aren’t that many rich people.
HH: There were reports last week that there were divisions in the Republican Caucus led by Leader McConnell. Will those divisions heal up quickly enough to allow rapid movement on the change in the Senate rules that you and I discussed last week, because Roy Blunt said oh, maybe in a couple of months, which would be devastating to the base and to people watching the Senate as a place of where maybe something gets done on behalf of people.
TC: Yeah, Hugh, I saw a couple of those reports. They were overblown, exaggerated. There was no genuine, like personal or emotional divisions. I mean, we obviously always have disagreements on policy when you have 53 people together. That’s the case. I anticipate that we will move sooner rather than later to change the way we’re operating on nominations around here. I hope the Democrats will support that decision. You know, one day, the shoe will be on the other foot, so it’s in their interest. But as soon as we have nominees who are out of committee and ready for confirmation, which should be happening in the next two or three weeks, I suspect we’ll put this issue to rest, one way or the other.
HH: And in the conference, is there agreement on that, because it seemed, Roy Blunt just stunned me. And I thought if they wait two months to do this, then they will have lost momentum, and people will justifiably be very upset with the Republican Caucus.
TC: I would be extremely disappointed if we doddle and twiddle our thumbs waiting until March to start confirming people at a more rapid pace than we did in the last Congress. And I will be pushing very aggressively to either make the Democrats make their decision in the next couple of weeks, or to make the decision for them.
HH: Are there 51 votes in the Republican Caucus to change the rules if they will not agree to reasonable rules?
TC: I believe that we will have unanimity.
TC: …that the Democrats should accept the kind of common sense, reasonable limitations on debate on the Senate floor, which as you know often has no debate. It just sits there empty. When the Senate Republicans were last in the minority in 2013…
HH: And you’re prepared to…
TC: If they do not accept that kind of change, then we will impose it.
HH: You’re prepared to live with those limits under a Democratic president? I am. I think they’re reasonable.
TC: We lived with them in 2013 and 2014.
HH: That’s what I thought. Senator Tom Cotton, always a pleasure. Good to have you at the top of the hour rather than at the bottom of the hour.
End of interview.