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Cotton to Biden: Send More Support to Ukraine
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Cotton to Biden: Send More Support to Ukraine

Plus: Cotton speaks on McConnell's aptitude

Sen. Tom Cotton joins The Dispatch Podcast and pushes back against the growing GOP opposition to sending aid to Ukraine. David Drucker also asks Cotton his thoughts on:
-U.S.-China policy
-Dealing with Iran
-McConnell’s current aptitude

Show Notes:

Transcript:

David Drucker

Good to see you. I never know what my producers are going to do with these Dispatch Podcasts, but if anybody ever does see this, what they’re going to see is you dressed like a United States Senator in a suit and tie and me in a hoodie. But just so everybody knows, this is so I can honor the new Senate dress code, which basically says you can show up in your flip flops and gym shorts and it’s all cool.

Sen. Tom Cotton

Thanks David, good to be here with you.

David Drucker

I don’t know if you have any plans to, because you’re a pretty avid runner. I know you still look to me like you could fit in your army combat uniform. If you’re gonna go straight from the gym to the Senate floor rather than, you know, getting dressed up like you are right now.

Sen. Tom Cotton

Trust me, David, this is my least favorite part of the job, is having to put on this get up every day. Not something I often do around Arkansas when I’m home. But no, I have on occasion, running late to get to a vote when a flight’s been delayed or otherwise, not able to get dressed up in proper business attire, stuck my head in the Senate and voted yes or no, but that’s been the custom. If you’re not wearing coat and tie as a Senator, you stick your head in the door from the hallway give a thumbs up or thumbs down to respect the traditional decorum of the institution. I personally think that’s what it should be and I suspect if Republicans win back the Senate next year, I think we will, that’s what we’ll insist upon as well. If it’s been good enough for 250 years since the founding, it’s probably good enough still.

David Drucker

Well, you know, if you guys do win the majority back, we’re not gonna ask about any policy questions. You know, the first thing we’re gonna ask is, are suit and ties back in, and are hoodies and flip flops out. So you know that’s coming. By the way, that lengthy introduction, I didn’t mention Senator Cotton’s the author of two books, Sacred Duty, A Soldier’s Tour at Arlington National Cemetery, and Only the Strong, Reversing the Left’s Plot to Sabotage American Power. And, you know, all this.

Intro kidding aside here, I really brought you on to discuss American power. You and I have these discussions every so often. It allows me to exercise my foreign policy hobby horse. Obviously I spend my days as a campaign reporter for The Dispatch, which I love, but, but foreign policy matters. So I wanted to talk to you first about Ukraine. I know recently you were traveling abroad as you often do, uh, to get a firsthand look at things. I don’t know where you went. I don’t know if you can tell me where you went.

So I’m just going to say you were traveling. You can fill in the blanks if you can, if you want. The first question I wanted to ask you is about Ukraine and this unprovoked invasion from Russia, that’s now almost a couple of years old or at least a year and a half, I’m losing track of time here. The United States has been spending a good deal of money shipping weapons and other military aid to Ukraine, not to mention the difference.

The diplomatic muscle we’ve been investing. It’s not a huge percentage of our overall defense budget or of all the money we do spend, but we’re still spending a good amount of taxpayer dollars to help Ukraine fight and resist this invasion. Why should Americans care about this and why should they think that what we are doing is a good idea?

Sen. Tom Cotton

At the broadest level, David, the lessons of history tell us that if we allow unprovoked aggression, especially by larger nations against smaller nations, to go unpunished, then we can expect to get more of it. This is part of the reason why President Bush, the elder, rallied a global coalition to eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. It wasn’t just about control of oil. It was the threat that Saddam Hussein would then pose to other nations as well, like Saudi Arabia.

Likewise, if we were to stand by and to have let Vladimir Putin simply conquer Ukraine last winter, most of the countries that are on Ukraine’s border are members of NATO, and most of the other countries to which he might turn through are in NATO as well. And that’s to say nothing of the lessons that Xi Jinping would draw if the United States and the West had simply stood aside while there was an unprovoked war of aggression against a nation in their backyard with whom they have historic, cultural, religious, linguistic and ethnic ties. And I think the Chinese communists would have taken from that lesson, just like they’d take from the lesson now if our support for Ukraine were to falter that there’s no chance that the United States and the Western civilized world will stand by Taiwan, an island on the other side of the world, which with whom they have none of those things. And therefore I think it’s a clear lesson of history.

