Tom Cotton


Tom Cotton
Cotton's official Senate photo
United States Senator
from Arkansas
Assumed office
January 3, 2015
Serving with John Boozman
Preceded byMark Pryor
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Arkansas's 4th district
In office
January 3, 2013 – January 3, 2015
Preceded byMike Ross
Succeeded byBruce Westerman
Personal details
Thomas Bryant Cotton

(1977-05-13) May 13, 1977 (age 43)
Dardanelle, Arkansas, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Anna Peckham
(m. 2014)
EducationHarvard University (AB, JD) Claremont Graduate University
WebsiteSenate website
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service
RankArmy-USA-OF-02.svg Captain
Unit506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (2005–2007)
3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) (2007–2009)
Battles/warsWar in Afghanistan
Iraq War

Thomas Bryant Cotton (born May 13, 1977) is an American politician serving as the junior United States Senator from Arkansas since 2015. A member of the Republican Party, he previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2013 to 2015.

In 2005, Cotton was commissioned in the United States Army, where as an infantry officer he rose to the rank of captain. His military record includes service in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where he was awarded the Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman Badge. He was elected as the U.S. Representative for Arkansas's 4th congressional district in 2012 and to the Senate at age 37 in 2014, defeating two-term Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor.

Early life, education and military service (1977–2013)

Formative years and education

Thomas Bryant Cotton was born on May 13, 1977, in Dardanelle, Arkansas.[1] Cotton's father, Thomas Leonard "Len" Cotton, was a district supervisor in the Arkansas Department of Health, and his mother, Avis (née Bryant) Cotton, was a schoolteacher who later became principal of their district's middle school.[2] Cotton's family had lived in rural Arkansas for seven generations, and he grew up on his family's cattle farm.[3][4] He attended Dardanelle High School where he played on the local and regional basketball teams; standing 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) tall, he was usually required to play center.[4][5]

Cotton was accepted to Harvard University after graduating from high school in 1995. At Harvard, Cotton majored in government and was a member of the editorial board of The Harvard Crimson, often dissenting from the liberal majority.[5] In articles, Cotton addressed what he saw as "sacred cows" such as affirmative action.[6] He graduated with an A.B. magna cum laude in 1998 after only three years of study. Cotton’s senior thesis focused on The Federalist Papers.[4]

After graduating from Harvard, Cotton was accepted into a master's program at Claremont Graduate University. He left in 1999, saying that he found academic life "too sedentary", and instead enrolled at Harvard Law School.[4] Cotton graduated from Harvard Law School with a J.D. degree in 2002,[7] and commenced a one year federal clerkship for Judge Jerry Edwin Smith of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. When his clerkship was over, Cotton went into private practice, working briefly as an associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to help pay off his student loans.[8]

Military service

On January 11, 2005, Cotton enlisted in the United States Army,[9] saying the September 11 attacks[10] compelled him to join the Infantry Branch. In March 2005, he entered Officer Candidate School (OCS), and commissioned as a second lieutenant in June.[11]

In May 2006, Cotton was deployed to Baghdad as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) as a platoon leader with the 101st Airborne Division. In Iraq, he led a 41-man air assault infantry platoon in the 506th Infantry Regiment, and planned and performed daily combat patrols.[11] After completing his first tour of duty, in December 2006 Cotton was promoted to first lieutenant and re-assigned as a platoon leader for the 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia.[12]

In October 2008, Cotton was deployed to eastern Afghanistan. He was assigned within the Train Advise Assist Command – East at its Gamberi forward operating base (FOB) in Laghman Province as the Operations Officer of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), where he planned daily counter-insurgency and reconstruction operations.[11] His 11-month deployment ended on July 20, 2009, and he returned from Afghanistan.[11]

In July 2010, Cotton transferred to the Army Reserve (USAR). In May 2013, after almost 8 years of service, Cotton was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army. During his time in the service, Cotton completed two combat deployments overseas, was awarded a Bronze Star, two Army Commendation Medals, Combat Infantryman Badge, Ranger tab, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, and Iraq Campaign Medal.[11][13][14] Cotton spent five years on active service.[15]

Cotton has long claimed to be an "Army Ranger" as he is a graduate of the Army's Ranger School and is authorized to wear the Ranger tab. However, an article by Salon pointed out that Cotton never served in the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment. Salon further implied that Cotton was falsifying his military record by claiming to be a "Ranger". While Cotton has never claimed to have served in the 75th Regiment, this Salon article noted that the Army makes a distinction between soldiers who are "Ranger qualified" by completing Ranger School, and an actual Army Ranger who served in the 75th Regiment.[16] However, in a 2015 article, Salon itself referred to women graduates of Ranger School as "U.S. Army Rangers."[17]

