Recorded on February 27, 2017

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas joins Peter Robinson to discuss the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, an immigration reformation bill he is cosponsoring. He notes that  American workers have been getting a raw deal since the immigration laws were changed in 1965. The American workers’ wages have not gone up but income inequality has.  Senator Cotton thinks this is largely due to flooding the labor market with millions of low-skilled, low-wage workers. In rethinking our immigration policies we need to look at whether our laws are serving the American people.

Senator Cotton uses examples of the different approaches Norway and Sweden have had toward immigrants and refugees as illustrations of what America should and shouldn't do concerning refugee resettlement and immigration. He argues that Norway has a limited yet stable system for refugee resettlement compared to the unstable Swedish system, which has economic and security problems.

Senator Cotton claims that the legal immigration system as it currently is set up in America is hurting the American worker. A desire to protect American workers drove him to cosponsor the RAISE Act. He explains that the RAISE Act is a threefold bill that will prioritize visas for immediate family members only, eliminate the diversity lottery for immigration visas, and limit the number of incoming refugees to 50,000 a year. Reducing immigration, he argues, will help American workers because millions of Americans who are not now in the workforce will be able to find jobs.

Senator Cotton argues that America’s current immigration policies strain our resources, disrupt integration of other recently arrived immigrants, and lower wages for the working class. He notes that immigration is an area in which elites are disconnected from the reality of what most citizens’ face. Only one thing has stopped the elites from their desired immigration policy: two-thirds to three-quarters of Americans consistently oppose any increase in immigration. Americans want an immigration policy to be in the economic and social interests of American citizens.

Additionally, Senator Cotton and Robinson discuss the role of Congress and whether it can reassert itself in an age where the president and the courts have been gaining influence. He then analyzes the classified leaks that have occurred since President Trump was sworn in and Congress's role in resolving the issues.

Full transcript below: 

Peter Robinson: During the campaign, we all got used to arguments against illegal immigration. With us today, a senator who wishes to curtail legal immigration. Tom Cotton, senator from Arkansas, on Uncommon Knowledge now.

Thomas Bryant Cotton grew up in Dardanelle, Arkansas, population 5,000, on a cattle farm. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, then received a JD from Harvard. After practicing law for a couple of years to pay off his student debts, he enrolled in the United States Army. He completed a tour of combat in Iraq, and then a tour in Afghanistan. Not one tour, two.

After returning home to Arkansas, Mr. Cotton was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2012, and to the United States Senate in 2014. He is not quite 40. Tom Cotton, welcome.

Senator Tom Cotton: Thank you, Peter.

In a moment Senator, the immigration legislation that you've proposed, but first, you've written a fascinating piece, some time ago, on the contrast between Norway and Sweden. Tell us about that.

Last summer, Mike Pompeo, now Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, one of my closest friends in Congress, then a congressman from Kansas. I took a trip to Norway and Sweden as part of our intelligence oversight work. One thing we learned there though is the very different approaches to migration that those two countries have taken. In the United States, a lot of people often lump together the Scandinavian countries as if there's very little difference, and that's simply not the case in the approach that these two countries have taken.

Norway is not hard-hearted. They still admit many refugees. They do a relatively good job assimilating them, in part because they haven't simply thrown open their borders. On their northern border with Russia, they're constructing a fence at the border crossing point because Syrians were crossing through Russia trying to-

Really? I didn't know.

... trying to enter Norway. Yes. Most people would say that Syria-

There's nothing reindeer up there.

Syrians don't get all the way from Syria through Russia into Norway's northern border with Russia without some assistance from the Russian government trying to put pressure on Norway. They have limitations on public benefits, how long you have to be there to get public benefits, and so forth. On balance, they've had a very big success with their immigration program with the many refugees, and their politics are relatively stable as well. It's not a flashpoint in Norway the way it is in so many other countries around Europe now.

Sweden's been very different. Sweden is essentially thrown its doors open to migrants of all kinds for many years, but especially over the last two years. They've let in hundreds of thousands in recent years. This is a country that's only got about nine or ten million people. There was very few limitations, if any, on who could cross the border, on getting public assistance, on the duration of that public assistance, and so forth. Until ultimately, they had to clamp down on that, but it was too little and too late because that means that they've now suffered a lot of problems from an economic standpoint, from a security standpoint.

