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NBC: "Meet the Press" - Transcript: Immigration and Foreign Affairs

Interview

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Location: Washington, DC

And by the way, the Senate's getting a little younger. The average age of new senators will be 50. It's about ten years younger than the average age of the entire Senate. And one reason the average age is skewing downward is thanks to our next guest, Representative Tom Cotton of Arkansas. At 37, he will become the youngest member of the Senate. Cotton's victory over incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor helped give Republicans their new majority in the Senate. Senator-Elect Cotton, welcome back to Meet the Press.

REP. TOM COTTON:
Thank you, it's great to be on. I think I may have single-handedly brought that average down by six years.

CHUCK TODD:
Let's start with immigration, because you're still a sitting member of the House. There's been some speculation that House Republicans this week are going to decide on how to retaliate against the president on this decision. What's the decision going to be?

REP. TOM COTTON:
Well, we'll come back from this Thanksgiving holiday and make a decision about the best way to proceed on a tactical measure. But I think Congress has to stand up to protect our prerogatives. Which is to say, stand up to the American people. You know, the president just lost an election in no small measure because wages for working families are declining and unemployment is still too high in too many places. And the first big action he took after the election was to make it easier for illegal immigrants to get jobs, not for working families to get jobs.

CHUCK TODD:
One of the ideas that's been floating out there is to essentially all of the spending bills through September of next year and just isolate anything that has to do with immigration. Do you agree with that idea?

REP. TOM COTTON:
Well, that's one possible solution. That would seed our spending power on so many other measures that are like EPA overreach. So what we might also do is pass a short-term spending measure into the new year to let a new and accountable Congress, not a lame-duck Congress make a difference.

CHUCK TODD:
So you're against this idea that apparently some people see Republicans--

REP. TOM COTTON:
I'll consult with my colleagues in both the Senate and the House, to decide on an immediate path forward. But I'm reluctant to see the spending power that a Congress has under the Constitution for three-eighths of the remainder of the Obama presidency.

CHUCK TODD:
Would Republicans be on higher ground here if the House had passed an immigration bill? Any immigration bill?

REP. TOM COTTON:
Well, I think we should pass an immigration bill that addresses our problems, which is a lack of border security, a lack of internal enforcement.

CHUCK TODD:
Why didn't you?

REP. TOM COTTON:
Well, there weren't the votes in the House going forward to focus on the real problems that the people of Arkansas shared with me during the campaign. A bill that focused on building a border fence or enforcing our interior immigration laws, and getting a handle on legal immigration, that could actually drive down wages and increase unemployment. But I think the new Congress will focus on those priorities.

CHUCK TODD:
You had said immigration, you felt, was the number-one issue. The reason why you and so many Republicans one. Do you believe that?

REP. TOM COTTON:
Well, certainly, a central issue in the campaign, along with ObamaCare and national security. But too many Arkansans are worried about the impact that rampant illegal immigration is having on their communities and local services, on the impact it's having on jobs for working families all across the country. And that's why they want us to address those problems in the new Congress.

CHUCK TODD:
Now, you brought up one other issue during the campaign. I want to ask you about it. Let me play some audio from you about the immigration issue.

REP. TOM COTTON (ON TAPE):
First off, we have a lot at stake to collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico that have clearly shown their ready to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism. They could infiltrate our defenseless southern border and attack it right here in places like Arkansas.

CHUCK TODD:
You didn't bring up terrorism just now with me. You did in a campaign phone call. Is that just campaign rhetoric?

REP. TOM COTTON:
No. I mean, Hezbollah--

CHUCK TODD:
What's the evidence?

REP. TOM COTTON:
No, Hezbollah has tried to launch terrorist attacks right here in Washington D.C. They're under federal indictment collaborating with locals in Mexico to cross our borders, attack us here. As long as our border is open and it's defenseless, then it's not just an immigration issue, it's a national security issue.

And we know that these drug cartels in Mexico are focused primarily on power and profit. They'll branch out into any activity if it brings them more money and helps them consolidate control. That's yet another reason why we have to get control of our border.

CHUCK TODD:
Do you worry that rhetoric like that ends up making it even that much harder to actually get some sort of agreeable immigration bill?

REP. TOM COTTON:
No.

CHUCK TODD:
Because that plays to fear. That's, you know, some would argue that's fear mongering.

REP. TOM COTTON:
Well, the Islamic State is cutting the heads off of Americans right now. And their leader has said they want to strike us here in the United States. That's something that we should be fearful of and that we should take a strong stance against, whether it's in Iraq, in Syria, or whether it's securing our southern border.

CHUCK TODD:
I want to ask you one of the things you did as an Arkansas congressman. You were alone in voting against the farm bill. Some people thought that was going to be a political problem for you. It turned out not to be a political issue from you. Explain to me what your job as a senator is, how much do you represent Arkansas versus representing the interests outside of Arkansas?

REP. TOM COTTON:
Well, I voted against that farm bill because I thought it wasn't in the interest of Arkansans, that it was going to spend almost a trillion--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:
In the minority of that opinion in Arkansas.

REP. TOM COTTON:
Well, everyone has disagreements. But I didn't think it was a good idea to spend a trillion new dollars at a time when we're almost $18 trillion in debt, when Arkansas was only getting half a percent of the benefit, and 80% of that was food stamp spending. Now, no Arkansan is going to agree with every word I speak, or every vote I cast. But I hope every Arkansan will know that I'm looking out for their interest every day in the Senate.

CHUCK TODD:
Do you think too many senators are parochial? Because that was a non-parochial move. That is something, you know, that was, "No, I'm looking in my view, what's in the best national interest." Maybe it wasn't in the best financial interest of an Arkansas family.

REP. TOM COTTON:
No, I actually thought it was in the interest of Arkansas farmers and in our national interest when you look at deficit reduction. And if you look at the farm counties that I won all across Arkansas. You'll see that a lot of Arkansas farmers agreed with me. And they said so at the time when I cast that vote.

CHUCK TODD:
All right, Senator-Elect Tom Cotton, you've got some cleanup work here in the House. We'll be watching to see what happens in immigration. Thanks for coming on Meet the Press.

REP. TOM COTTON:
Thank you, great to be on with you, Chuck.


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