Who Is Tom Cotton?
Born in Arkansas in 1977, Tom Cotton attended Harvard University and Harvard Law School, before spending nearly five years in active duty with the U.S. Army. Elected to the House in 2012, he quickly proved willing to voice his opposition to immigration reform. The young politician carried that precociousness to the Senate, penning an open letter in 2015 that warned Iranian leaders about the fragility of a proposed nuclear agreement. Cotton has since gained the confidence of President Donald Trump, on matters related to Cabinet picks, national security and immigration policy.
While serving his first and only term as a U.S. congressman representing the state of Arkansas, Tom Cotton launched his campaign for the U.S. Senate. Successfully tying the Democratic incumbent, Mark Pryor, to the unpopular policies of President Barack Obama, Cotton defeated his opponent by 17 points in November 2014 to become, at age 37, the youngest member of the Senate.
Cotton went on to join the Banking Committee, the Intelligence Committee, the Joint Economic Committee and the Armed Services Committee, taking over as chair of the Economic Policy and Airland Subcommittees. Additionally, he carved out a unique position in which he drew the admiration of establishment leaders like Arizona Senator John McCain, as well as the burgeoning alt-right movement that propelled Trump to power, through his stances on several issues:
Iran Nuclear Deal
Cotton saw his national profile increase after penning an open letter to the "Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran" during U.S.-led discussions about a proposed nuclear treaty in March 2015.
Suggesting that "you may not fully understand our constitutional system," the letter warned that Congress played the important role of ratifying all international agreements, and as such could easily terminate them after a president leaves office. Cotton managed to get 46 other Senators to sign the not-so-veiled threat, though it ultimately didn't prevent the passage of the treaty that summer.
In October 2017, after President Trump announced he was not recertifying the deal, Cotton and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said they had created the outline for legislation that would keep the agreement in place while establishing stricter terms for Iran.
After introducing legislation in February 2017 designed to curb legal immigration by 50 percent, Cotton and Georgia's David Perdue produced a refined version of the bill in August that drew the endorsement of President Trump. Known as the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act, RAISE sought to create a merit-based point system that considered such factors as grasp of English, job skills and education levels when ranking applicants for employment-based green cards.
One month later, when President Trump rescinded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Cotton said he was open to offering a pathway to citizenship for the young people left unprotected by the change in policy, provided it tied into RAISE with sponsorships extended to merit-based applicants.
Shortly after his controversial letter to Iran, Cotton delivered his first Senate floor speech, in which he decried increasing global threats under the watch of President Obama and called for a drastically increased defense budget. Along those hawkish lines, he has advocated for keeping open the controversial detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee in early 2015 that, "In my opinion, the only problem with Guantánamo Bay is that there are too many empty beds and cells there right now."
Lockstep with President Trump
Cotton was one of the few senators to support Donald Trump through his highly scrutinized presidential campaign, and appeared on TV right after Election Day to back the president-elect's defense of waterboarding as an interrogation technique.
Rewarded with the president's ear, Cotton subsequently had a hand in helping to fill the Cabinet. He pushed for the appointments of John Kelly as chief of staff and H.R. McMaster as national security adviser, after Reince Priebus and Michael Flynn resigned from the respective roles, and helped shape Trump's public stance on immigration.
Underscoring the strength of their relationship, Cotton featured prominently in a late 2017 report about a pending Cabinet shakeup. According to The New York Times, the president was planning to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, opening the door for Cotton to take over the CIA, though the rumored move did not materialize at the time.
Cotton also backed Trump following a January 2018 meeting with lawmakers to discuss immigration policy, in which the president allegedly referred to Haiti and other nations as "s***hole countries." Cotton claimed he never heard Trump use that word, just strong language to convey his unhappiness with an origin and quota-based immigration system.
Following a stint at the management consulting firm of McKinsey & Company, Cotton defeated Arkansas State Senator Gene Jeffress in November 2012 to claim the vacant U.S. House seat representing the state's 4th District.
As with other Tea Party hardliners, Cotton quickly made a name for himself for his unwillingness to compromise. After the "Gang of Eight" pushed an immigration reform bill through the Senate in 2013, Cotton forcefully spoke out against its passage, opposing future House Speaker Paul Ryan, and the bill soon died.
Other stances proved less popular, but strengthened Cotton's reputation among the far-right fringes of the party. He twice voted against the Farm Bill, as well as emergency funding for victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, on the grounds that they included too much wasteful spending. The young congressman also introduced an amendment to not only punish anyone who violated sanctions on Iran, but to also punish that person's relatives, a list that extended to great-grandparents and great grandchildren.
Thomas Bryant Cotton was born on May 13, 1977, in Dardanelle, Arkansas, and raised on his family's cattle farm. Saddled with a speech impediment, he developed into a private, bookish child, though the rapidly growing youngster — he eventually reached a height of 6'5" — also played basketball at Dardanelle High School.
While dad Len, an inspector for the state Department of Health, and mom Avis, a teacher and principal, were avowed Democrats, Cotton realized he was cut from a different cloth. He has cited the "tax increases that passed in the summer and fall of 1993, and also cutting and running from Mogadishu after the battle of Mogadishu," orchestrated by Arkansas native and then President Bill Clinton, as two events that turned him away from liberalism.
After enrolling at Harvard University in 1995, Cotton embraced his conservatism amid the largely liberal campus ideology, expressing his dissenting views in a column for the student newspaper, the Crimson. Majoring in government, he delivered his thesis on the Federalist Papers, penned by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay to promote the ratification of the Constitution, before graduating in three years.
Cotton then embarked on a master's program at Claremont Graduate University in California, but dropped out after finding his lifestyle there to be "too sedentary," and returned to familiar grounds to attend Harvard Law School.
Shortly after beginning his final year, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, changed Cotton's outlook. He graduated the following spring, and moved on to a clerkship with the U.S. Court of Appeals and a position with a Washington law firm, though the idea of military service had already taken root.
After enlisting in the U.S. Army in early 2005, Cotton underwent basic training and attended Officer Candidate School. He was deployed to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division, where he led 96-hour patrols in the field.
In the summer of 2006, Lieutenant Cotton came across a New York Times article that revealed the existence of a covert George W. Bush administration program created to examine financial records for possible terrorist activity. Livid, he hammered out a letter to the editor and copied a few notable conservative blogs:
“You may think you have done a public service, but you have gravely endangered the lives of my soldiers and all other soldiers and innocent Iraqis here,” he wrote. “Next time I hear that familiar explosion—or next time I feel it—I will wonder whether we could have stopped that bomb had you not instructed terrorists how to evade our financial surveillance.”
Returning stateside, Cotton served on the Old Guard, a unit responsible for military honors funerals, before resuming combat duty in Afghanistan with a Provincial Reconstruction Team. He wrapped up his military service with the rank of captain in 2009, garnering the Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge and Ranger Tab for his efforts.
Cotton married his wife, attorney Anna Peckham, in 2014. They have two sons, Gabriel and Daniel.
The senator is an avid runner, allowing him to keep his lanky frame intact and partake in his favorite guilty habit of regularly eating birthday cake with ice cream.
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