Their politics are also divided in the way so many European countries are divided. You have a party called the Sweden Democrats, which is a restrictionist party, the way so many immigration restrictionist parties have risen around Europe. Both the right and the left parties in Sweden have kind of worked together in a way just to prevent the Sweden Democrats from getting into a parliamentary coalition, which has made their parliament voting patterns very fragile. I don't think you could have two better contrasts between Norway and Sweden of the right way to handle the kind of challenges that Europe faces, and secondarily, that we face, and the wrong way to handle it.

This February, you joined Senator David Perdue of Georgia in proposing new legislation. I'll give you the full name once here, the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, already better known by its acronym, the RAISE Act. Now, correct me if I get this wrong, but very briefly, for the purposes of video, the RAISE Act would limit the number of foreign nationals able to get green cards to unite with their families already in the United States, ending so called chain immigration.

Under your legislation, if I'm in the United States and I'm a foreign national, I get to have my young children join me. If I am taking care of my older parents, I may have my older parents join me. What I may not do any longer under your legislation, but what I may now do under the current law is have my cousin come in, and then my cousin has his cousin come in and his cousin in an essentially unending chain. I'm not overstating that case under current laws. Is that roughly correct?

That's more or less right, Peter. That's kind of the heart of the legislation as well. Today, as you say, we have essentially unlimited chain migration for extended families. Most people who want to reform our immigration system agree that that's not a sound policy. My legislation would continue to grant preferences for spouses and for unmarried minor children, but as you say, brothers, sisters, adult children and their spouses, parents would no longer be granted a preference in our system.

The heart of the matter is that would get you from about a million green cards a year, down to about half a million green cards a year, without doing anything to touch reunification of immediate families, which I think most Americans support.

Let's be very clear, immigration's a big complicated issue. We're not talking about what to do with 10, 11, 9, whatever the number is, illegal immigrants already in the country. That's not under the purview of this legislation. We're not talking about work related visas, the H-1B, not under discussion. We're talking about the family immigration. You would cut that immigration, now running at about a million a year. Excuse me, you wouldn't legislate the number, but the effect would be to cut it to about in half, right?

Along with the other two main parts of the legislation as well, which is the refugee program, and the  so-called diversity lottery.

Go ahead and explain what you just said briefly.

As you said, if you break down the immigration issue, stepping back from this particular bill, there are three main areas. There's one, what to do with those who are in our country illegally today, 10, 12 million, what have you. Two, there's all the questions around security and enforcement, so border security, enforcing our immigration laws at the workplace, deporting criminals, gang members, and so forth, tracking people who come here on visa systems. Those are both very important issues, but my legislation focuses on the third big category, which is our legal immigration system, and specifically, within that category, the subset of pathways to immigrate to the United States not related to employment. The three main pillars in my legislation is family reunification, the refugee program, and the so called diversity lottery, none of which touches on immigration, or I'm sorry, employment based immigration.

Also, I've been reading and watching you on YouTube. You're more or less everywhere. Thank you for being here for a few moments, and as I make it out, you've got fundamentally two arguments here. I'd like to tease them out, make sure I understand it, and I'd also like to understand the relative weight you assign to each. One is the argument from economics. Quoting you in The New York Times last December, the time has come, "to cut the generation-long influx of low-skilled immigrants that undermines American workers." Go ahead and explain that in a sentence or two if you will.

Our current immigration system goes back about 50 years, to the 1965 Act. It's been changed in some ways, but that's the basic framework. We've averaged almost a million immigrants a year since then. I don't think it's a coincidence that people in American who work with their hands and work on their feet have not had a pay raise, in essence, for decades. If you have a high school degree, your wages have been stagnant. If you have less than a high school degree, your wages have actually declined by about 17%. That's important because our legal immigration system allows immigration, in fewer than 1 out 15 cases, based on someone's skills, their job training, their education levels. Which is to say almost everyone who enters our country under the current legal system, again, putting aside millions of illegal immigrants, but almost everyone under the legal immigration system is either unskilled or low-skilled in their work immediately in coming to this country.