Democratic Congressman Jason Crow, who himself served in the 75th Ranger Regiment, sharply criticized Cotton for billing himself as a Ranger. In response, a spokesperson for Cotton said, "To be clear, as he's stated many times, Senator Cotton graduated from Ranger School, earned the Ranger Tab, and served a combat tour with the 101st Airborne, not the 75th Ranger Regiment."[18] However, Cotton has frequently referred to himself as an Army Ranger in his campaign materials and on the stump.[16] As the Salon story garnered widespread attention, Command Sergeant Major Rick Merritt, a former regimental sergeant major of the 75th Ranger Regiment, defended Cotton's claim to be a Ranger, saying attacks on Cotton were "absurd", and that Cotton is "...100% a Ranger. He will always be a Ranger, it’s unfair, it’s almost slanderous. An attack on him is an attack on every veteran who has served honorably."[19]

Letter to The New York Times (2006)

In June 2006, while stationed in Iraq, Cotton gained international public attention after writing an open letter to the editor of The New York Times, asserting three journalists had violated "espionage laws" by publishing an article detailing a classified government program monitoring terrorists' finances. The New York Times did not publish Cotton's letter, but it was published on Power Line, a conservative blog that had been copied on the email.[20][21] In the letter, Cotton called for the journalists to be prosecuted for espionage "to the fullest extent of the law", and incarcerated. He accused the newspaper of having "gravely endangered the lives of my soldiers and all other soldiers and innocent Iraqis." Cotton's claims circulated online and were reprinted in full elsewhere.[22][23] According to Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University in 2011, the Espionage Act has never been used against journalists. Rosen argued accusing investigative journalists of engaging in espionage is "essentially saying that they’re working for another power, or aiding the enemy. That is culture war tactics taken to an extreme."[22]

Political career (2013–present)

Shortly after Cotton's Afghanistan deployment ended, his former boss at the Claremont Institute introduced Cotton to Chris Chocola, a former congressman and the president of Club for Growth, a Republican political action committee.[4] An attempt was made to draft Cotton for the 2010 United States Senate election in Arkansas to run against incumbent Democratic U.S. senator Blanche Lincoln. Cotton declined, believing his political candidacy would be premature.[24] Following his active duty service, Cotton served in the Army Reserve and did consulting work for McKinsey & Company,[4][25] before running for Congress in Arkansas' 4th congressional district following the retirement announcement of Democratic incumbent Mike Ross.[26][27]

U.S. House of Representatives (2013–2015)

Cotton participating in a 2012 congressional debate at Southern Arkansas University

In September 2011, the Arkansas Times editor, Max Brantley, criticized Cotton for an article that he wrote in The Harvard Crimson in 1998, in which he questioned the value of the Internet as a teaching tool in the classroom, referring to the internet as having "too many temptations" to be useful in schools and libraries. Cotton later stated that the internet had matured since he wrote the article in 1998.[28][29]

Beth Anne Rankin, the 2010 Republican nominee, and John David Cowart, who carried the backing of the Louisiana businessman and philanthropist Edgar Cason, were the only other Republican candidates in the race after candidate Marcus Richmond dropped out in February 2012.[5] In the primary on May 22, 2012, Cotton won the Republican nomination, with 57.6% of the vote; in second place was Beth Ann Rankin who received 37.1% of the vote.[30]

The Club for Growth endorsed Cotton.[31] Of the $2.2 million Cotton raised for that campaign, Club for Growth donors were responsible for $315,000 and were Cotton's largest supporters.[4][25] Cotton was also endorsed by Senator John McCain.[32] Cotton was supported by both the Tea Party movement and the Republican establishment.[33][34]

In the general election on November 6, Cotton defeated state senator Gene Jeffress, 59.5% to 36.7%.[30] Cotton was the second Republican since Reconstruction Era of the United States to represent the 4th district. The first, Jay Dickey, held it from 1993 to 2001 – during the presidency of Bill Clinton, whose residence was in the district at the time.[35] On January 3, 2013, Cotton was sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives by Speaker John Boehner.[36]

As a freshman, Cotton soon became a vocal opponent of the Obama administration's foreign and domestic policies. He voted for An Act to eliminate the 2013 statutory pay adjustment for Federal employees, which prevented a 0.5% pay increase for all federal workers from taking effect in February 2013.[37] Cotton voted against the 2013 Farm Bill over concerns about waste and fraud in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program voting later that month to strip funding from food stamps.[38] He also voted against the revised measure, the Agricultural Act of 2014,[39] which expanded crop insurance and a price floor for rice farmers.[40][41]

