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A Conversation with Senator Tom Cotton: Effective Policing and the Rule of Law

Tom Cotton United States Senator
Reihan Salam President, Manhattan Institute
Mon, Jul 20, 2020 EVENTCAST

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A Conversation with Senator Tom Cotton: Effective Policing and the Rule of Law

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Forum

A Conversation with Senator Tom Cotton: Effective Policing and the Rule of Law

Tom Cotton United States Senator
Reihan Salam President, Manhattan Institute EVENTCAST 04:00pm—04:45pm
Monday July 20
Monday July 20 2020
PAST EVENT Monday July 20 2020

America is in the midst of a national conversation on policing. In the wake of George Floyd's death, protests broke out across the country, with some escalating into civil unrest. Now the U.S. Congress, along with many cities and states, are debating the best path forward. Should funding be redirected away from police departments and into social services? What role should Congress play in this traditionally local issue?

Senator Tom Cotton has emerged as a leading voice on criminal justice issues, defending the essential role of well-staffed, well-trained, and well-respected police departments in upholding the rule of law, and pushing back on calls to "defund the police." When Senator Cotton published an op-ed in the New York Times calling on the Trump Administration to deploy the National Guard in the event that cities were unable to curb rioting, it set off a contentious debate about ideological diversity in media.

On July 20, Senator Cotton joined Manhattan Institute president Reihan Salam for a discussion on the future of policing in America and the challenges of public debate in an age of polarization.

Event Transcript

Reihan Salam:

Good afternoon, and welcome to our virtual event, Effective Policing and The Rule of Law. I'm Reihan Salam, President of the Manhattan Institute and I'm honored to be hosting a discussion today with Senator Tom Cotton. One of Congress' leading voices on policing and criminal justice.

Reihan Salam:

Today's event will proceed as follows: After my brief introduction, Senator Cotton and I will discuss the policy debates that have arisen in the wake of the George Floyd protests in cities across the country. Throughout our conversation please feel free to submit questions on whatever platform you're using to watch us and we'll do our best to address them during the Q&A portion.

Reihan Salam:

I'm honored to be joined by Senator Cotton, and Senator, thank you for being here.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Thanks.

Reihan Salam:

Senator has represented the people of Arkansas in the US Senate since 2015. Prior to that he served a term in the US House of Representatives, and before entering political he served in the United States Army as an infantry officer, completing two combat tours. For the purpose of our conversation today, it is also worth mentioning that Senator Cotton has been an important and sometimes a dissenting voice within his party on criminal justice issues.

Reihan Salam:

He has emphasized the need to preserve crime reduction as the main priority of criminal justice policy. Senator Cotton has forcefully made the case against defunding the police, and has argued for officials at all levels to do their part in curtailing the rioting we've seen alongside protests in a number of cities. His op-ed in the New York Times calling on the Trump Administration to invoke the Insurrection Act, in the event that local officials did not curtail rioting, sparked an ongoing conversation about our media's ability to cover contentious political debates.

Reihan Salam:

We have a lot of ground to cover, so without further ado, I'm excited to welcome Senator Cotton. Senator, that you very much for being here.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Thank you Reihan, for having me. It's good to be on with you, and thanks to the Manhattan Institute for hosting this forum as well as all of the very important work the Institute has done over the last 30 or 40 years to try to address the problem of crime in America.

Reihan Salam:

Senator, we find ourselves in a very polarized moment. A moment when the left has become increasingly dominant in Urban America and the right increasingly dominant in rural corners of the country, yet you've chosen to engage on a quintessentially urban issue. The prevalence of violent crime, what appears to be a return of violent crime in our major cities. I wonder if you can share a bit about your motivation in entering what has become an incredibly contentious conversation?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Reihan, America needs our cities to be safe and to be strong and to be prosperous for America to be safe, and strong and prosperous. We're a nation that's knit together of many different kinds of lands and people spread across a great continent. And while places like New York or San Francisco, or LA can't grow our food or produce our fiber and timber, we also need our cities out in the heartland to help market those goods, to help finance them. To help provide a lot of the services that we don't have across the country. That's why it's so important that our cities are vibrant and strong and prosperous.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

And I can tell, I know so many Arkansans who they may not want to live in New York or may not travel there often, it is a place that they love as well. There's a reason why the slogan says, "I love New York." But right now too many of our cities are suffering very badly, if you just look at what's happened over the last couple of months, really over the last six months at crime rates, especially murder and shooting rates in places like New York or Chicago or Washington. It's heartbreaking to see so many lives of our fellow Americans shattered.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