I just don't think that law of supply and demand is repealed magically in the labor market when it works in every other market. If you have that kind of generation-long influx of unskilled and low-skilled workers, of course it's going to impact prices in the labor market, which is to say, wages. It's going to drive down or at least stagnate wages for working Americans. It's going to make it harder for them to climb up the economic ladder. It's going to do that most with the most recent immigrants because they are the ones most likely to be working in fields and who are still going to be competing with the next years influx of immigrants and the next years, and so forth. I just think it's high time that we had a legal immigration system that worked for American citizens.

There's evidence, it'll drive ... It won't drive you crazy, but it drove me crazy trying to read up on the evidence of what actually happens to wages over time as a result of immigration. There are studies that take this and studies that take that. The evidence is pretty mixed, I think largely in part because there are ... it's ideologically driven in one way or another, however, there is a big new study of which you are very well aware by the National Academy of Sciences, which people who are paying attention to immigration are all commenting on now. The National Academy of Sciences' study says, "Over the last 30 years, immigration has provided, roughly speaking, a 50 billion dollar a year net benefit to the American economy." That is to say our overall GDP, all of America is, broadly speaking, about 50 billion dollars a year better off because of immigration. Senator Cotton answers that how?

I have my quibbles with that study, as you might imagine. First off, I just think it defies common sense to say that you could bring in a million immigrants a year without regard to their  job skills, and not put pressure on the wages of working Americans. I'll grant that you can have a bigger GDP just by opening your borders. There's 175 million Mexican citizens. If we just open our border entirely, it would create a larger GDP for the combined United States and Mexico. There's 160 million Bangladeshis. If we invited them all to come here, it would, by definition, increase our economy because the size of your economy is just a function of the number of workers you have and their productivity.

It's easy to increase the size of our economy simply by continuing to have more and more mass migration. What that doesn't really look at is the distribution of that economic benefit. Over the last several decades, politicians in both parties agree, whether you're Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders or anyone in between them in the presidential race last year for instance, that working Americans have been getting a raw deal. That their wages have not been going up. The income inequality has been increasing. I don't think it's a coincidence that that has incurred in part at a time when we've had historically high levels of immigration.

I would further say though that the particular study you're citing also notes that people who work with their hands and work on their feet have seen an impact on their wages. It also discounts the fact that because so many immigrants enter this country without job skills, or with very few skills, that unbalance. Their households are poor, which means they're more likely to use public assistance program. They're less likely to pay taxes, which in the end, in my opinion, it actually means that they're our net cost to our economy because of the transfer payments, the tax paying citizens are putting into their households.

Did you see the piece in The New York Times today by George Borjas?

I have seen it.

You have seen it. You're a fellow Harvard man.

Who is usually right on matters of immigration economics.

He is a very serious economist, despite being a Harvard man. He's a very serious economist, and evidently, if you look at the footnotes, you run the numbers and take the raw data from that National Academy of Sciences study, underneath that 50 billion dollar net benefit, there's a very large redistribution from low-skilled workers to the rest of us, to other Americans. Low-skilled workers, according to George Borjas, have over the last 30 years seen their wages fall by as much as 6%. I'd like to say too that can't be wrong-

What that can mean in the end, even if you credit the study at a 50 billion dollar increase of private economic activity, that money goes somewhere. That means the money is going into profits, which is to say it's going into the pockets of owners, whether it's like family owned business or whether it's shareholders of a public corporation. People who live off of their wealth, people who own businesses, people who own stock, they've been doing pretty well in the last several decades, especially over the last nine years since the economic collapse. People who work with their hands have not been doing very well.

This is politically interesting. We have a moment in the Republican party where we have Tom Cotton, a conservative Republican saying, "Look, the evidence seems to suggest that we've got something going on here, which is enriching the rich and making ordinary workers, people with high school educations or less, less well off. If it comes to it, I'm on the side of the working man." That's what you're saying. You're making that political statement. Is that right?