Cotton accused Obama of holding up a "false choice" between his framework deal on Iran's nuclear program and war. Cotton was also criticized in some media outlets for underestimating what successful military action against Iran would entail,[42] stating: "the president is trying to make you think it would be 150,000 heavy mechanized troops on the ground in the Middle East again as we saw in Iraq. That's simply not the case." Drawing a comparison to President Bill Clinton's actions in 1998 during the Bombing of Iraq (1998), he elaborated: "Several days' air and naval bombing against Iraq's weapons of mass destruction facilities for exactly the same kind of behavior. For interfering with weapons inspectors and for disobeying Security Council resolutions."[42][43] On July 21, 2015, Cotton and Mike Pompeo claimed to have uncovered the existence of secret side agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on procedures for inspection and verification of Iran's nuclear activities under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal. Obama administration officials acknowledged the existence of agreements between Iran and the IAEA governing the inspection of sensitive military sites, but denied the characterization that they were "secret side deals", calling them standard practice in crafting arms-control pacts and arguing the administration had provided information about them to Congress.[44][45]

Committee assignments

U.S. Senate (2015–present)

Senator Jon Kyl and Cotton speaking at the Hudson Institute
Senator Cotton and former Ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Senators Joni Ernst, Daniel Sullivan, John McCain, Tom Cotton, Lindsey Graham, and Cory Gardner attending the 2016 International Institute for Strategic Studies Asia Security Summit in Singapore

On August 6, 2013, Cotton officially announced he would challenge Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor for his seat in the United States Senate.[46] Stuart Rothenberg of Roll Call called Pryor the most vulnerable Senator seeking re-election.[47] Cotton was endorsed by the conservative Club for Growth PAC,[48][49][50] Senator Marco Rubio,[51] the National Federation of Independent Business,[52] and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who campaigned for Cotton.[53][54] The Associated Press called the race for Cotton immediately after the polls closed;[55] he prevailed by a margin of 56.5%-39.4%.[56] Cotton was sworn into office on January 6, 2015.[57]

During his term as U.S. Senator, Cotton has received multiple death threats. In 2018, Adam Albrett of Fairfax County, Virginia, was arrested for "faxing death threats" against President Donald Trump and members of Congress, including Cotton. Police traced the fax to Albrett using the phone number listed in the fax header.[58]

In October 2019, James Powell, 43 and a resident of Arkansas, was charged by local authorities with "first-degree terroristic threatening" following an investigation by U.S. Capitol Police and the FBI. The felony charge carries a maximum six-year prison sentence and $10,000 fine. Arkansas Representative Rick Crawford, a Republican, was also threatened with death by Powell.[59][60] In January 2020, 78-year-old Henry Edward Goodloe was sentenced to two years probation for sending a threatening letter and a package containing white powder to Cotton. Goodloe admitted to mailing an envelope containing white powder to Cotton's office, with a note stating, "You ignored me. Maybe this will get your attention." The Senate mail facility intercepted the letter, which included Goodloe's home address, and alerted a hazardous response team which determined the powder was unbleached flour and starch.[61]


Cassandra Butts nomination

In February 2015, Obama renominated Cassandra Butts, a former White House lawyer, to be the United States ambassador to the Bahamas. However, Butts's nomination was blocked by several Republican U.S. Senators. First, Senator Ted Cruz placed a blanket hold on all U.S. State Department nominees.[62] Cotton specifically blocked the nominations of Butts and ambassador nominees to Sweden and Norway after the Secret Service had leaked private information about a fellow member of Congress, although that issue was unrelated to those nominees. Cotton eventually released his holds on the nominees to Sweden and Norway, but kept his hold on Butts's nomination.[62]

Butts told New York Times columnist Frank Bruni that she had gone to see Cotton about his objections to her nomination and said he had told her that because he knew that President Obama and Butts were friends, it was a way to "inflict special pain on the president", Bruni said. Cotton's spokeswoman did not dispute Butts's characterization. Butts died on May 26, 2016, still awaiting a Senate vote.[62]

Trump administration

Tom Cotton (left) with President Donald Trump and Senator David Perdue (right)

During Trump's presidency, Cotton was characterized as a Trump loyalist.[63][64] Cotton frequently met with Trump's staff during the transition period, and according to Steve Bannon, Cotton suggested John F. Kelly for the role of U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.[8] Bannon told The New Yorker in November 2017: "Next to Trump, he's the elected official who gets it the most—the economic nationalism. Cotton was the one most supportive of us, up front and behind the scenes, from the beginning. He understands that the Washington élite—this permanent political class of both parties ... needs to be shattered." In the same article, Karl Rove, a senior figure in the George W. Bush administration, said Cotton was a more consensual figure than someone like Bannon.[8]

