Tom Cotton

CIA Director Tom Cotton: A Disaster for Foreign Policy or a Boon for Better Lawmaking?

The Senate would lose an authoritarian who wants to crack down on immigrants and fight the drug war. But he's also a hawk in favor of foreign interventions.


Tom Cotton and Trump
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There are new insider rumors that President Donald Trump's administration is going to see another shake-up at the top.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is not long for his job, according to multiple sources for Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman at The New York Times. The plan, the Times reports, would be for CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take over as secretary of state. Then they're considering installing Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) to lead the CIA.

As always with the Trump administration, be wary when rumors of people quitting or getting fired hit the press. This is a leak-prone administration, and frequently what comes out through unnamed sources are half-baked ideas, trial balloons, or just people within the administration trying to influence the president's decisions by going to the press.

It should not be a surprise if Tillerson gets dumped. He and Trump clearly have been at odds for some time. An entire news cycle in October was consumed with a report that Tillerson called Trump a "moron."

Cotton is one of the bigger champions of allowing the federal government to engage in domestic surveillance without a warrant, so the idea of putting him charge of the CIA might make more than a few folks blanch. He's on board with the Senate Intelligence Committee's bill to formalize the use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Section 702 authorities to snoop on Americans to fight crimes, beyond the intent of the legislation.

Cotton also is quite vocal about wanting regime change in Iran. Putting him in charge of the CIA could facilitate further American meddling in that country. We could see more voices for interventionism and even war from within the Trump administration.

On the other hand, Cotton has a nasty record of taking any number of authoritarian, anti-liberty positions. Getting him out of the Senate could arguably be an improvement in terms of lawmaking. He has been a supporter of harsh mandatory minimum federal sentencing for drug crimes and has stood in the way of reforms of the criminal justice system. And about those harsh crackdowns on illegal immigrants in America—Cotton thinks we have too many legal immigrants, buying into the inaccurate talking point that low-skilled immigrant labor is what is keeping Americans' wages down. And he backs legislation to block online gambling. Cotton has been no friend of freedom as a senator.

Cotton has been so in tune with Trump's worst authoritarian urges the administration might want to keep him where he is, given their challenges in building coalitions with lawmakers. Officials told The Times that there is concern that he's more valuable to Trump in the Senate. If Cotton leaves the Senate to head the CIA, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (a Republican) would name a replacement to serve until next fall. Hutchinson initially endorsed Marco Rubio as president and has not been terribly thrilled with the way Trump has been handling himself as president.

Corrected to fix the misspelling of Tillerson's name.