I am always on the side of the working man, and we need to make conditions in our economy successful for every person, whether they went to Harvard or whether they didn't get a high school degree. For the longest time, it was like that. For a long time, the Republican party recognized that as well. Ronald Reagan spoke in his campaigns about representing the cop on the beat or the farmer or the factory worker. People who may not be traditionally associated with country club Republicans, but the kinds of people that Ronald Reagan brought into our coalition, the kinds of people that Donald Trump brought back to our coalition last year, and a lot of states that were very critical to his victory. I think the Republican party, at its best, is the party of all Americans, and that includes these forgotten working men and women who have seen their wages fall, therefore have seen their standards of living fall. Who's kids are facing much tougher lives because of this.

This gets me to the second category of arguments, which seems to be, in places, explicit, but in other places, when I've heard you talk, it seems to be implicit. Your argument isn't ... It's an argument from justice. It's an argument from national identity. I believe you. You are concerned about, well, you mentioned Sweden. One of the difficulties in Sweden is that they let in immigrants in such a large numbers and did such a poor job of assimilating, that they're now enclaves that are essentially non-Swedish enclaves within the country. You see that happening here?

Certainly, not to the degrees of countries like Sweden or Belgium or France, but our motto as a country has been, "E Pluribus Unum," for a long time. We've celebrated the melting pot. We've celebrated assimilation. The history of immigration in our country is not a history of unbroken higher levels of immigration, it's a history of surges and pauses. In the mid-19th century, you had a large surge of Irish and Northern Europeans. From 1880's to the 1920's, you had many Southern and Eastern Europeans.

In both those cases, many doubters said, "Well, these are very different from the British stalk that populated the 13 colonies and went on to found the union. They're never going to assimilate and become, 'true Americans'." We've found that that's simply not the case as they did assimilate, as they gained English language skills, as they move from being an unskilled worker to being a skilled worker to being a supervisor or ultimately an owner. As they move from New York City, out into the suburbs and out into the plains, that's exactly what happened. All of those Eastern and Southern European immigrants from the 1880's and the 1920's ultimately became Reagan Democrats. I mean, I'm speaking metaphorically that their kids or their grandkids did that.

That's the kind of success story that we want with this third wave of immigration that we had since the 1960's. We want to make sure that their kids and their grandkids are getting the same levels of opportunity and shots at success that every other wave of immigration has in the past. If you look at assimilation levels, if you look at English language skills for the children of immigrants, if you look at the opportunities they have to get a higher education or to get jobs that pay more than their immigrant parents did, the data is not very reassuring right now. My concerns are not just about people who have been here since their ancestors came over on the Mayflower, but the people whose parents took the oath of citizenship just a few years ago and are trying to make a better life for their kids.

Senator Cotton and his critics, there's a recent headline in The Daily Banter, and based on what you just said, it was a slander, "Republicans Want To Make America White Again By Cutting Legal Immigration In Half". Senator? That one you simply ... it's so ridiculous, you just laugh. Go ahead.

That's not a serious policy argument. That's just political slander.

He wants to close the border. This notion that there's something anti-Hispanic or anti ... You're okay with immigrants from Northern Europe and even Southern Europe. What I'm trying to do here is give you a chance to say, "I'm not anti-Mexican." It's as simple as that.

This third wave of immigration since 1965 has been largely driven by Latin-American immigration and Eastern South Asian immigration. We've benefited tremendously from those populations over the last 50 years as they've immigrated in, but a lot of them haven't had the chance to assimilate and move up the economic ladder of success, again, speaking metaphorically about their kids and their grandkids. What my legislation is designed to do is create a ... make a down payment on creating a new legal immigration system that insures that everyone can benefit from the promise of America, that everyone has a chance at success in this country. It really has nothing to do about region or country of origin, in fact, by eliminating the diversity lottery, I'll eliminate one of the main ways that Europeans can immigrate to the United States because strangely enough something called the diversity lottery tends to benefit Europe.

Your friend and mentor, I think, Bill Kristol, William Kristol, Editor of the Weekly Standard. "If you are a capitalist society," this is Bill speaking earlier this winter, "If you're in a capitalist society, after two, three, four generations of hard work, everyone becomes kind of decadent, lazy, spoiled, whatever. Then, luckily, you have these waves of people coming in from Italy, Ireland, Russia, and now Mexico, who really want to work hard and really want to succeed. I don't know why this moment is that different from the early 20th century."

