U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton gave a talk Tuesday at Little Rock’s Political Animals Club luncheon, focusing on the intelligence community and his service on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. He then took questions from club members and media about Donald Trump, immigration and the recent hacking of the DNC.
One of the first questions Cotton answered was regarding immigration. “There’s no issue in America today in which elites in both parties are more disconnected from the people than immigration itself,” he replied, saying that enforcing current laws and border should be prioritized over passing new legislation.
Cotton echoed Trump’s call to build a wall along America’s southern border. “Fences work,” he said. “A fence has proven to work effectively on our southern border, on Israel’s southern border, in European nation’s that have used fences. The point is there has to be a physical barrier.” When asked if, as Trump has claimed, America could get Mexico’s government to pay for it, Cotton said that they may pitch in “with some tough negotiations.”
When asked to comment about the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee, Cotton punted, citing the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s statement that it’s too early to definitively say the Russians are to blame for the breach.
Another member asked what the chances are Trump is forced to give up his spot as president nominee due to offensive comments he’s made. “I think your choice in November — or in October if you’re early voting and absentee voting — is going to be Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton,” he replied. “You don’t get to order off the menu.” He went on to say that based on recent history with the electoral college, any Republican presidential candidate is going to be an underdog. However, he emphasized that a Trump presidency, along with a Republican-majority Congress, would result in the repeal of Obamacare, tangible tax reform, billions of additional dollars in military spending, and — to the cheers of many in the crowd — the confirmation of conservatives in the Supreme Court.
Cotton did voice his disagreement with Trump’s recent comments regarding the North Atlantic Treaty Agreement. “I strongly disagree that our solution is not to honor our commitments to those countries,” Cotton said. “If anyone thinks that not honoring our obligations under NATO would make war less likely, they’re exactly wrong. It would make war more likely because it would embolden our adversaries.” However, he then quickly restated the importance of getting Trump elected to repeal Obamacare and pass conservative legislation.
He also said that Trump should apologize for criticizing the parents of Humayun Khan, a Muslim American soldier who died while serving in Iraq. “I think the best point of action is to express regret for what he said … and move forward on the real issues,” Cotton said.
After being questioned about his own potential presidential bid in 2020, Cotton laughed and replied, “I don’t think so. We’re gonna be reelecting a president in four years.” Eight years from now? “That’s a long ways off. I can’t speculate about what’s going to happen in the future. I’m lucky if I can look eight hours in advance,” he said.
He began by detailing the functions of the CIA, FBI and NSA, and referenced former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell’s three myths of the intelligence community: the “Get Smart” myth (that the agencies are made up of incompetent fools), the “Mission Impossible” myth (that the agencies are all-powerful and can uncover any secret) and the “Jason Bourne” myth (that the agencies are rogue and have no oversight). While it’s unlikely that anyone in the room believed any of these myths beforehand, he debunked them for the crowd anyway.
He praised America’s intelligence officers as the very best in their field. “It is something of a cliché, but clichés often have a fundamental truth in them, that not many know the successes of our intelligence committee. I do,” Cotton said.
Cotton said the Intelligence Committee is the best and busiest of the numerous Senate committees. Since membership in the committee does not hinge upon seniority (a rarity among Senate committees), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was able to appoint Cotton during his first year in Senate in 2015.
Discussing why he spoke at the Republican National Committee, Cotton said there’s no better success story in the country than the Republican Party of Arkansas. “We now have all six federal seats, we have all seven statewide seats … so I think that we have a great story to tell,” he said.