In just one term in the U.S. Senate representing Arkansas, Sen. Tom Cotton has proven to be one of the fastest rising stars in the Republican Party and a familiar face to Fox News viewers as a frequent guest offering a staunchly conservative take on the issues of the day. He’s also proven to be remarkably popular in state while occasionally courting controversy on the national stage, as seen when he supported using the Insurrection Act designed to deploy National Guard and other federal troops in cases of extreme disorder in our nation’s streets.
A 43-year-old father of two, Cotton is up for re-election on Nov. 3, in a race that he’s commanded so strongly that his Democratic challenger pulled out last November. This month, he declined to debate his most prominent opponent, Libertarian Ricky Dale Harrington Jr., further signaling his ability to coast to victory.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic afflicting the nation, an economy fighting to come back from a sharp downturn caused by the coronavirus shutdowns, and the roiling unrest playing out over race relations and police reform nationwide, these aren’t easy times to govern. Cotton took time to speak with Arkansas Money and Politics about his stance on key issues and to reflect on his personal political heroes.
AMP: The COVID-19 stimulus bills are probably the greatest concern to voters right now. How soon do you think the impasse can be broken and a vote can take place?
TC: I wish the impasse had been broken several months ago. I felt we needed another bill, one that’s more tailored, more targeted, more calibrated to the actual needs. The CARES Act was passed in March at the very beginning of this pandemic, when we didn’t really understand how it would affect the economy and our health, and we know a lot more now. We know the people who need the most help, those who work in industries that are most severely affected, like restaurants, bars, sporting events and entertainment venues and airlines. I’ve long advocated more relief for those workers, as well as helping schools reopen or staying open as we are in Arkansas, finding more testing resources and more money to mass produce a vaccine as soon as it’s declared safe and effective. Unfortunately, Democrats have been blocking such legislation even though they support all those goals as well, because they want a bunch of unrelated items from their old wish-list. Bailouts with no strings attached for cities like Chicago. I think we will have a new virus relief bill, though I can’t say it will be before the election. I think we will pass one and I hope it’s very carefully tailored to those who are most in need.
AMP: The economy has been making the V-shaped recovery that Trump predicted. What do you think is the key to keeping that going?
TC: Reelect a Republican President and Senate is one big thing. Joe Biden has said he is open to a nationwide mandatory lockdown. And while it was prudent back in March to take a brief pause while we got control of the virus, learned how it’s spread and protected our hospitals, I don’t think many Americans believe we need another lockdown, certainly not a nationwide one. We need to be prudent, we need to be careful for those most at risk, especially seniors in assisted living and those with medical conditions that are made worse by the virus. But the other is keep the economy moving forward with prudence like keeping distance where you can and practice good hygiene, as well as a targeted relief bill that’s for the sectors in most need. What we don’t need are what Biden and the Democrats are proposing: higher taxes and a mass lockdown.
AMP: When do you think a vaccine will be ready? And are there other options to fight coronavirus that you support?
TC: The vaccine I think is the way that we’ll ultimately put this virus behind us for good, and the progress has been remarkable. Normally it takes many years for vaccines, but because of the CARES Act and some of the great work of our scientists, we’ll probably have a vaccine within basically a year. We’re about seven months into that year now. I’m optimistic we can get a vaccine before winter is over, though it may take a little more time, might be sometime in May. But I think the vaccine is coming in record speed, and the project to find it is Warp Speed. I think that in retrospect will be viewed as one of the successes of the CARES Act and the Trump Administration.
AMP: You famously wrote the New York Times op-ed “Send In the Troops,” which generated some controversy this summer. Do you still stand by that opinion, and are you worried about violence tied to the election?