I would have to dissent from Bill's characterization of most American workers there. We need to make work pay. We need to make ... create jobs and higher wages that's going to encourage people to get back to work. The idea that somehow we have a labor shortage, we have Americans that are not employable or won't do certain jobs is just simply not consistent with the facts. We have record numbers of people who are not in the work force or even looking for a job. There is no job in America that is majority immigrant. Every job in America is held by a majority of native born workers. I have very high regard for American workers. I want to make work pay. I want to make sure that they're getting wages that warrant the work that they provide. I know that some opponents of my legislation have doubts about American workers. I don't.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, just a couple of sentences, and this was in response to the President's temporary ban.

Temporary pause.

Temporary pause, excuse me. Thank you. "Welcoming the strangers, the very form of Christianity itself, the actions of our government must remind people of basic humanity." There's something serious going on there. Despite my feeling that it must have been written by some staffer, anyway. There's something serious going on there. What is the argument? As a moral matter, what permits a United States Senator to prefer his own citizens over the citizens of any other country. We're all brothers and sisters. We're all descendants of Adam and Eve. It's not obvious I think to many people why we have the right to draw borders and defend them.

That may be the view you can take if you're a religious leader, but if you're an elected political leader, I'm accountable to the people of Arkansas. I serve the interests of American citizens. I wish my fellow man well everywhere, and I want to see the world be able to live in peace, prosperity and security, but we live in a political community. It's called the United States of America. It has borders. It has certain ideas that undergird it. It has a people.

Those are the people we serve. We can't serve all of mankind, and we can't put their interest ahead of the interest of the people that we're elected to account for. Ultimately, we are not an economy with a country. We are a country with an economy. I can assure you that the leaders of every other country is looking out for the interests of their citizens. We need leaders here looking out for the interest of our citizens. When it comes to immigration, we simply cannot have been doing that for too long.

One more critic, this is David Brooks writing in The New York Times, "The last time we cut immigration in the 1920's, we were in the middle of a baby boom. Today, fertility rates have plummeted. If the Cotton bill became law, the working population would shrink, the nation would age, and America would decline."

We've already discussed some of the underlying statistics that David didn't get exactly right. There's no evidence that we have any labor shortage. We have record numbers of Americans who are not in the work force, who need to get into the work force, who need to get out and start looking for a job and get a job. We need them to be able to get the job that pays a decent wage to provide for themselves. I have confidence that we can have an economy that accomplishes that, that has a higher standard of living, and that leads the world.

It may be different than what the economy looked like 50 years ago when people worked on a factory line, doing repetitive work, for the same employer for 40 years, but it will still be the world's leading economy. It won't be a country in decline. Again, I'm a lot more optimistic about the skill, the motivation, and the spirit of the American worker than some of the opponents of my views are.

One more question about the RAISE Act, and I'd like you to give me a little, if you could, help me to understand the state of play and the United States Senate at this current moment, but the RAISE Act. Congress has its hands full. You've got the President's speaking to a joint session, you've got a judge to confirm to the Supreme Court, you've got Obama Care, so on and so forth. You have introduced the RAISE Act, why? Not because you expected to get enacted in the current session, I gather, but because you want the debate, I mean, the national debate. I don't know whether you'll get debate on the floor. Is that correct? Where does it stand as a practical matter?

I certainly want to see it enacted. President Trump has already taken one step administratively that we proposed legislatively, which is to cap the refugee program at 50,000 refugees. Still extraordinarily generous by worldwide standards and consistent with averages over the Bush and Obama years. Even by putting the legislation out, I think we're moving the debate in the right direction. As you've seen, we've had many critics engage in the debate. I think that we still have the better of the argument here, but I think we're moving the debate in the right direction.

You don't have Leader McConnell saying, "All right Senator Cotton, we'll get to that in this session if we possibly can. We'll talk ..."-

I'm encouraging him to do that.

You are?

