Jan. 30, 2015
WASHINGTON — A freshman US senator is wasting no time letting his new colleagues know he plans to be aggressive on national security and foreign policy matters.
Just three weeks after being sworn in, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., sent a message about how he views his role on issues like Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.
“So first, I would say that I think it was a mistake to ever go down this path,” Cotton said, referring to the Obama administration’s decision to enter into talks with Iranian leaders.
The former House member minced few words in describing his view of the Iranian regime and its intentions.
“Iran is a radical Islamist theocracy whose constitution calls for jihad,” he said during a Senate Banking Committee hearing where the panel easily approved a bill that would slap new sanctions on Iranian individuals and businesses.
“Its leaders have honored that constitution for 35 years, killing Americans in 1983, killing Americans in 1996, having a nasty habit with their proxies of killing Jews all around the world in Argentina and Bulgaria and in Israel,” Cotton said.
“And most recently, controlling or exerting dominant influence over five different capitals in the Middle East — Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and now Sanaa,” he added.
Cotton struck a hawkish tone, saying he “would rather see these negotiations end because I think the administration is committed to a deal at all costs or committed to dragging out negotiations and letting Iran achieve in slow motion what they otherwise could not achieve through a deal.”
Cotton offered two strict amendments, but the panel shot down both.
One would have altered the Iran sanctions bill — crafted by Banking Committee members Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., also the Foreign Relations Commitee’s ranking member — to make all its new sanctions effective July 6. As the duo crafted those penalties, they will be phased in over a series of months.
The other Cotton amendment would have limited President Barack Obama’s ability to waive existing waivers to one more 30-day period.
In explaining the amendment, Cotton sounded like his more experienced GOP mates in hammering Obama.
“I would say that the president has overlooked or turned a blind eye to Iran’s actions over the last 14 months,” Cotton said, “and if he’s so hellbent on getting a deal that he will continue to waive the sanctions in this legislation.
“I think we, as a Congress, should only give him the power to seek another 30 days,” said Cotton, also an Armed Services Committee member. “At that point, it will have been 21 months. Surely, 21 months is enough time to reach a deal that Secretary [of State John] Kerry predicted would take only three to six months.”
He wasn’t finished, penning a Wall Street Journal op-ed that appeared Friday morning.
In it, Cotton dubbed a nuclear-armed Iran “the gravest threat facing America today.”
“The Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, the so-called P5+1 talks, were supposed to stop Iran’s rush to a nuclear bomb,” Cotton wrote. “Regrettably, what began as an unwise gamble has descended into a dangerous series of unending concessions, which is why the time has come for Congress to act.”
The 37-year-old Cotton received plum committee assignments, especially for a young freshman.
He was placed on the Armed Services Committee — where he was welcomed with open arms by Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., who handed the first-term senator the gavel of the Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee.
Cotton also landed on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee; and Joint Economic Committee.
GOP sources say the assignments appear strategic, with Republican leaders clearly tapping the Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran for bigger things.
Michael Herson, president and CEO of Washington consultancy American Defense International, said Friday that Cotton already is “a star” in Republican circles.
“His star will continue to rise, but he’s not just a rising star. He’s already there,” said Herson, a former Pentagon official who also worked for former-President Ronald Reagan and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.
“I mean, he only did two years in the House, and he’s already a Senate subcommittee chairman,” he said. “I don’t think he has to buy his time at all and hope to get amendments passed.
“I think McCain obviously has a tremendous amount of confidence in him or McCain wouldn’t have made him chairman of the most powerful of SASC’s subcommittees,” Herson said. “He’s going to write a major part of the national defense authorization act, so he can put things into the bill. And it has to pass.”
What’s more, unlike lawmakers who hail from states with large military bases or defense industry facilities that are economic engines back home, Arkansas lacks both.
“That means Cotton doesn’t have those parochial interests,” Herson said. “He can be an honest broker and a national figure on these issues.”