That you have to stand up to unchecked, unprovoked aggression. I mean, I can imagine that many people in Europe and the United States especially thought in the 1920s and the 1930s, like, well, why shouldn’t we just give the rural valley back to Germany? It’s really theirs anyway. What do we care about Manchuria if Japan has its way there? Are we really gonna go to war over Abyssinia when Italy invaded it? A country that most people can’t pick off a map. You know, Germany and Austria, they’re not all that different. They’re all Germans. And even Czechoslovakia, that’s kind of made up in between the wars too. I’m sure lots of people thought those things, but if at any time from the immediate aftermath of World War I, probably up to and including 1938, if Great Britain and France and supported by America, especially with our industrial might, had put our foot down.

Not just against Nazi Germany, but against Weimar Republic Germany, the history of the world might be very different. That’s one of the lessons that the early Cold War leaders in our nation took. Having seen what happened in places like Manchuria or Abyssinia that may not be important, all that important in their own right, they became vitally concerned about those lessons. That’s why they immediately drew a line in places like Berlin or like Korea. So I think in the biggest sense, we have to ensure that aggressive dictators around the world, Russia, China, anywhere else, don’t take the lesson that they can simply decide when and where they’re gonna invade and gobble up other countries. Now there’s many other ancillary interests we have as well, like for instance, the threat that Russia conquering Ukraine would pose to international energy and mineral and agricultural markets, what it means geographically for the rest of NATO as I open with or to give Russia total control in effect over the Black Sea. There’s many other interests as well. And I think our support for Ukraine has been appropriate, but not fast enough. We’re to the point now today on September 18th, as we’re recording this, where Joe Biden is reportedly going to finally provide long-range missiles, the kind of missiles that France and Great Britain have already provided. This is a common pattern for what Joe Biden has done.

He first tempted Vladimir Putin to go for the jugular with his weakness and concessions to Putin in 2021. And since the war started, really in the lead up to the war, since it started, he’s always been just a day late and a dollar short. I want this war to end as much as anyone. The way to have ended this war much earlier would have been to give the Ukrainians exactly what they needed to fight when they needed it. They wouldn’t have been fighting against deeply entrenched Russian defensive lines if they had that equipment eight months ago. So I support Ukraine. I don’t support what Joe Biden’s Ukraine policy has been. I think he both courted this war with Vladimir Putin, but also prolonged it because of his hesitation and his weakness and his diffidence about actually standing up for what I’ve discussed.

David Drucker

I want to dissect some of your points. Let me first ask you about President Biden’s Ukraine policy. It seems like he ends up landing where Republicans like you are, at the very least, when we’re talking just about Republicans, Republicans like you don’t want him to be, as you call it, a day late and a dollar short. I’ll just say he eventually gets there.

A lot of Republicans grumble that it took him too long, but they like where he ends up. Is it possible that, however misguided, what he’s trying to do is make sure that this doesn’t look like an American effort, that it looks like an international effort, and in particular, like a European effort, so that the Russians and American critics around the world, and so that some constituencies in some of these countries can’t get queasy about us doing what we often do because nobody else will do it, which is just get the job done because nobody else wants to do it. In this way, maybe it creates more international unity, even if the downside is it puts the Ukrainian effort to repel the Russians at risk of not succeeding, or at least not succeeding fast enough.