In a CNN interview shortly after the 2016 presidential election, Cotton rejected the view that waterboarding is a form of torture. He said such "tough calls" to allow its return were an option the then president-elect Donald Trump was ready to follow: "If experienced intelligence officials come to the President of the United States and say we think this terrorist has critical information and we need to obtain it and this is the only way we can obtain it -- it's a tough call. But the presidency is a tough job. And if you're not ready to make those tough calls, you shouldn't seek the office. Donald Trump's a pretty tough guy, and he's ready to make those tough calls". During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump said the United States should return to the use of waterboarding.[65]

In September 2020, Trump shortlisted Cotton as a potential Supreme Court nominee, but Trump ultimately chose to nominate Amy Coney Barrett instead.[66][67] With less than two months to the next presidential election, Cotton supported an immediate Senate vote on President Trump's nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy caused by the death of justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Previously in March 2016, Cotton refused to consider President Obama's Supreme Court nominee during a presidential election year, providing his rationale with these questions: "Why would we cut off the national debate on the next justice? Why would we squelch the voice of the populace? Why would we deny the voters a chance to weigh in on the make-up of the Supreme Court?"[68]

In early January 2021, Cotton announced he would not support any attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election during the joint congressional certification of Electoral College results on January 6, 2021.[69]

Committee assignments

Senator Cotton visits Air Defenders at Osan Air Base during his three-country tour to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan


Domestic policy positions

Race relations

Senator Cotton at First in the Nation Townhall, New Hampshire

Cotton drew scrutiny for columns he wrote for The Harvard Crimson about race relations in America, calling Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton "race-hustling charlatans" and saying race relations "would almost certainly improve if we stopped emphasizing race in our public life."[70]

In 2016, Cotton rejected "the claim that too many criminals are being jailed, that there is over-incarceration" in the United States, as "Law enforcement is able to arrest or identify a likely perpetrator for only 19 percent of property crimes and 47 percent of violent crimes. If anything, we have an under-incarceration problem".[71] Cotton said that reduced sentencing for felons would destabilize the United States, arguing that "I saw this in Baghdad. We’ve seen it again in Afghanistan."[71]

In November 2018, while arguing against a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill, Cotton incorrectly said that there had been no hearings on the bill. PolitiFact stated Cotton had "ignored years of congressional debate and hearings on the general topics of the bill, as well as the consideration and bipartisan passage of largely similar bills at the House committee level, by the full House, and by the Senate Judiciary Committee."[72] Arguing against the bill in question, the FIRST STEP Act, Cotton asserted that "convicts of certain sex-related crimes could accrue credits making them eligible for supervised release or 'pre-release' to a halfway house". A spokesperson for Mike Lee rebutted that "just because a federal offense is not on the specific list of ineligible offenses doesn't mean inmates who committed [a] non-specified offense will earn early release".[73] The bill passed 87–12 on December 18, 2018. Cotton voted against it.[74]

Tom Cotton and Brett Kavanaugh in August 2018

Black Lives Matter

Following the killing of George Floyd, Cotton rejected the view that there is "systemic racism in the criminal justice system in America."[75] Amid the following protests, Cotton advocated on Twitter that the military be used to support police, and to give "No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters."[76] In the military, the term "no quarter" refers to the killing of lawfully surrendering combatants, which is a war crime under the Geneva Convention. Cotton subsequently said that he was using the "colloquial" version of the phrase and cited examples of Democrats and the mainstream media also using the phrase.[77][78]

A few days later, an opinion piece by Cotton entitled "Send in the Troops" was published by The New York Times arguing for the deployment of federal troops to counter looting and rioting in major American cities. Dozens of New York Times staff members sharply criticized the decision to publish Cotton's article, describing its rhetoric as dangerous.[79][80] Following the negative response from staffers, The New York Times responded by saying the piece went through a "rushed editorial process" that will now be examined.[81] Editorial page editor James Bennet resigned days later.[82]

Statements about slavery

In July 2020, Cotton introduced the Saving American History Act of 2020, proposed legislation preventing the use of federal tax dollars for the teaching of The 1619 Project, an initiative of The New York Times.[83][84][85] In an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Cotton commented on slavery: "As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction."[86] Joshua D. Rothman, a history professor at the University of Alabama, responded that slavery was neither "necessary" nor on the way to "extinction" when America was founded, because it "was a choice defended or accepted by most white Americans for generations, and it expanded dramatically between the Revolution and the Civil War".[87]

