Senator Tom Cotton joined me this morning to discuss his new proposed legislation as well as the multi-crisis facing the U.S. abroad:
HH: Joined by United States Senator Tom Cotton. Senator Cotton, how are you today?
TC: Good morning, Hugh. I’m very well. How are you?
HH: Good. I’ve got a lot to talk with you about, especially about the proposed new legislation, the RAISE Act. But first, I’ve got to tell you, I sat down yesterday with H.R. McMaster, General McMaster, an American hero, of course, and did a 40 minute waterfront view of the multi crises facing the United States – in Venezuela, in North Korea, with Iran, with Russia, with Afghanistan strategy, and of course, in ISIS land. He’s quite the impressive individual. I’m sure you know him and have spent some time with him. But he’s got a command of everything, and he’s serving the President very well, I think.
TC: Yeah, Hugh, I heard some of the excerpts on your radio program this morning, and I look forward to seeing the show on Saturday morning. H.R. is one of the most distinguished generals of his generation. He was a highly-decorated junior officer in the military when I first came to know him.
HH: Now it seems…It seems to me that he and Secretary Tillerson and Chief of Staff of the Army and Lindsey Graham, many people are trying, and the Vice President, are trying to prepare us for the possibility growing of a preemptive strike on North Korea. Is that how you hear it, Senator? You’re on Armed Services. You’re on Intel. They’re all saying this is an unacceptable situation.
TC: Hugh, we certainly have to be prepared for that eventuality. We can never say as a nation that military action is off the table. It’s important for our leaders to prepare our people for that. That’s not our first option. It’s not our preferred option. But if we are not prepared for war, then we are more likely to have to face a war and to do so in a fashion when we’re not prepared.
HH: And so that would mean, though, casualties in the hundreds of thousands, possibly over a million if the estimates from 25 years ago are the case. We haven’t seen anything like that. That’s what Joe Dunford was saying in Aspen, is that the American people just don’t have any idea.
TC: Yeah, Hugh, I don’t want to make a casualty projection, in part because there’s so many gaps in what we know about North Korea and their conventional forces, and how well-maintained those forces are, how well-trained and loyal the troops are. I will say, though, as General Dunford has said, it would be the kind of heavy mechanized warfare that we really have not seen in most people’s lifetimes. I mean, we saw a very small flavor of it in the early days of the Gulf War, but obviously that didn’t last long, and Saddam’s army, though the fourth-largest in the world at the time, was grossly overmatched. But it would very different from any kind of fighting Americans have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last 16 years.
HH: Have you actually surveyed the Republic of Korea forces? Have you had a chance, yet, to do a senatorial trip over to the South Korean Peninsula?
TC: I have. I spent several days in South Korea, actually. I had the full lay down of the order of battle from our commanders there. I’ve been up to the DMZ as well. I can just say that one of the mottos of U.S. Forces – Korea is ready to fight tonight. And they are absolutely ready to fight tonight, because they are on an armistice line. They’re not on a peaceful border. We still don’t have a peace treaty between South Korea and North Korea going back over 60 years now. So our forces there are trained and ready to fight tonight if necessary.
HH: Wow. All right, now let’s switch to domestic policy. You were at the White House yesterday. You announced the RAISE Act. First of all, tell us about your co-sponsors, what the bill does, and how the President sees it.
TC: Yeah, so I wrote this bill with David Perdue. The President is strongly supportive of it. He’s been involved in the drafting of it. We introduced it earlier this year. He asked for some expansion of it, and we did that. The problem, Hugh, is that our immigration system doesn’t work for working Americans. We accept a million people into this country every single year. That’s like adding the population of Montana every year or adding the population of Arkansas every three years. The vast majority of those immigrants, though, are unskilled and low-skilled workers. Only one in fifteen, one in fifteen enter this country on a green card because of their job skills. This is happening at a time when Americans with a high school degree or less have seen their wages fall consistently throughout the 40 years of my life. Those two facts are related, and it’s time we did something about it. It’s time that we refocused our immigration system on ulta high-skilled individuals who are not going to compete for jobs and drive down wages for Americans who work with their hands and work on their feet, and who are going to bring their entrepreneurial spirit and their skills and their innovative capability to America to help our economy stay competitive in the world, and create more jobs for all other Americans, whether their ancestors came over on the Mayflower, or whether they just took the oath of citizenship last week.
HH: So you are pro-immigration, but you want immigration to be smart. And I want to talk about yesterday, Amazon hired, or this week they are hiring 40-50,000 people for warehouse work. Now that is classic blue-collar work. Your bill would assure that the people standing in those very long lines in Columbus and elsewhere yesterday and the day before are not competing against people who recently entered legally via family sponsorship. Is that basically what the problem with our current system is, is that it’s chained, daisy-chained?