Sen. Tom Cotton

I guess it’s possible to say that, but it would be wrong to say that. I think what he’s done is been bluffed by Vladimir Putin, who like Russian leaders for time immemorial has followed a policy of bluff. He’s been scared of his own shadow. He’s been like an elephant who’s seen a mouse and jumped up on a table. Every time Vladimir Putin threatens some kind of escalation, Joe Biden seems to hesitate in him and halt. Well, within three or six months either Vladimir Putin has escalated, in a way, feared for his own strategic reasons, or we’ve taken the steps that President Biden didn’t want to take, providing actual intelligence, providing this, that, or the other kind of weapon system, and Vladimir Putin doesn’t retaliate. There’s some things you could lay blame at the feet of certain European nations. I don’t think this is one of those things, in part because you see a consistent and more aggressive push by most European nations, especially over the last year or so, to actually provide Ukraine what they needed. You know, one of the places I went on the trip you alluded to was Poland. And the Poles, just like the Baltics, have been very assertive in trying to provide more weapons earlier to Ukraine, so Ukraine can fight its own war. Remember, Ukraine is not asking for American troops. They’re not asking for any NATO nation troops. All they’re asking is the weapons they need to defend their own territory. Consider the case of Slovakia, the very first country to offer to provide fighter jets to Ukraine. 

This was in the immediate aftermath of the invasion. And Tony Blinken, the secretary of state, went out and said, we wouldn’t have an objection to that. And Joe Biden immediately shot that down because it’s Joe Biden personally who has been wracked by unwarranted anxiety from the very beginning. And this has had a real world consequence. It’s not enough just for him to finally get around to providing armored personnel carriers or Abrams tanks or now fighter jets and maybe long range missiles. If Ukraine had been able to get on the offensive in the south six months ago or eight months ago before Russia dug in these trench lines, you wouldn’t see the slow pace in the offensive you’re seeing now. 

They’re doing better than Joe Biden and his anonymous administration officials are giving them credit for, but they would have done much better, they would have gone faster if we didn’t give Russia the luxury of all those months to bring in earth movers and other kinds of deep entrenching equipment and construction equipment to dig these deep defensive lines. So it’s really not enough in warfare to get around to the right answer finally because the right answer may be too late to be effective. As MacArthur said, failures in warfare almost always boil down to two words, “too late.”

David Drucker

Interesting. By the way, you seem to assess the counteroffensive being waged by Ukraine as being effective or at least having a chance to really succeed. I just wanted to ask you about that quickly because we get conflicting reports, which I think are honestly hard to come by. In other words, I think people see one thing and they’re like, gee, this is going to take a while. I don’t know if it’ll succeed. Then I hear from another expert that’s like, actually, this is going really well. Whether we all turn out to be right or wrong, do you, coming back from Europe, have a sense of how well the Ukrainian army is doing?

Sen. Tom Cotton

I think they’re doing well under the circumstances. Again, you have the Biden administration sending out senior administration officials on background to slander Ukrainian soldiers out on the front line who are fighting to defend their own country, their own wives and children, saying that they’re not engaged in the kind of combined arms warfare that the American military would undertake. Well, no joke, it’s hard to conduct combined armed warfare when you don’t have combined arms.

I know American generals wouldn’t expect American soldiers to undertake the kind of operation that we’re pushing through the administration of Ukraine to do right now without air dominance or at least air superiority, without control over long range fires. It’s very hard to demine a minefield when Russia still has air superiority in many places, when their long range fires have not been suppressed. None of this had to happen though. I would bring you and the listeners back to where we were a year ago when Ukraine had a major breakout in the Northeast around Kharkiv. And they had another major breakout two months later in November around Kherson in the South. In both of those, they were very quick events. Russian lines totally collapsed. That’s what happens when you’re on the offensive and your enemy hasn’t had months and months and months to build in trench lines and minefields and tank ditches, dragon’s teeth and machine gun and anti-tank missile boxes and the rest. 

If Ukraine wasn’t fighting up against those defenses, maybe lines in the south and the east would have been breached months ago when this offensive preferably would have started. All that said, given where we are today, they’re still making progress getting through the lines of defense, especially in the south. And I think that’s probably strategically the most important right now because so much of Russia’s logistical support comes from Crimea and the territories in and around it. So I think, again, sitting where we are in mid-September, the Ukrainians probably have at least another month, maybe six to seven weeks of good fighting season left. Are they going to get all the way to the coast at the Sea of Azov? I don’t see that happening, but I also don’t think they necessarily have to get to the Sea of Azov, even if that was their original objective. To the second and then final lines and then periphery obstacles as well.