Nikole Hannah-Jones, director of The 1619 Project, tweeted: "If chattel slavery—heritable, generational, permanent, race-based slavery where it was legal to rape, torture, and sell human beings for profit—were a 'necessary evil' as @TomCottonAR says, it’s hard to imagine what cannot be justified if it is a means to an end". Cotton responded: "more lies from the debunked 1619 Project" and said he was "not endorsing or justifying slavery" because he was relaying what he believed were the "views of the Founders".[88] However, historians have indicated that this representation of the founding generation's view of slavery is inaccurate and that the example used by Cotton to support this view came from the later generation which lived during the Civil War.[89] "Of course slavery is an evil institution in all its forms, at all times in America's past, or around the world today," he told Fox News on July 27.[89]

Gun laws

Cotton has an A rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), which endorsed him during the 2014 election. The NRA's Chris W. Cox stated that "Tom Cotton will always stand up for the values and freedoms of Arkansas gun owners and sportsmen."[90] In response to the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, Cotton stated that he did not believe any new gun control legislation would have prevented the mass shooting from taking place.[91]

In January 2019, Cotton was one of thirty-one Republican senators to cosponsor the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, a bill introduced by John Cornyn and Ted Cruz that would grant individuals with concealed carry privileges in their home state the right to exercise this right in any other state with concealed carry laws while concurrently abiding by that state's laws.[92]


Cotton opposes amnesty or a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.[93]

In July 2013, after the Senate's bipartisan Gang of Eight passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, an immigration reform proposal, House Republicans held a closed door meeting to decide whether to bring the bill to a vote.[94] Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan spoke at one podium arguing for the bill's passage.[95] Cotton spoke at another podium arguing against the bill, even exchanging terse comments with Speaker Boehner.[94] The House decided to not consider the bill.[95] Cotton supported President Trump's 2017 Executive Order 13769 that prohibited immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.[96]

On February 7, 2017, in the presence of President Trump, Cotton and Senator David Perdue (R-GA), jointly proposed a new immigration bill called the RAISE Act which would limit the family route or chain migration. The bill would set a limit on the number of refugees offered residency at 50,000 a year and would remove the Diversity Immigrant Visa. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ) both expressed opposition to the bill.[97][98]

Cotton, a supporter of President Donald Trump on the issue of immigration, was present at a meeting on January 11, 2018 in which Trump is alleged to have described Haiti and African nations as "shithole countries".[99][100] Cotton and Senator David Perdue (R-GA) said in a joint statement that "we do not recall the President saying these comments specifically".[101][102] In a statement, the White House did not deny the President had made the comment, although Trump did in a tweet the following day.[99] The Washington Post reported that Cotton and Perdue told the White House they heard "shithouse" rather than "shithole".[103] Sen. Cotton reiterated on CBS's Face The Nation interview "I certainly didn't hear what Sen. Durbin has said repeatedly. Sen. Durbin has a history of misrepresenting what happens in White House meetings, though, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by that," Cotton added.[104] Slate magazine asserted that Cotton was referring to a misquotation Dick Durbin (D-IL) made of a 2013 gathering at the Obama White House at which Durbin was not present, nor had he claimed to be present. Durbin was not the only person at the meeting to confirm Trump's words—another was Lindsey Graham.[100][105]

In December 2018, Cotton placed a senatorial hold on H.R.7164 - A Bill to add Ireland to the E-3 Non-immigrant Visa Program.[106] The bill did not create new non-immigrant visas, but rather allowed Irish college graduates to apply for any surplus E-3 visas in Specialty Occupations, that had gone unused by Australians within their annual cap of 10,500.[107] The bi-partisan bill which had passed the House of Representatives on November 28, 2018 and had also received the backing of the Trump administration did not reach the Senate floor for consideration as a consequence of Sen. Cotton's hold.[108]

Cotton's immigration positions have led to protests in his Washington D.C office. In January, 2018, five demonstrators were arrested for obstructing Cotton's office while they were protesting his position on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. They were released after paying a $50 fine.[109]

Health and social issues

Cotton opposes the Affordable Care Act, saying in 2012 that "the first step is to repeal that law, which is offensive to a free society and a free people".[110][111]

In April 2019, Cotton described the Southern Poverty Law Center as being a "political hate group" and asked the IRS to check if the SPLC should retain its tax-exempt status.[112]