I believe that we can do a lot better. I believe that we've demonstrated over the last 30 years that we can do a lot better. Some of these cities face the same challenges in extremely high crime rates, extremely high shooting and murder rates in the late 1980s, early 1990s. And it was due, in no small part, to conservatives and Republicans in office to helped turn around that very high level of crime and obviously Rudy Giuliani helped contribute to that in New York City.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

But some of the ideas that came from conservative intellectuals or Republican office holders who were leading minds on criminal justice policy and policing tactics, really did help make our cities safe and livable again. Whether it was community policing, whether broken windows approach to policing or technological breakthroughs like COPSTAT or what have you, it was Republicans who helped make our cities safe in the 1990s and 2000s, and contributed to the incredible decline in serious and violent crime that we saw starting in the mid-1990s and coming up until just recently.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

I think that we can contribute the same thing again, partly by getting back to those fundamentals, by reminding people that those low level crimes are not just naturally occurring. They don't just happen. They have to be actively advocated through policies that are designed to keep our cities safe. And I want to commend Manhattan Institute here again, for being on the forefront of that thought, going back to the '80s and the '90s, developing many of the ideas through their scholars and their writing, about how to keep our cities safe. I have no doubt Manhattan Institute is going to be on the forefront of that again.

Reihan Salam:

Senator, you're part of a generation that has lived through an incredible urban renaissance starting in the 1990s, as you've observed, you saw steep crime declines and yet as part of that generation you've seen many people who have taken that public safety for granted. And that's not exclusively people on the left. Many of your colleagues in Congress, both the Democrats and Republicans have embraced the cause of what is known as criminal justice reform. The idea that we need to create a more permissive system, that we need to reduce sentences, that we can move in a more permissive direction, and yet preserve these gains in public safety.

Reihan Salam:

And you've been a pretty forceful voice in opposition to that, particularly prominently in the debate over the First Step Act, which passed with the support of the White House, and the support of a large number of Republicans. Can you tell us a bit about that debate, and why you were so firm in your conviction to oppose that legislation?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Sure, Reihan. Well, the first thing I want to do is be honest about the terms here. What many people call sentencing reform, or criminal justice reform is really criminal leniency. It's cutting sentences for serious and repeat offenders. Now again, to be honest, you hear a term called, non-violent, low level offender or something like that, what they really mean are drug traffickers. Now maybe those drug traffickers didn't actually fire the gun that's used in drug crimes, but anywhere you see drug trafficking, you see high levels of violent crime. It is endemic to the drug trade.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Furthermore, in federal prison, which the First Step Act touched, there is really no such thing as a low level non-violent offender. Now it's possible among the 200,000 or so prisoners that we had in the federal prison system, before that law passed that there might be some isolated cases. If that's so, then that can be addressed through commutation through the present departments. If the law and the facts in extreme circumstances produce what many people would consider a manifestly unjust result. But what the First Step Act did, was cut sentences for serious drug traffickers, repeat felons. That put them back on the streets, and unfortunately given the reality of recidivism rights in this country, has simply led to crimes committed by people who would still be in prison today.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

More broadly though, many other states have taken actions like the First Step Act, by reducing sentences for drug traffickers, or for first time offenders even if the offense is violent or cutting things like three-strikes laws. One of the most indisputable facts that's been established about criminal justice policy over the last 50 years, is when you have more police and more prison time for criminals, you have less crime. No matter what the New York Times said, there's always that old joke about the New York Times headlines, despite increasing incarceration rate, crime continues to fall.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Reversing the relationship of course, it is an indisputable fact that if criminals, most of whom are repeat criminals, are in prison they are incapable of committing crimes that endanger public safety. Now, some states may have criminal sentencing laws. They're overly harsh in some cases, I'm willing to entertain that, I'm not going to do a 50 state review of all criminal laws. But when we're talking about drug traffickers, about repeat felons, or about violent felons, they need to be in prison. That's what's going to keep our community safe.