Sen. Tom Cotton

If they can establish their own defensive perimeter so they can’t be pushed back, that will put their artillery in range of the coast of the Sea of Azov. And that will significantly therefore restrain Russia’s ability to keep its troops supplied. Right now, Russian forces are able to, with impunity, drive cargo trucks up and down Southern Ukraine all the way to Crimea. If they had to worry about those cargo trucks being artilleried, then they’d be in a much different position. And the Ukrainians are not that far away from getting to the point where they could range the rest of Russian controlled southern Crimea or southern Ukraine down to Crimea with the artillery they have now. Then it’s just a matter of setting in their own defensive perimeter.

David Drucker

Interesting just as a related item, you and some of your Republican colleagues have sent a letter to the Biden administration requesting that a missile system that could help them, the Ukrainians, do some damage be provided and be provided quickly. So we’ll see if anything comes of that. I have a time crunch here so you can forgive me for just starting to move along here because I get fascinated by this stuff and I could just get buried in it. Eventually you’ll tell me you have better things to do. 

You know, I’m a Cold War kid, right? I mean, I really came of age in the 1980s. And that means that Republicans were internationalists and believed in projecting American power abroad. And they particularly didn’t like Russians. I don’t mean the Russian people, but the Russian government back then, the Soviet Union. And so it’s always just a little, like I’m in this bizarro world, this alternate universe, when I see a good seemingly good chunk of the Republican Party anywhere taking issue with sending money and arms to help a government fight off invading Russians. I just wanted to talk to you about the some of the differences over foreign policy that exist in your party right now because you’re living through some of it. I mean, I think Republicans that agree with you on foreign policy and on the Ukraine issue still predominate in the United States Senate.

But some of your newer colleagues disagree, don’t think any more money should be spent on this and don’t really seem to care much one way or the other whether Russia takes over Ukraine. I’m not suggesting that there’s something wrong with it, it’s just a different opinion. And clearly in the House of Representatives, it’s unclear whether a supplemental bill to spend more on military aid for Ukraine can get through the House. Now, given that…

It’s something that’s highly supported in the Senate and by the White House. And you have to fund the government and pay for disaster relief. Eventually, I imagine it gets there. But I wanted to ask you, you’re not that much younger than me. You’re kind of younger than me, but not too much. What is going on right now in the Republican party as it relates to foreign policy, where there are some major presidential candidates that are content to let Russia overrun Ukraine and don’t think it’s worth an investment by the United States, not in boots on the ground by any stretch, but just “here missiles. Thanks for doing the fighting and degrading the Russian army and preventing us from getting into some really big quagmire in Europe.”

Sen. Tom Cotton

Well, David, it gets back to a point I made earlier that I support Ukraine, but I don’t support Joe Biden’s Ukraine policy. I suspect that would unite the vast majority, if not all, Republicans, the United States Congress and the vast majority of Republicans across Arkansas and across the country. There are deep reservations and I share those reservations about the way Joe Biden has ineffectively helped Ukraine try to wage this defensive war against Russia’s unprovoked invasion. I saw that similarly 10 years ago when Barack Obama hesitated and refused to enforce his own red line after Bashar al-Assad had gassed his own people in Syria. 

He threw it to Congress. He was looking for a scapegoat that he could blame his own inaction on. And you saw what that led to around the world, whether it was the rise of ISIS, China building islands in the South China Sea, and a even more emboldened Iran or what have you. So, see, I have a lot of doubts about the commander-in-chief who’s actually undertaking this effort. 

Back then, four years later, when Donald Trump became president, he enforced Barack Obama’s own red line, probably thinking he shouldn’t have drawn it in the first place. The shoe was on the other foot. You had a lot of Democrats who opposed that, who had been clamoring for it in 2013. So some of this is simply mistrust, reasonable mistrust, I would say, in Joe Biden’s competence to actually execute this effort to support Ukraine’s military. I think that’s point number one. 