In 2012, Cotton said, "Strong families also depend on strong marriages, and I support the traditional understanding of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. I also support the Defense of Marriage Act."[113] In 2013, Cotton voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, saying that the federal powers in the act were too broad.[113][114]

Abortion and related issues

In June 2013, Cotton voted in favor of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a bill to ban abortion after 20 or more weeks following fertilization.[115] Cotton has stated that Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey were "wrongly decided as a constitutional matter" and it should be a decision of politicians in the individual states.[116][117] He was one of 183 co-sponsors of the version of the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act introduced in 2013.[118]

Cotton has stated "I oppose the destruction of human embryos to conduct stem-cell research and all forms of human cloning."[119]

Student loans

In August 2013, Cotton voted against the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013, that sets interest rates on student loans to the 10-year Treasury note plus a varying mark up for undergraduate and graduate students. Cotton preferred a solution that ended what he described as the "...federal-government monopoly on the student-lending business." His characterization referred to the provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that changed the way the federal government makes student loans.[120]

Foreign policy positions

US congressional delegation at Halifax International Security Forum 2014

Cotton's foreign policy views have been characterized as "hawkish".[121][122]

During a February 5, 2015 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Cotton called for housing more prisoners at Guantanamo Bay instead of closing it. He said of the prisoners in the camp "every last one them can rot in hell, but as long as they don't do that they can rot in Guantanamo Bay".[8][123] In the following June, he was one of 21 Republicans in the Senate to oppose an amendment to the 2016 Defense Authorization Act which would impair any future president's ability to authorize torture. The amendment, which passed, had bipartisan support and was sponsored by John McCain and Dianne Feinstein.[124][125]

In September 2016, Cotton was one of thirty-four senators to sign a letter to United States Secretary of State John Kerry advocating for the United States using "all available tools to dissuade Russia from continuing its airstrikes in Syria" from an Iranian airbase near Hamadan "that are clearly not in our interest" and stating that there should be clear enforcement by the US of the airstrikes violating "a legally binding Security Council Resolution" on Iran.[126]

In July 2017, Cotton voted in favor of the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act that grouped together sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea.[127]

In July 2017, Cotton co-sponsored the bi-partisan Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.270), which amended existing federal law that criminalized foreign-led boycotts of U.S. allies, by specifically prohibiting support to foreign governments or organizations imposing a boycott on Israel. The proposal generated controversy as some interpreted the law as a restriction on activities by private citizens and potentially a violation of constitutional rights.[128][129] Others viewed it as a clarification of the existing Export Administration Act of 1979, in response to the 2016 United Nations Human Rights Council resolutions that called on corporations to re-assess business activities that may impact Palestinian human rights.[130]

In December 2018, after President Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops in Syria, Cotton was one of six senators to sign a letter expressing concern for the move and their belief "that such action at this time is a premature and costly mistake that not only threatens the safety and security of the United States, but also emboldens ISIS, Bashar al Assad, Iran, and Russia."[131] In January 2019, Cotton was one of eleven Republican senators to vote to advance legislation intended to block President Trump's intent to lift sanctions against three Russian companies.[132]

In August 2019, it was reported Cotton had suggested to Trump and the Danish ambassador that the U.S. should buy Greenland.[133][134][135] Cotton supports U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies agreement, which lets nations use special aircraft to monitor each other's military activities. In 2018, Cotton asserted that the agreement was outdated and that it favored the interests of Russia.[136]


In 2018, Cotton was a cosponsor of the Countering the Chinese Government and Communist Party's Political Influence Operations Act, a bill introduced by Marco Rubio and Catherine Cortez Masto that would grant the U.S. Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) the authority to create an interagency task force with the purpose of examining attempts by China to influence the U.S. and key allies.[137]

In August 2018, Cotton and 16 other lawmakers urged the Trump administration to impose sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act against Chinese officials who are responsible for human rights violations in western China's Xinjiang region targeting the Uyghur ethnic minority.[138] They wrote in a bipartisan letter: "The detention of as many as a million or more Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in "political reeducation” centers or camps requires a tough, targeted, and global response."[139]

In February 2017, Cotton was one of the group of Senate Republicans who signed a letter to Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi requesting Pelosi invite President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen to address a joint meeting of Congress. The request came amid heightened tensions between the US and China and was seen as angering Chinese leadership if extended by Pelosi.[140]

In May 2019, when asked about the impact of tariffs on farmers in Arkansas, Cotton admitted there would be "some sacrifices on the part of Americans, I grant you that, but I also would say that sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to the sacrifices that our soldiers make overseas that are fallen heroes that are laid to rest in Arlington make" and that farmers were willing to make sacrifices in order for the United States to fend off against Chinese attempts to displace the US globally.[141]