Current immigration law delegates tremendous authority to the president. Barack Obama went beyond his delegated authority, tried to create new classes of entry into the United States, give work permits, and other methods. The president doesn't have that power, but the president does have a pretty wide discretion under current immigration law. That's why President Trump, for instance, can cap refugees at 50,000, or President Obama could double them just in a number of years. That's why President Trump can give guidance to John Kelly, who can give it to our immigration enforcement agencies about enforcement priorities. Ultimately, President Trump may need additional legal authority or additional money to implement his security agenda. If that's the case, I hope that we can have a broader conversation about my legislation and ways to reform the legal immigration as well as part of that debate on the Senate floor.

When it comes to a practical matter, here's the way it stands, I am sitting across from an especially crafty member of the rising generation of the Senate who realizes that simply by introducing a piece of legislation, garnering public attention and support, and starting a debate, you can have a practical effect. Is that correct?

Peter, that's definitely the case. That's not the only goal of it, but-

No. You would like to see this enacted.

Yeah. For too long, political leaders in both parties have thought about the immigration question incorrectly in my mind. That was probably the defining issue for Donald Trump. That was the issue in which he was most different from every other Republican, and certainly every Democrat. We need to take advantage of this opportunity to rethink about our immigration policies, and whether they're serving the interests of the American people.

Too many times people have thought you've got to do all of immigration together. You got to give amnesty now and enforcement later, which means probably amnesty now and enforcement never. They've thought about it from the wrong point of view. So much of our immigration debate talks about what's good for foreigners, whether they are those who are here on our country illegally or whether they want to come here. Again, I wish my fellow man well, but I serve the interest of my fellow citizens. That's what are immigration policy should serve is the interest of the American people.

Senator, one last question about immigration. You just touched on, again, a very, to me, a very perplexing, but important point. Neither Republicans nor Democrats saw this issue in the way that we now understand the American people or large portions of the American public sees the issue. The last Republican president prior to President Trump, George W. Bush was very much in favor of what we now know, what we began to call, even then, a comprehensive immigration reform, pathway to citizenship, and so forth. Along come Donald Trump, and of the 17 Republican candidates for the Republican nomination, only he saw ... Why did the Republicans and Democrats ... Why did every seem to miss it?

That's a good question, Peter. I'm not sure I have a great answer, or maybe I should say a comprehensive answer. I'll just say that in my observation, there's no issue in which the elites in our society are more disconnected from the people. I don't just mean leaders in Washington in both parties, I mean elites of all kinds, media elites, cultural elites, the professoriate, business leaders, and so forth. In fact, the immigration issue is the one time in my life that I've written to my members of congress, in 2007. I wrote to Mark Pryor, Blanche Lincoln, and Vic Snyder asking them to oppose the latest effort at so called comprehensive immigration reform. It failed then.

It failed again in 2013. I had a role in that in the House of Representatives. The reason it keeps failing is that the one force, there's only one force opposed to that kind of approach to immigration, but it also happens to be the strongest force in American politics, that's the American people, the voters. The people in Washington finally realized that the American people didn't want that approach to immigration. If you look at public opinion polls, the vast majority of Americans want immigration levels to stay the same or they want it reduced, but very, very small minorities want immigration levels to increase. That's what every attempt to reform our immigration system in recent decades has attempted.

Donald Trump saw that. Maybe he saw that because he was not a creature of politics. He was not a business as usual kind of guy. It was laying around for any elected leader to pick up, and obviously, some members of the Senate and the House of Representatives had that view, but their views were vastly overshadowed by the kind of establishment, traditional businesses, your usual figures when it comes to the immigration issue. That's why this moment is such a rare moment that we can have a full and deep reconsideration of our approach to immigration for the last 50 years.

The Senate of the United States in this new era that we entered-

The world's greatest deliberative body.

Yes, exactly. Here's a large question, but one specific example. President Trump issues his executive order, temporary ban, so forth, and the world erupts. And the suit gets brought here, there and everywhere across the United States, and it becomes the matter for the courts. Executive action by the president, the courts say, "No. You can't go ahead," and Ross Douthat of The New York Times writes this, "The American system increasingly has two real branches of government, the presidency and the courts, plus a vestigial legislator." Something tells me that you didn't come here to be vestigial. Can the Senate, can the Congress as a whole reassert itself during the Trump years?