Point number two. The president has not done a good enough job of simply making this case simply to the American people. Where’s the Oval Office address been? Where’s laying out what we’ve done to support Ukraine and how it fits in the broader context of our defense budget where it is a relatively small fraction? It’s a lot of money, but it’s a relatively small fraction. We’re not explaining how much of that money is simply going to replace our own military stockpiles with the most cutting edge equipment because we’ve sent Russia our own.

We’ve sent Ukraine our older munitions that they can use to defend against Russia. So if we send modification three munitions to Ukraine that we’ve had for seven years, and we can replace it now with modification six, that’s a good thing for our own military. To say nothing of the fact that stuff that’s being made new and sent fresh off the lines to Ukraine is also providing good high paying jobs in places like Camden, Arkansas. So there’s a lot of things that the American people, in particular when you lay out some of the basic facts about our support for Ukraine, you see even more support for them. There’s always sympathy for them, but even more support for the concept that we should be doing with them, what we did for, say, Afghanistan or Nicaragua under Ronald Reagan. We didn’t invade those countries. We didn’t try to topple their regimes. We didn’t fight their own wars for them. But we tried to support peoples who are resisting either internal subversion and oppression or external invasion and dominance. 

You know, that’s something that Harry Truman said that we would do in the beginning of the Cold War, something that Ronald Reagan acted on repeatedly that’s very different from the kind of wars that some Republicans point to as analogous, like in Iraq or Afghanistan, that went on for more than a decade and had unsatisfying outcomes. What we’re doing in Ukraine is much more in keeping with what Ronald Reagan did, which helped bring an end to the Cold War.

David Drucker

I wanted to get back to the point you made about how China is tied to this issue. In other words, and you had said that if China watches Russia take over Ukraine without any resistance from the West, then they’re going to look at Taiwan and other territory in the Asia Pacific and say, I guess they won’t care if we do it either, and they’re more likely to act on their expansionist desires.

I wanted you to talk about that because one of the biggest messages we hear from Republicans who are opposed to what we’re doing in Ukraine is they say that we’re taking our eye off the ball in China and we really need to be focused on China. Related to that, I would like to have you answer this. It’s a question I pose to every Republican presidential candidate I can find. Turns out you’re not among them. But you’re not getting out of it this way, but it’s a perfectly normal question, which is, it’s very bipartisan these days to say that China is a problem and the U.S. needs to do something about it. 

If you want to be president and you’re likely to take over the White House in 2025 and you don’t get to go back in time 10 years, which you won’t be able to, what should U.S. policy toward China be? What should we be doing to contain China and prevent all of the concerns that we have about what it means for a rising China to act on its impulses?

Sen. Tom Cotton

Yeah, so first off on the question about the lessons that Communist China is taking from this war in Ukraine I would say you don’t take my word for it. Every senior national leader from East Asia with whom I’ve consulted, most particularly from Taiwan and Japan and South Korea, are supportive of our efforts to support Ukraine. They’re supporting Ukraine themselves and they say it’s directly tied to the ones who are right next to China. 

They’re the ones on the front lines of a potential conflict. And they’re the ones who say, we need to support Ukraine. We need to back them to the hill. We need to teach Xi Jinping and Chinese communists that the civilized world will not falter whenever you have an unprovoked invasion by a country like Russia into a country like Ukraine. 

If they did, then those countries would fear that Taiwan is going to be next. And if Taiwan is next, who knows what comes next after that? Because of the massive strategic advantage China gains if they were to invade and annex Taiwan, especially without significant losses. So what should China policy be? Well, I’ve laid out a long series of ideas and legislation and other reports that I think we should undertake from the very beginning of a new administration. I think Joe Biden has been constrained because of the popularity of Donald Trump’s China policy.

A measure of foreign policy support is its longevity across changes of administration. He hasn’t done nearly as good as a job that Donald Trump did in 2020 in addressing China’s malevolent behavior, not just in the military world, but in the world of economy, trade, finance, and so forth. So for instance, we should take away China’s permanent most favored nation status. That doesn’t mean they won’t still be able to trade with us.