In May 2019, Cotton was a cosponsor of the South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Act, a bipartisan bill reintroduced by Marco Rubio and Ben Cardin that was intended to disrupt China's consolidation or expansion of its claims of jurisdiction over both the sea and air space in disputed zones in the South China Sea.[142]

In July 2019, Cotton and Democrat Chris Van Hollen were the primary sponsors of the Defending America's 5G Future Act, a bill that would prevent Huawei from being removed from the "entity list" of the Commerce Department without an act of Congress and authorize Congress to block administration waivers for U.S. companies to do business with Huawei. The bill would also codify President Trump's executive order from the previous May that empowered his administration to block foreign tech companies deemed a national security threat from conducting business in the United States.[143]

In April 2020, Cotton said that chinese students in the United States should be restricted to studying the Humanities and banned from studying science-related degrees. In an interview with Fox News, Cotton said, "It is a scandal to me that we have trained so many of the Chinese Communist Party's brightest minds."[144][145]


On January 28, 2020, in the context of the emergence of the coronavirus, Cotton urged the Trump administration to halt commercial flights from China to the United States. On January 31, spurred in part by Cotton's warnings, the Trump administration banned most travel from China.[146][147][148][149]

During a February 16, 2020 Fox News interview,[150] Cotton said that the coronavirus may have started at the biosafety level 4 super laboratory in Wuhan, China, saying, "Now we don't have evidence that this disease originated there," Cotton said, "but because of China's duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning we need to at least ask the question."[151] He saw the lack of available evidence as a reason to ask the Chinese.[152] Articles published by The New York Times and The Washington Post on the same day reported that scientists have dismissed claims the Chinese government created the Coronavirus. The Times said this was because of its resemblance to the SARS virus which originated with bats.[152][151] In another interview on Fox the following day, he referred to the two articles commenting that "It tells you the Chinese Communist Party, just like any communist party, has a widespread propaganda effort".[153]

Cotton tweeted around March 2020: "we will hold accountable those who inflicted it on the world" for what it had done. To a tweet stating "China will pay for this", he responded "Correct".[154] In late April 2020, Cotton insisted in a Fox News interview that the coronavirus outbreak was a "deliberate" and "malevolent" attack by the government of China on the world. "They did not want to see their relative power and standing in the world decline because the virus was contained [in China]," he said.[155][156]


Cotton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in July 2018

In 2013, Cotton introduced legislative language to prohibit trade with relatives of individuals subject to U.S. sanctions against Iran. According to Cotton, this would include "a spouse and any relative to the third degree," such as, "parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids." After Cotton's amendment came under harsh criticism regarding its constitutionality, he withdrew it.[157][158]

In March 2015, Cotton wrote and sent a letter to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, signed by 47 of the Senate's 54 Republicans, which cast doubt on the Obama administration's authority to engage in nuclear-proliferation negotiations with Iran. It could, they asserted, be rejected "with the stroke of a pen" by the next president.[159] The open letter was released in English as well as a poorly-translated Persian version, which "read like a middle schooler wrote it", according to Foreign Policy.[160] Within hours, commentators[161][clarification needed] suggested that the letter prepared by Cotton constituted a violation of the Logan Act.[162][163] Questions were also raised as to whether it reflected a flawed interpretation of the Treaty Clause of the United States Constitution.[164]

President Barack Obama mocked the letter, referring to it as an "unusual coalition" with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as well as an interference with the then-ongoing negotiations of a comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear program.[165] In addition, Obama said, "I'm embarrassed for them. For them to address a letter to the Ayatollah – the Supreme Leader of Iran, who they claim is our mortal enemy – and their basic argument to them is: don't deal with our President, 'cause you can't trust him to follow through on an agreement ... That's close to unprecedented."[166]

Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, responded to the letter by saying "[the senators'] letter in fact undermines the credibility of thousands of such mere executive agreements that have been or will be entered into by the US with various other governments". Zarif pointed out that the nuclear deal is not supposed to be an Iran–US deal, but an international one, saying that "change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran's peaceful nuclear program." He continued, "I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law."[167]

Cotton defended the letter amid criticism that it undermined the president's efforts, "It's so important we communicated this message straight to Iran... No regrets at all... they already control Tehran, increasingly they control Damascus and Beirut and Baghdad and now Sana'a as well."[168][169][170] He continued to defend his action in an interview with MSNBC by saying, "There are nothing but hardliners in Iran. They've been killing Americans for 35 years. They kill hundreds of troops in Iraq. Now they control five capitals in the Middle East. There are nothing but hardliners in Tehran and if they do all those things without a nuclear weapon, imagine what they'll do with a nuclear weapon."[171]