TC: Of course I still stand, and I will always stand, against rioters and looters, insurrectionists and anarchists in our streets, wantonly destroying property and risking innocent lives. The first line of defense against criminals is always our police, but if they get overwhelmed or local leaders won’t let them do their jobs, it’s the responsibility to call out the National Guard. And in those rare cases, in which law enforcement and National Guard cannot put down riots, the President has an obligation to deploy federal troops to restore order to our streets. It hasn’t happened often in our history but it has happened as recently as the LA riots with President George H.W. Bush. That’s why the Insurrection Act remains the law of the land. But the first and best recourse is for local politicians, usually Democrats, to take this seriously and stop this violence on our streets before it gets out of hand and becomes full-blown rioting and anarchy.
AMP: Do you feel that things have calmed down the last couple of weeks, with some feeling it might reignite after the election?
TC: I hope that the president, and our senators and candidates, win by such a large margin that there is no question about this election. But whatever happens on the election, we should conduct an election in which every vote cast by a voter in accordance with state law counts and that voting be done in a peaceful, orderly fashion in accordance with the law. And if there are disputes, as sometimes happens, they should be settled by the law and the facts, not by screaming Never-Trumpers and Democrats on the news, or by Antifa and BLM rioting in the streets.
AMP: What are your thoughts on the rapid process involved in getting Amy Coney Barrett approved? And about her nomination in general?
TC: Judge Barrett demonstrated to the American people during her flawless performance in her confirmation hearing that she is brilliant, deeply learned and knowledgeable in the law, conducts herself with grace and poise, and I think Americans have much to be proud in the way she performed during those hearings, and they’ll be even more proud once she is a Supreme Court justice. I was pleased to support Judge Barrett when we appointed her to the Court of Appeals three years ago, and will be even more so in voting for her to be on the Supreme Court. That is what the people of Arkansas have elected me to do, and the Republican majority in the Senate to do, just weeks after the controversy over Justice Kavanaugh in 2018 and Justice Barrett’s confirmation process has not been particularly fast or short compared to historic precedent. It will still be twice as long as it took to confirm Justice John Paul Stevens and the same amount of time as it took to confirm Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. One reason for that of course is we did just confirm her to the Court of Appeals three years ago, so there’s very little new for the Senate to consider. Her FBI background check was conducted in days and was updated for three years, and a large body of cases on the Court of Appeals, more than a hundred cases and I reviewed them all. This wasn’t particularly fast, and no corners were cut in her confirmation process.
AMP: You’re in an unusual situation in that the Democrats gave up last November. Any thoughts on that, and why did you decline to debate Libertarian candidate Ricky Dale Harrington Jr.?
TC: I believe that most Arkansans have a very clear understanding of my record and where I stand. They elected me six years ago to help defend America and keep Arkansas’ voice in the Senate for lower taxes, less regulations, an immigration policy that puts Americans first in line for American jobs and not illegal immigrants, and for a military that is second to none in the world and defends our nation, hopefully without ever firing a shot. I am happy to run on that record. Although it’s been an unusual campaign to say the least because of the pandemic and the cancellations of rallies and the fairs and festivals that make summer in Arkansas so much fun, we still campaign hard, have a large volunteer base, we’ve done everything we can to run the kind of campaign Arkansans can expect under these very unusual times.
AMP: Some say you’re a likely contender for President yourself in 2024. Care to comment?
TC: I’m 100 percent focused this year on this election in two weeks, not just for myself but my colleagues in the Senate. I’ve gone as far as Tennessee, Montana, Colorado, New Hampshire and parts in between, in part because I can be much more effective for the people in Arkansas if I have 50 other Republican senators with me in the Senate. Future elections will come in due time, but for now the people of Arkansas are focused on this election, as am I.
AMP: Who are your political heroes and inspirations?
TC: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill rank among the greatest statesman of all time, and we should be proud as Americans to have two of them among the ranks of our presidents. We can claim Winston Churchill as one of our own as he was half American and helped lead the alliance to victory in World War II. Those are certainly lofty figures for anyone to emulate for any public official. But if you aim high and shoot for the stars, you may not reach them but you’ll still be among them. I try to keep in mind the statesmanship and the principles of Lincoln, Washington and Churchill as a pretty infallible guide to my actions in office.