But there still has to be some democratic accountability on a year by year basis. I think the Trump tariffs have been effective in many ways. You’ve got to keep refreshing them. China’s very effective at getting around those tariffs, especially in critical industries, whether it’s through trans shipping, through other third nation countries, or otherwise trying to evade them by creating different corporate structures or so forth. Those have to be constantly refreshed. The fundamental basis of all our power, political power, diplomatic power, economic power, is of course our military power. And we need to undertake a breakneck buildup of our military, especially our Air Force and our Navy, and get them better postured to be able to fight and win a war in the Western Pacific against China and therefore achieve what we all want, which is peace. To convince Chinese communists that they could never win a war over Taiwan and therefore they will never try to invade Taiwan and risk a war with the United States of America.

David Drucker

Should the United States, regardless of who the president is, make clear that we will defend Taiwan militarily with the United States, boots in the sea, if you will, with ships and weapons and soldiers, if they attack? Or should we leave it ambiguous and stick with a one-China policy?

Sen. Tom Cotton

I think strategic and moral clarity is the best way to signal our intentions to aggressive dictators. Again, to take the lessons of history. If Western leaders had sent this signal to Wilhelm in Germany, if they’d sent it to Nazi Germany, we might have avoided two world wars, or at least the worst of those wars. If John F. Kennedy hadn’t been so weak and incompetent in 1961 and 1962, I doubt Nikita Khrushchev would have thought he could get away with putting nuclear missiles in Cuba or if he was caught that he could bargain away our own missiles in Turkey or get a security guarantee for Fidel Castro. Same thing with actions throughout history. So I think the best thing to do is to have moral and strategic clarity that the United States will aid Taiwan if China launches an attack against Taiwan.

Our policy of strategic ambiguity goes back to the 1970s with the shift from recognizing Taiwan as the legitimate government of China to recognizing communist China. In those days, really up until about probably 10 years ago, 15 years ago, the PLA was not able to conduct that amphibious operation in Taiwan. Very serious, complicated military operation. So we knew that China couldn’t do what we wanted to do in the first place.

So why take the provocative action with the prevailing view? Well, I think they do have the military now that’s capable of that. It would be hard, Taiwan would fight. They wouldn’t suffer no losses. But if it was a fight just between the two of them, I think there’s no doubt who would win in the end. A second reason why we had a policy of strategic ambiguity going back to 70s is Taiwan wasn’t yet really a democracy. And presidents didn’t want to embolden a single man to take actions like just unilaterally declaring independence contrary to what you call the one China policy. I do want to be clear though that we don’t have to change our policy relative to Beijing and Taipei to change our policy towards China invading Taiwan. Right now what we want is peace and…

David Drucker

Okay, so you, I’m sorry to interrupt, but you disagree with your old buddy, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who believes that the United States should recognize Taiwan as essentially the independent nation that it is.

Sen. Tom Cotton

I think we can live with the status quo that we’ve lived under for decades in our relationship with Taiwan if we can deter communist China from invading Taiwan.

David Drucker

Okay. All right. You’ve been very generous with your time. I want to close with a lightning round that has to do with domestic politics. And I wanted to ask you first, you pay attention to the politics of politics. It’s not something you’re unfamiliar with or that you ignore. I wanted to ask you, given how the elections went last year, the midterm elections in 2022,

Democrats gained a Senate seat rather than losing the majority to the Republicans. Republicans won a majority in the House, but it was a much smaller pickup than you would have expected from a president’s first midterm election where his approval ratings weren’t that great and people didn’t think the economy was doing so great.

I mean, obviously, look, you’re gonna have a nominee and that individual is gonna dictate a lot. But just from your vantage point as a political operator, what does the party need to do differently in 2024 that it that it didn’t do or got wrong in 2022 so that it can take advantage of a president who still has low approval ratings, of views on the economy that are still pessimistic, despite some strong economic indicators, what do you guys need to do differently or better or both?

Sen. Tom Cotton

Well, one thing just about the nature of American elections, I think we’re going to see a much bigger turnout next year, obviously, in the presidential election, than we saw in the midterm. And in recent years, especially since Donald Trump was elected president, higher turnouts have tended to favor Republicans. We’ve certainly tended to overperform polls the more we turn out voters. So I think that’s part of the shifting nature of our coalitions. So I think we’re going to have the benefit of having many more Republican or conservative leaning independents and Democrats coming to the polls next year. 