Cotton received extensive financial support from pro-Israel groups due to his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and for his hawkish stance toward Iran. Several pro-Israel Republican billionaires who contributed millions of dollars to William Kristol's Emergency Committee for Israel spent $960,000 to support Cotton.[172]

In July 2018, Cotton introduced the Iran Hostage Taking Accountability Act, a bill that would call for the president to compose a list of Iranians that were "knowingly responsible for or complicit in...the politically-motivated harassment, abuse, extortion, arrest, trial, conviction, sentencing, or imprisonment" of Americans and have those on the list face sanctions along with enabling the president to impose sanctions on their family members and bar them from entering the United States. Cotton stated that Iran had not changed much since 1981 and called for Americans to avoid Iran and its borders as there were "many friendly countries in the region that you can visit where you'd be safer."[173]

In May 2019, Cotton said that in the event of a war with Iran, the United States could easily win in "two strikes. The first strike and the last strike."[121] He said there would be a "furious response" by the United States if there was any provocation from Iran.[121]


On 13 March 2018, in an interview on conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt's radio show, Cotton said that he expects Russian officials to "lie and deny" about the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, an ex-Russian spy on British soil.[174] After the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Theresa May gave Russia 24 hours to respond to the poison, Cotton said "I suspect the response will be the typical Russian response. They’ll lie and deny."[174] Cotton went on to suggest retaliatory measures that the UK and the U.S. could implement in response to Russia's alleged actions, including renewed sanctions on oil.[174]

Personal life

Cotton married attorney Anna Peckham in 2014. The couple have two children.[175]

Cotton has said that Walter Russell Mead, Robert D. Kaplan, Henry Kissinger, Daniel Silva, C. J. Box,[176] and Jason Matthews are among his favorite authors.[177]

Electoral history

Arkansas’s 4th Congressional District House Election, 2012
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Tom Cotton 154,149 59.53%
Democratic Gene Jeffress 95,013 36.69%
Libertarian Bobby Tullis 4,984 1.92%
Green J. Joshua Drake 4,807 1.86%
Majority 59,136 22.84%
Total votes 258,953 100.00
United States Senate election in Arkansas, 2014[178]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Tom Cotton 478,819 56.50% N/A
Democratic Mark Pryor (incumbent) 334,174 39.43% -40.10%
Libertarian Nathan LaFrance 17,210 2.03% N/A
Green Mark Swaney 16,797 1.98% -18.49%
Write-in 505 0.06% N/A
Total votes 847,505 100.00% N/A
Republican gain from Democratic
United States Senate election in Arkansas, 2020[179]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Tom Cotton (incumbent) 793,871 66.53% +10.03%
Libertarian Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. 399,390 33.47% +31.44%
Total votes 1,193,261 100.0%
Republican hold

Primary elections

Arkansas's 4th Congressional District Republican Primary Election, 2012
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Tom Cotton 20,899 57.55%
Republican Beth Anne Rankin 13,460 37.07%
Republican John Cowart 1,953 5.38%
Total votes 36,312 100.0

Military awards

Cotton's military awards and decorations include:[14]

Combat Infantry Badge.svg  Combat Infantryman Badge
US Army Airborne basic parachutist badge-vector.svg  Parachutist Badge
AirAssault.svg  Air Assault Badge
Ranger Tab.svg Ranger Tab
Combat service identification badge of the 101st Airborne Division.png 101st Airborne Division Combat Service ID Badge
506 Inf Rgt DUI.jpg 506th Infantry Regimental Distinctive Insignia
Bronze Star Medal
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Army Commendation Medal (with Oak Leaf Cluster)
Army Achievement Medal
Air Force Achievement Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Bronze star
Bronze star
Afghanistan Campaign Medal (with two Campaign Stars)
Bronze star
Iraq Campaign Medal (with Campaign Star)
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Army Service Ribbon
Overseas Service Ribbon
NATO Medal


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External links


  • Official website Edit this at Wikidata

General information

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Mike Ross
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Arkansas's 4th congressional district

Succeeded by
Bruce Westerman
Party political offices
Title last held by
Tim Hutchinson
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Arkansas
(Class 2)

2014, 2020
Most recent
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Mark Pryor
U.S. senator (Class 2) from Arkansas
Served alongside: John Boozman
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Chris Murphy
Baby of the Senate
Succeeded by
Josh Hawley
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
James Lankford
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
Steve Daines