As the first 100 days of the of Donald Trump’s presidency draw to an end, Arkansas’s Junior U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton fielded questions about the chief executive and the new administration for about an hour on Wednesday.
Cotton appeared with Clinton School of Public Service Dean Skip Rutherford at the Robinson Center in Little Rock. When asked about Trump’s proposed budget, which dramatically reduces funding for a number of government programs and departments, Cotton said Congress is unlikely to implement it line by line.
“Whether it’s Bill Clinton or George Bush or Barack Obama or Donald Trump, Congress controls the spending power in our Constitution and the budgets and the appropriations bills will reflect first and foremost the priorities of senators and congressmen as we speak for our voters back home,” he said.
The Republican from Dardanelle noted that the Trump administration’s oft-cited proposed budget is for fiscal year 2018. Congress, meanwhile, now faces a decision on funding the federal government through the rest of the current fiscal year. Cotton said he expects Congress to avoid a “cliffhanging moment” or government shutdown as it faces an April 28 deadline to pass a funding bill.
Rutherford pressed Cotton on Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns. Cotton declined to say that the president should release the documents to the public, repeating a stance he took at a town hall earlier this week.
“Whether the president releases his taxes or not is not going to bring a single job to Arkansas or get our kids a better education or give our troops the equipment they need to fight around the world to keep us safe,” he said.
Cotton said he has seen both classified and unclassified reports and source materials provided by U.S. intelligence services relating to Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. Cotton sits on the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence, which is conducting an investigation into Russian meddling.
“We’re currently interviewing analysts and experts within the intelligence community. I would imagine we’ll turn to interviewing some members of the administration as well, and that could be a topic of conversation. We’ll follow the facts wherever they lead us,” he said.
Cotton said he hopes the committee can eventually make public as many conclusions, and facts behind the conclusions, as possible. He did not say whether there will be any further public hearings on the Russian investigation.
On healthcare, Cotton said it was an issue that he and fellow members of Congress cannot “turn our back on.”
Cotton reiterated his support for the Trump's decision to launch air strikes against the Syrian military in response to its chemical gas attack on Syrian citizens. He said North Korea’s advancement of ballistic missiles and nuclear technologies poses an ever increasing threat and that the U.S. has "run out of road to kick the can on.” Cotton said the U.S. needs to develop a new policy in relation to the autocratic regime.
"As [Secretary of State] Rex Tillerson has said, the era of strategic patience has come to an end."