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Transcript: Sen. Tom Cotton on "Face the Nation," Nov. 13, 2022

Cotton backs McConnell for GOP Senate leader
Cotton says he backs McConnell for GOP Senate leader 08:31

The following is a transcript of an interview with Sen. Tom Cotton that aired Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we go now to Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton, who was a regular on the 2022 campaign trail boosting GOP candidates. He's out with a new book called "Only the Strong," and he joins us this morning from McLean, Virginia. Good morning to you, Senator. And on this Veterans Day weekend, I do want to thank you for your past military service.

SENATOR TOM COTTON: Well, thank you, Margaret. That's kind of you, and thanks to all our veterans for their service in all of our nation's wars.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Let me get to the story of the moment. Democrats faced historic headwinds. Eight out of 10 Americans said they felt it was out of control. Republicans had issues like economy and crime really break in their favor. President Biden has a low approval rating. How did Republicans end up with this complete disappointment?

SEN. COTTON: Well, Margaret, I wouldn't say it was a complete disappointment. On the one hand, we had strong Republican leaders running on positive records of accomplishments who won very big victories. If you look at governors, like Ron DeSantis in Florida, Brian Kemp in Georgia, Mike DeWine in Ohio, Kim Reynolds in Iowa, Greg Abbott in Texas -- we had senators with the same victories, like Marco Rubio in Florida, and Tim Scott in South Carolina, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. But on the other hand, obviously, we hoped that we would have won more seats. I think the lessons in our victories can be applied to some places where we came up a little bit short. We need to focus on serious substantive accomplishments and issues like crime, like our wide-open border, like addressing runaway inflation. Even in places where we came up a little bit short, like Lee Zeldin's race for governor in New York, he performed very well compared to Republicans in recent elections, and he probably helped save the House of Representatives by bringing four new Republican Congressman-elect across the finish line in New York. I think we have lessons in the places we had victories that we can apply to places where we were disappointed.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sure, but you lost the ballgame in the Senate. Karl Rove blamed candidate quality and specifically put the blame on former President Trump. He said, "Mr. Trump turned what should have been a referendum on Mr. Biden's terrible record into a choice between himself and the current president. As in 2020, lots of voters chose Mr. Biden." Should Mr. Trump remain the leader of the Republican Party?

SEN. COTTON: Well, Margaret, when the party- when any party is out of power, as Republicans are now, we don't have a single leader. The former president is obviously very popular with many of our voters–


MARGARET BRENNAN: He's the center of gravity.

SEN. COTTON: But we also have important other leaders as well, like some of those victors I just mentioned earlier, like Brian Kemp in Georgia, Ron DeSantis in Florida. Last year, you had Glen Younkin have a great victory in a bluish democratic state like Virginia. I hope to remain a leader in the United States Senate as well, in addition to people like some of those I just mentioned who were reelected, like Tim Scott. So, when you're in opposition, you don't have a single leader. That won't be the case until we're through the '24- '24 nominating season, and we have- we have a new nominee.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said you're not going to run for president in 2024. The former president says he intends to announce he's running on Tuesday. Should he be the automatic nominee, or should he face a primary?

SEN. COTTON: Well, Margaret, since I opted against being a candidate in 2024, I- I don't plan to be a pundit or a strategist–


MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you just throw out a whole bunch of names of guys who might be running for president, Senator. Are you endorsing them?

SEN. COTTON: And I know almost- I know almost all of them personally. And I respect their accomplishments, not just their big victories on Tuesday or last year in Glenn's case, but also their accomplishments in office. But you know, I know everyone already wants to focus on 2024. I just want to remind everyone that we're still in the middle of the 2022 midterm, because we're in overtime in Georgia. And the most important thing we can do is elect Herschel Walker to make sure that we can keep the pressure on Democrats in the Senate not to veer far to the left, as they have over the last two years. That's where I think everyone should remain focused for these next three weeks.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Should leadership elections in the Senate be delayed until December, and should Mitch McConnell remain as Republican leader in the Senate?

SEN. COTTON: Well, I don't see why we would delay the election, since all five or six of our leadership elections are uncontested. You know, the great wrestling champion Ric Flair used to say, to be the man, you got to beat the man. And so far, no one's had the nerve to step forward and challenge Senator McConnell. So, I support Senator McConnell. I support the other slate of candidates for our leadership elections. I think it's better that we move forward with these elections, so we can focus again on the Georgia runoff.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, I want to ask you as well about what will be a consequential meeting tomorrow between President Biden and President Xi Jinping of China, their first face-to-face of the Biden presidency. Mr. Biden says he wants to talk through red lines to understand critical interests. Can the US avoid conflict with China at this point?

SEN. COTTON: We want to avoid conflict with China most certainly in the military sense. I don't think we can avoid conflict and tension in terms of diplomatic and economic and political competition. I would urge the president to be very firm in drawing those red lines. We don't want to see a repeat of what happened last summer in Russia when Vladimir Putin walked away from their summit in Europe, tempted to go for the jugular in Ukraine, especially a month later after the collapse in Afghanistan, or a replay of something I write about in my new book, "Only the Strong," of the disastrous Vienna summit in 1961 between John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, which encouraged Russian leaders to rampage all around the world for the next year. So I hope the president is very clear in drawing red lines, for instance, saying that the recent rule against China using American semiconductor technology is only the first step. I hope he's very clear about Taiwan, that we will continue to arm Taiwan so it can defend itself, and if China goes for the jugular in Taiwan, then we will come to their aid. That's the simplest way to avoid military conflict, is to be clear and firm upfront.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But what would you recommend in terms of China not going for the jugular, but a slow strangulation to take over Taiwan, which I know you know is one of the scenarios national security officials are concerned about?

SEN. COTTON: Well, the simplest thing we can do for Taiwan is what we should have started doing for Ukraine before Russia invaded Ukraine, is to provide them with the weaponry that they need to stop an invasion. It's urgent that we do so now because unlike Ukraine, Taiwan is an island, which means China could blockade it, and we might not be able to resupply them once China might start military conflict. So, it's urgent that we accelerate arms sales to Taiwan, the kind of anti-ship, anti aircraft, missiles and sea mines that they need to fend off a potential evasion from the Communist Chinese.

MARGARET BRENNAN: With China, it's a hard problem set because, as you know, our economies are so interlinked. iPhones are made in China. We learned during the pandemic, how dependent we are on the supply chain. They own an enormous amount of U.S. debt. You're arguing to separate the two economies, but people like Hank Paulson of the Bush administration have said that'll end up with a less stable world with really dangerous economic forces here. How do you possibly do that?

SEN. COTTON: Well, Margaret, as I write in "Only the Strong," it was a bad mistake by leaders in both parties going back 30 years to allow China to get itself so entangled in the United States and to allow us to become so economically dependent in so many ways, whether it's things like high tech, electronic equipment, or low tech, basic pharmaceutical ingredients or medical equipment. What I say in "Only the Strong" is that we should try to decouple in a strategic sense so we don't harm our own people, but we're no longer dependent on those critical sectors that we depend on to keep ourselves safe, safe, healthy and prosperous. It's one thing if Americans buy, you know, say, children's toys or plastic Christmas trees from China. It's another thing if China has the market cornered on things like basic pharmaceutical ingredients or the rare earth elements that are so vital to all modern electronics. We have to do so in a smart way, but we have to be aggressive and quick about it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll watch to see if there's congressional action on any of that. Senator, thank you for your time today.

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