We are, and we will. We've spent a lot of time in this first month simply trying to confirm the president's cabinet because of unprecedented Democratic obstruction, but ultimately presidents can do a lot of things with delegated authority from the Congress or in their inherent constitutional powers, but on the things that really last and really matter, the kind of legacy defining legislation that all presidents ultimately seek, you have to have congressional action.

Barack Obama, his legacy is primarily defined by Obama Care. If you look at someone like Ronald Reagan, primarily defined by the defense buildup and tax reform, which required congressional action. Go back as far, FDR, legacy's defined in no small part by the Social Security Act. Presidents can act a lot on their own, but ultimately, to really make a lasting difference for our-

You have to carry this institution with you.

They have to find the votes to pass major legislation. President Trump has said that he's obviously committed to that. He understands it. He's also said that he understands that the executive branch as a whole has had too much authority for too long. For a hundred years, Congress has been giving away too much of our authority. I was committed under the Obama administration to trying to reclaim that authority for congress. I'm just as committed now because ultimately, it's not my authority, it's the American people's authority. That's where our founding fathers vested it.

Intel, you said on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence ...

Not an oxymoron, like military intelligence.

Again, I come to you as a layman today about this business of leaking of intercepted telephone conversations with the then advisor to President Trump, later National Security advisor in the White House, and now, former National Security advisor because Michael Flynn was effectively forced to resign because the intelligence communities leaked taped conversations to the press. The president was furious, Twitter storm, and let me read to you what Wall Street Journal, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, "Leaks like the ones about Mr. Flynn have an obvious source: a small group within the bureaucracy. Using a grand jury to investigate and prosecute one or two such people could have a salutary effect."

You're not in charge of grand juries. Will there be hearings? How unnerved should we be? I have to say, to me the idea that intelligence agencies are leaking taped conversations of American officials is about as outrageous a thing, as I in a long life now of watching American politics, it is just outrageous. Anything you can do? Anything the Senate intends to do? Am I misreading it?

These leaks are very serious, and they should be investigated. They'll primarily be investigated by the FBI. I know that Director Comey is also very concerned about the leaks of sensitive national security information.

You're a lawyer. Do you have confidence in the director?

I'm a recovering lawyer.

Fair enough.

That's a criminal investigation. The FBI also does counter intelligence work, as does the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is a little bit different. For a criminal investigation of leaking classified information or classified capabilities or sources or method, very serious. Even if the contents of those leaks turn out to be false, as I think has already been demonstrated in some occasions and probably will be in going forward, merely suggesting at the capabilities of the United States government has or the targets that we might pursue in intelligence gives away valuable information to the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, North Koreans, and other people who don't wish us well.

The FBI I think will be undertaking investigations into these leaks. If crimes were committed, then they need to be fully investigated and prosecuted. I will say though, speaking broadly about the intelligence community, as you did, I don't think is the right way to approach it. We got 17 different agencies within the intelligence community. Most of them have nothing to do with what's been reported in the news for the last few months. There are plenty of people who have access to that information who don't work in an intelligence agency. I'm speaking here specifically about Barack Obama's national security council, who is still in office in November, December, and January, and who had access to much of this intelligence to include the finished products that was the assessment of the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA.

Likewise, the senior political leadership of Barack Obama's Department of Justice, which oversees the FBI, our main Counter Intelligence Agency. In fact, Donald Trump fired Barack Obama's Deputy Attorney General, Sally Yates, who he held over, incorrectly in my view, because she refused to defend a plainly lawful order about pausing immigration from seven countries. There are plenty of Democratic partisans, overt Democratic partisans in the Department of Justice and the National Security Council who had access to this very sensitive information in the transition period.

It wouldn't surprise me to know the leaks that we are reading about in the news, many of which turn out to be false, come from those Democratic partisans trying to not only undermine President Trumps administration, but also drive a wedge between President Trump and his senior aids in the White House, and the professional who populate those 17 intelligence agencies. The vast majority of whom are career apolitical people. They may vote Democratic, they may vote Republican, they may vote independent, but they're dedicated to the missions of their agencies. I suspect there's a good chance when we get to the source of these leaks it'll turn out to be partisan Democratic holdovers.

