The Curious Votes of the GOP’s Favorite Candidate

The votes that have made Tom Cotton a Republican star might help his opponent in the fall.

National Journal
Alex Roarty
Add to Briefcase
Alex Roarty
Jan. 29, 2014, 9:03 a.m.

Law­makers des­per­ate to win their next elec­tion usu­ally cast votes with the ut­most polit­ic­al sens­it­iv­ity. And then there’s Tom Cot­ton.

The fresh­man Re­pub­lic­an con­gress­man voted against the farm bill Wed­nes­day des­pite his home state of Arkan­sas’s heavy agrari­an bent, be­cause he said the le­gis­la­tion would spend too much on food stamps. He was the only one of the state’s four-mem­ber, all-GOP House del­eg­a­tion to do so (the state’s Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or, John Booz­man, is also ex­pec­ted to back the le­gis­la­tion). To the cas­u­al ob­serv­er, it’s a strange vote for a man en­gaged in a tough race to un­seat Demo­crat Mark Pry­or in this year’s Sen­ate race, an in­cum­bent who, of course, will vote for the bill.

But for Cot­ton, his op­pos­i­tion was part of a broad­er pat­tern. He’s made one polit­ic­ally risky de­cision after an­oth­er, votes that seem at odds with a can­did­ate try­ing to knock off a once-pop­u­lar in­cum­bent.

Since tak­ing of­fice last year, Cot­ton has voted against the Vi­ol­ence Against Wo­men Act, op­posed lower­ing stu­dent-loan rates, and backed a budget that would tinker with Medi­care and So­cial Se­cur­ity. Most vis­ibly, he has been one of the House’s most out­spoken sup­port­ers of us­ing the U.S. mil­it­ary in Syr­ia, writ­ing an op-ed in sup­port of ac­tion in The Wash­ing­ton Post. In some cases, like the farm bill, he was out on a limb, without the sup­port of his fel­low Arkan­sas Re­pub­lic­ans.

A typ­ic­al politi­cian, it’s fair to say, wouldn’t do those sorts of things ahead of a com­pet­it­ive gen­er­al elec­tion. Every vote they take is care­fully cal­ib­rated to give them the best pos­sible op­por­tun­ity to win their race.

Take Pry­or. He voted against ex­pand­ing gun-sale back­ground checks and con­tin­ues to op­pose gay mar­riage. Both put him at odds with his party and fig­ure to help him, however mar­gin­ally, in the fall.

And while Re­pub­lic­ans say they’re the kind of votes that have helped make Cot­ton a rising star in the party, they also un­doubtedly provide an open­ing to Demo­crats, who want to paint the con­gress­man as reck­less and out of the main­stream.

“In vot­ing against the farm bill, Con­gress­man Cot­ton once again sided with his spe­cial-in­terest al­lies, the same Wash­ing­ton groups spend­ing mil­lions on his cam­paign that urged him to op­pose the farm bill,” Pry­or said in a state­ment. “It’s reck­less and ir­re­spons­ible for Con­gress­man Cot­ton to put his own am­bi­tions ahead of what’s best for Arkansans, and the people of our state de­serve bet­ter.”

Those votes, along with his back­ground as an Army Ranger who served de­ploy­ments in Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan, have made him a star among fisc­al and na­tion­al se­cur­ity con­ser­vat­ives alike — he’s per­haps the only es­tab­lish­ment-backed Sen­ate can­did­ate on the map this year about whom con­ser­vat­ives are also ex­cited. And in his sup­port­ers’ telling, Cot­ton’s votes are driv­en by prin­ciple, not polit­ics. They ar­gue that voters will see his re­cord the same way.

“The votes and po­s­i­tions Tom takes are a policy de­cision, not polit­ic­al de­cision,” said Cot­ton’s spokes­wo­man, Car­oline Rab­bit. “Tom al­ways says he learned in the Army that lead­er­ship is tak­ing the hard right over the easy wrong, and I think that’s an ac­cur­ate way to de­scribe things here. Tom is a lead­er. He’s been elec­ted by his con­stitu­ents to rep­res­ent their best in­terests and sup­port Arkansans and put our state and na­tion back on a path of fisc­al re­spons­ib­il­ity.”

In private, Cot­ton back­ers might con­cede that his votes aren’t per­fect polit­ic­ally, but that they won’t mat­ter, be­cause Pres­id­ent Obama’s di­min­ished stand­ing and Arkan­sas’s grow­ing con­ser­vat­ism already make the con­gress­man a strong fa­vor­ite. They might be right. But for now, Pry­or’s biggest hopes for vic­tory might come dir­ectly from Cot­ton’s own vot­ing re­cord.

What We're Following See More »
WROTE LAW THAT WEAKENED OPIOID OVERSIGHT
Trump: Marino Withdrawing Nomination for Drug Czar
21 hours ago
THE LATEST
Doesn’t Express Confidence in Marino
Trump to Declare Opioid Emergency Next Week
1 days ago
THE LATEST

After initially promising it in August, "President Trump said Monday that he will declare a national emergency next week to address the opioid epidemic." When asked, he also "declined to express confidence in Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), his nominee for drug czar, in the wake of revelations that the lawmaker helped steer legislation making it harder to act against giant drug companies."

Source:
IN LIGHT OF 60 MINUTES REVELATIONS
Manchin Asks Trump to Drop Marino’s Nomination for Drug Czar
1 days ago
THE LATEST
WOULD OVERTURN MARINO LEGISLATION ON DRUG DISTRIBUTORS
McCaskill Will Introduce Bill in Response to “60 Minutes” Scoop
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

In the wake of Sunday's blockbuster 60 Minutes/Washington Post report on opioid regulation and enforcement, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has introduced legislation that "would repeal a 2016 law that hampered the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to regulate opioid distributors it suspects of misconduct." In a statement, McCaskill said: “Media reports indicate that this law has significantly affected the government’s ability to crack down on opioid distributors that are failing to meet their obligations and endangering our communities."

Source:
EVACUATION DRILL STARTS NEXT MONDAY
U.S. Military to Practice Evacuating Americans in S. Korea
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"The United States military said on Monday that it would practice evacuating noncombatant Americans out of South Korea in the event of war and other emergencies, as the two allies began a joint naval exercise amid heightened tensions with North Korea. The evacuation drill, known as Courageous Channel, is scheduled from next Monday through Friday and is aimed at preparing American 'service members and their families to respond to a wide range of crisis management events such as noncombatant evacuation and natural or man-made disasters,' the United States military said in a statement."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login