Interviews

Cotton: President Trump struck the 'right tone' on Syria

Lawmaker says the threats from Syria are grave

 

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," April 6, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There's no doubt in our mind that the Syrian regime, under the leadership of Bashar Assad, is responsible for this horrific attack. And we think it's time that the Russians really need to think carefully about their continued support of the Assad regime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right, the view of the secretary of state on, you know, what we do now in Syria that we're going to do something.

Obviously, he and his boss, the president, are not telegraphing exactly what that something will be.

But Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton with us now on the possibilities.

Obviously, we would presumably work with our allies both in the region, maybe outside, to do something should that be the first step.

SEN. TOM COTTON, R-ARKANSAS: Neil, we should work with our allies where we can, but we have to work alone if we must.

The threats from Syria are grave. And they have been gathering for many years. President Obama should have enforced his own red line four years ago, when he said that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line. He shouldn't have walked away at the time.

Now the world has seen another atrocity committed by Bashar al-Assad. It's these kind of images that are the primary recruiting tool for the Islamic State.

President Trump was obviously very emotionally touched by this. And he recognizes the deep U.S. interest that we have in Syria. So, I think he's struck the right tone yesterday, expressing moral outrage, but also being unspecific about the consequences that Bashar al-Assad will face, but there must be consequences.

CAVUTO: All right, but it's not as if this is new, Senator, what we have seen out of Assad, right?

And in the past, as a candidate, Donald Trump had been very leery of getting involved in Syria, with others or alone and that, furthermore, the idea of taking Assad out of power might be a zero sum game.

And late in the game, he seemed to change his mind that that was even a worthy goal. Do you think that is the goal now or should be the goal now, that, one way or the other, Assad has got to go?

COTTON: Well, Neil, I have long believed Bashar al-Assad has to go.

I don't think the United States can be safe from the threats emanating from Syria with Assad in power. However, military action against Syria, if it occurs, doesn't have to occur with the specific goal of removing Assad from power.

I would draw your viewers' attention to Operation Eldorado Canyon in 1986, when Ronald Reagan retaliated against Libya for bombing a popular nightclub frequented by American service members in Germany. Ronald Reagan didn't try to remove Moammar Gadhafi from power. He didn't try to establish liberal democracy in Libya. But he engaged in punishing retaliatory strikes against Libya to teach Moammar Gadhafi a lesson.

CAVUTO: You think Russia would allow that to happen, look the other way?

COTTON: It depends on how Russia perceives our actions.

Russia is complicit in part in these attacks, because they claimed that they removed all of Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons four years ago. And yet again Vladimir Putin has not dealt in good faith with the United States and our allies.

But, frankly, if we take military action against the sites where chemical munitions are stored, where these aircraft conducted the attack, perhaps against air operation centers or radar systems that help guide these attacks, Russia doesn't have much of an option to retaliate against us.

They might issue a formally -- a strongly worded statement at the United Nations, but they would also understand that the United States once again means business.

CAVUTO: All right, switching to Neil Gorsuch today, it looks like some time tomorrow night, sir, he will be voted and confirmed as a new justice, but largely on Republican support only, save four Democratic senators.

They say the game and the rules have changed to the point now that the Senate is not much different than the House, just that the terms are longer. What do you think?

COTTON: No, the Senate is still very different from the House of Representatives. And that's the way our founders designed it.

But for 214 years, Neil, until 2003, there had never been a single partisan filibuster of any nominee of any kind of the courts or for the executive branch. And it was Chuck Schumer and the Democrats in 2003 that started the extraordinary practice of filibustering judges, the first time in 214 years.

Over the last 14 years, there's been action by both sides, but now today, we have returned the Senate to where it was for 214 years, which I think is probably where we should have stayed all along. Nominees brought to the floor of the Senate deserve an up-or-down vote.

That's what Neil Gorsuch is going to get. And tomorrow night, he will be confirmed to the United States Supreme Court.

CAVUTO: Eventually, Democrats -- I'm sure you hope not too soon -- will be running that Senate where you are now. They might have a Democratic president. And they might ram a choice down your throat, too. How would you feel?

COTTON: Well, I would point out that no Republican senator has ever voted to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee.

If a senator chooses to vote against a nominee on the merits, to vote against the confirmation of a nominee, that's one thing. But to deny a Supreme Court nominee an up-or-down vote was something that was not in keeping with Senate tradition for 214 years.

And oftentimes, Neil, in life and in the United States Senate, the unwritten rules are just as important as the written rules.

CAVUTO: Senator Tom Cotton, thank you very, very much, Senator Cotton joining us out of Capitol Hill.

END

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