Persuasion is important too, though. Turn out not alone. I think Joe Biden is doing a lot to help persuade the American people. They didn’t deserve a second term. As you say, going out campaigning every day for Bidenomics is like a campaign commercial for Republicans because most Americans, especially those still struggling to make ends meet due to Biden’s inflation, are not a big believer in Bidenomics. The situation at the border has gotten worse.

Crime has continued to get worse. You see less respect for us, for our allies around the world and less fear from our adversaries. There are other issues that some Republicans don’t want to touch on, like the Dobbs decision last year and the abortion issue. I think too many Republicans kind of ran away from that issue and didn’t want to discuss it at all. They allowed the Democrats to define the field, when in reality, pro-choice today actually means pro-abortion and pro-abortion up to the final moments of a pregnancy. And Democrats need to be held to account for their radical position which is far beyond where mainstream public opinion is in America. 

So I think there’s issues that we’ve campaigned on in the past successfully and we can campaign on. I think there’s issues that are new and that some Republicans didn’t want to engage on, but we have to engage on because if you don’t, you just allow the Democrats to define us on incorrect terms.

David Drucker

And finally, I wanted to ask you about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He’s had some health issues over the past several months. Obviously, he was out for a while from the Senate after a fall. He had a concussion. And there’s been two moments over the past three months or so where he froze up in public. He was, you know, a few minutes later able to speak and answer questions. And look, there are people concerned just because he’s a prominent political leader in the Senate, there are Republicans concerned that like him and want him to continue to be able to serve in the manner they are used to, right? Somebody who can negotiate, bring factions together, deal with Democrats, deal with a Republican president, deal with a Democratic president, deal with a Republican House of Representatives that doesn’t always see eye to eye with the Senate. How is he doing? And do you have any doubt that he can be who he is at the level he has set, at least through the end of his term, current term in office, if he so chooses.

Sen. Tom Cotton

Well, first off, from my perspective, he’s doing just fine. I mean, I see him every day that we’re in session in Washington. We talk regularly. He does not seem to have lost a step to me. He is still recovering from the fall he took in March, where he had a concussion. And I think that affected his energy level. Recovering from a broken rib is very hard. I think it affected his hearing for a time as well. But on balance, he’s the same Senator McConnell that I’ve always seen and worked with. He’s as shrewd and canny about legislation and procedure and he’s trying to make sure that we’re getting positive results for the American people. 

That said, I mean, he’s had a couple of moments that he described and he acknowledges that. I’m not sure he knows why that’s happened. I certainly don’t and I’m not gonna play armchair doctor. I think most of us had an experience personally or with loved ones where you have some condition or some ailment and you try to do everything you can to address it and you just don’t know what it is. You know, you go to the best doctors and they can’t pinpoint it either.

And I think that’s probably frustrating for him. But as you saw, the attending physician of Congress, Dr. Monahan, submitted almost every test you could imagine. And all those doctors said they found no reason to doubt that he was fully capable of continuing to perform the duties, not just as Republican leader in the Senate, but also as the Senator from Kentucky. So I’m confident he’ll continue along those lines. I do want to point out, David, that all of our friends at places like the New York Times and CNN and the Washington Post seem much more concerned about Mitch McConnell’s health than they are Joe Biden’s health, even though Mitch McConnell is obviously in better health than Joe Biden. 

He’s much more forthcoming about his health than Joe Biden, and his job is not as important as Joe Biden’s. So I’d like them to show at least a fraction of the curiosity and frankly, to permit a fraction of the armchair medical diagnoses that they’ve done for Mitch McConnell. That they will man the ramparts against and demand that people have their medical license pulled if anyone tries it with Joe Biden.

David Drucker

And you heard it here first on the Dispatch Podcast, so maybe you’ll get somewhere with that. Senator Tom Cotton, thanks so much for joining us on the Dispatch Podcast. It’s been a pleasure. I hope to see you again soon.

Sen. Tom Cotton

Thanks, David.

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David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.