Two last questions. Donald Trump. You've said kind things about the President. You've said that he saw things in the country that, particularly on the immigration issue, that nobody else saw or nobody else had the courage or the political insight to speak about, and yet at the same time, of course, he is driving this town to the point of distraction. Bill Kristol, recent Tweet by your friend and mine, Bill Kristol, "This was an important week, " he just wrote, "GOP members of Congress went home for the break and began to realize they have to distance themselves from Trump." I know because I watched it on YouTube that you had a pretty ruckus town hall meeting yourself during the break. Distance yourself from Trump?

We had a fun town hall. 2,300 people attended. We had to move venues twice. Unfortunately, we still turned away a lot of people. Clearly there were a lot of folks in the room who were not Donald Trump supporters, but it's important to remember that we just had an election. Donald Trump didn't just win nationwide, but in Arkansas, he won with 61% of the vote. Our recent poll suggests that 60% of Arkansans still approve the job Donald Trump is doing. My job is not to rate the job that he's doing or give him an A or a C or an F, my job is to serve the people of Arkansas and represent their interests.

When Donald Trump is right, I will support him. When he's wrong, I will try to change his mind. I think he's been more right than wrong so far on the issues that matter and the issues that are going to last. The nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme court, the nomination of his cabinet secretaries, and some of the orders he's already undertaken, like trying to secure our southern border, prioritizing the detention and deportation of hardened criminals, permitting the Keystone Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline. I'm sure there'll come a time when we have disagreements. I'll do my best to change his mind, but I'll always put the interest of the people of Arkansas first.

The left, the liberal side has the bureaucracy, it has the universities, it has the mainstream media, it has Hollywood as we saw during the Oscar presentation, all of that, Donald Trump has a Twitter account, Sean Hannity and Tom Cotton. Those odds don't bother you?

Millions of Americans who voted for him, or if they didn't vote for him or didn't vote at all who still want to see him success because if a president succeeds, especially with the agenda President Trump's laid out, that means that we're going to have more Americans working. They're going to have higher wages. Their streets are going to be safer. Their kids are going to be getting a better education. Our court system is going to respect the rule of law and respect our constitution. We're going to be safe in America.

Four years from now, when Donald Trump is running for reelection, he will be reelected if he's delivered on those promises. He's probably going to be in trouble if he hasn't. What left wing websites have said or even what Donald Trump tweeted in January of 2017 is not going to create a single job in Arkansas, it's not going to lower anyone's health insurance premiums, it's not going to make their streets safe. That's ultimately the ground on which Donald Trump will be judged.

You are not hedging at all. You are doubling down. Last question, since last time we saw each other, two little boys. Has fatherhood changed your approach to this job?

Certainly made me a lot more tired for this job. Obviously, having children of my own connects me even more closely with the future of the country. I ran because I thought I can make a difference for my state and for my country, now I have a personal stake in making sure that we hand down a country to our children that is safer and more prosperous than what we inherited from our parents. I think they did a pretty good job handing the country off to us. We need to do an even better job handing it off to our kids.

I keep saying last question. This time I really mean it. Are you having fun? Is it fun to be in the majority in both houses? You've been in this institution now ... When were you first elected to the House? 2012, right?

I rather be in the majority than the minority. We're still just a few weeks into the Trump administration. It's the first time I've been in Congress where our party controls the White House as well. It gives us a lot more opportunity to have a voice in the policy making process and make a difference for the people I serve back home.

This feels like a good time. You're going to be able to get things done.

It certainly does. We're still very early. We've got a long time to work, and we got a lot of work to do and have to deliver.

It is the Senate after all.

It's great privilege to be able to serve the people of Arkansas, to be able to debate to the greatest issues of our day, and be part of the long story of America here in the US Senate.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, thank you.

Thanks, Peter.

From Uncommon Knowledge and the Hoover Institution, I'm Peter Robinson.


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