TC: Well, so Hugh, to be precise, our bill focuses only on one part of our legal immigration system. So it doesn’t focus on security or enforcement or what to do about illegal immigrants today. And within legal immigration, only on green cards, not on temporary guest worker programs, which can be more controversial. But for the million green cards we give out every year, we’re saying we should reduce that number because of the historically high level of unskilled and low-skilled immigrations coming into this country. So working-class Americans who have seen pressure on their wages for decades will have a decent shot at a good wage and rising standards of living. We also want to say we’re going to become more competitive in the world, and we’re going to attract more people who can ply their scientific or engineering or computer backgrounds who are going to invest money and manage that investment to create more jobs for those very same Americans. Again, that’s whether your family has been here for generations, or whether you just took the oath of citizenship, because of course, the people who are hurt most, economically, by continued waves of mass migration are recent immigrants, because they’re competing for the same jobs.
HH: Now there was pushback in the White House Press Room yesterday by Glenn Thrush and Jim Acosta, and some of my friends who sit there daily, that this isn’t supported by data. How much research did you and Senator Perdue put into this to make sure it’s data-driven?
TC: Well, Hugh, we spent a long time studying this problem. There’s academic studies from people like George Borjas, a Harvard professor. But Hugh, you don’t have to be a Harvard professor to know that the law of supply and demand applies to labor just like it applies to any other market. You know, people in Arkansas who grow rice or cut trees or pump oil know if you get more of those products, the price for their product goes down. It’s the same way when it comes to blue collar labor. If you’re bringing in almost a million people a year who are going to be unskilled and low-skilled workers, of course that’s going to depress the wages for blue collar jobs. I mean, that’s just simple common sense.
HH: It is actually better not to be a Harvard professor if you want to understand the law of supply and demand. I think that is actually a prerequisite. So how much support do you have? You know that the blowback is going to be Tom Cotton and David Perdue are anti-immigrant. But about the caucus on the Republican side? Are there any Democrats who are supporting you in this?
TC: So again, Hugh, this is, this legislation is pro-immigrant, because the very people who are most harmed by continued waves of mass migration are recent immigrants who are working in the very jobs that the next wave of immigrants are going to be competing for. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about our legislation, in part because so many people focus on temporary guest worker programs and the controversies around those programs, you know, the H1B, the H2A, the H2B programs.
HH: Yeah, yeah.
TC: Our legislation does not impact those at all, except for this fact. If you are, you know, an executive at Amazon or an executive at Apple or Google or Facebook, wouldn’t you rather have a high-skilled computer programmer or data scientist come to America and become a citizen and stay here for a lifetime than come here on a 3 year visa and have to worry about losing that person in three years? As I have explained the bill to colleagues in the Senate and to business leaders in Arkansas and around the country over the last few months, I have found that once they realize that fact, there’s a lot more open-mindedness to it. Sure, there’s some skepticism at first. Immigration is a controversial topic. We realize that. But one thing we think we can do is get some consensus around this particular part of immigration. Democrats should be open-minded to it as well. They claim that they’re worried about working-class wages. A lot of Democrats in the past have been open to this kind of argument. Paul Krugman wrote in defense of it. Barbara Jordan, a very liberal Congresswoman, once proposed something very much like this. So even if we don’t agree on things like the border wall or what to do about the status of illegal immigrants, surely we can agree on this issue, and that we need to be focuses on the interests of American workers.
HH: Have any of the sort of not progressive Democratic members in the Senate like, I think of Joe Manchin, who’s not a “progressive”. He’s a liberal Democrat. Have they said I’ll join with you, Tom and David, and make this a bipartisan bill, yet?
TC: Not yet, but the wheels of progress grind very slowly in the Senate, Hugh, and we recognize that.
HH: Boy, do we know that.
TC: This is not, this is not, you know, something that’s going to be on the Senate floor tomorrow or next week or next month. We recognize this is going to take time. And it’s going to take an effort to inform and persuade my colleagues and a lot of the business leaders who have some skepticism or even outright opposition to other parts of the Trump administration’s immigration agenda. But on this issue, on helping blue collar workers have a fair shot at a decent wage, and getting the very best, the most talented immigrants from around the world, I think we can achieve some consensus.
HH: And so I want to emphasize, this is not about border enforcement. This is not about visa entry. This is not about temporary visas. It’s not about refugees, either, correct, Senator Cotton?
TC: It has refugees do get green cards. Currently, the President has complete discretion to set the levels of refugees. We would put a statutory cap of 50,000 refugees, which is still a lot of refugees, and it’s still in line with the averages in the Bush and Obama years.
HH: Yeah, that’s the average of every year except the last year of President Obama, is 50,000 refugees. That’s the average. I’ve done that.
TC: Yeah, and ultimately, too, Hugh, I mean, you know, you cannot solve a refugee crisis with immigration policy. It has to be solved with wise and hard-nosed foreign policy. There are 10 million people displaced in Syria. You know, Barack Obama could have quadrupled the number of refugees we let in, and it would still be a drop in the bucket. And there’s no way to account for all the hardship and suffering and poverty and war in the world with immigration policy. It has to be done through smarter foreign policy.
HH: Senator Tom Cotton, good luck with the RAISE Act. Talk to you again soon about the multi-crises that we face in the world. Thank you for joining me this morning.
End of interview.