Reihan Salam:

Why is it that so many people on the right, so many people you would think would be sympathetic to this perspective, have moved in the direction of embracing a less... Some would say a less punitive approach, others would say a more permissive, more lenient approach. I don't want you to betray any confidences, but I'm curious as to what you think is going on there?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Well first I think there's a case of historic amnesia. So many office holders today, so many young policy staffers or aides, or think tank scholars, didn't live through what we lived through in the late 1980s and early and mid-1990s. They don't remember a time when New York city had over 2,000 murders a year. They don't remember a time when it was unsafe to go and meet in public spaces in our cities. Again, in some ways the criminal justice reformers of the 1990s have been victims of their own success. Crime had fallen so far in so many cities, that again to cite that old New York Times headline, it seemed the paradox that you had crime so low was portrayed by having so many people in prison that we just put these people out of prison then surely crime will stay the same.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

That's just not the case. It's like defunding our police. The police are not provocation that lead to crime, the police are what keep crime rates under control. We've seen over the last couple of months what happens when the police are cascaded or when they pull back because they're either in situations where crowds have over matched them, or their politicians that lead them refuse to let them enforce the law, what happens to crime rates. So one, I think it's a matter of historical amnesia. At the state level there is budgetary pressure, most governors even in Republican states, most legislatures would rather spend money on education or health care or tax cuts, rather than spending it on prisons.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Not many people benefit immediately from a prison but we all benefit collectively by having hardened criminals locked up behind bars. Now that's not an issue in the federal system, because the New York prisons is such a small part of the federal budget, and obviously a federal prison counts for a very small percentage of prisoners nationwide in our country. But at state level I think there are budgetary concerns as well. But I will the budget that state spent on things, like our police officers, like our prisons, like our court system to what we spend in a federal government on our military, it is the most fundamental responsibility of our government. Local, state and federal, to keep us safe. And that's safe from crime, and that's safe from foreign threats.

Reihan Salam:

More recently, you've seen more calls, particularly from Democrats, though not exclusively from Democrats for a greater amount of federal involvement in local policing, including in some cases quite prescriptive regulations. You've seen a number of law makers propose for example bans on chokeholds and other things that would very stringently regulate the actual operations of local police forces. I'm curious about your thoughts on the appropriate federal role in policing, which is of course typically a state local function. Are there things that the federal government ought to be doing more of? Are there ways in which you might be seeing an over-reach of federal authority?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Well the federal government plays some role in local policing techniques because the Department of Justice gives grants out to law enforcement agencies. But you're right Reihan, that policing by-and-large happens at the local level then secondary like the state level in our country. And what's right for policing in New York city may not be right for San Francisco or certainly neither one of them may be right for rural towns in places like Arkansas. One reason I sponsored Tim Scott's legislation on policing reform last month, is it did not take that overly prescriptive approach.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

In fact in some cases it wanted to get more data, more evidence on policing techniques and the way police are disciplined if they've engaged in misconduct before adopting those prescriptive approaches to things like choke holes. I think we should be open-minded to what that data says, but I also don't think that we should rush to put the heavy hand of federal regulation on local police departments without a solid evidentiary basis. Look we ask our police officers to take a very, very tough challenge every single day. They put on the uniform, they put on the badge, and they're going on patrol not knowing if they're going to come home that night.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

And they're confronted often with violent criminals or with very tense difficult circumstances of people who may be high on drugs, or may be drunk, or maybe get involved in a domestic dispute, where it's not clear all the facts. Those are very difficult circumstances to put police officers in every single day. They do it. And by and large, they do it with a great degree of professionalism and respect for rights of our citizens and concern for our public's safety. And we ought to be sympathetic to putting them in those situations rather than rush in to adopt that kind of prescriptive approach.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Now again, we should be open-minded once we understand all of that information, all of that evidence that we collect. But we shouldn't rush to judgements and think that everyone in Washington knows better than local police departments and their chiefs, and their sergeants and the patrol cops on the beat.

Reihan Salam:

The justice act wound up getting a great deal of push back from Democrats in the senate. I wonder why... I'm curious as to your thoughts, as to why that stalled. Why that didn't wind up becoming more of a consensus proposal?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

The Democrats wanted it as a political issue in the campaign, they didn't want it as a piece of legislation that could be signed into the law and make a difference in our community. Chuck Schumer’s essentially admitted as much in recent days. I think they're making a mistake on that. Tim Scott himself said that he would offer the very amendments that Democrats were demanding we have a vote on. Because remember, the Democrats didn't vote against that bill, they simply voted to stop debate from even beginning. We could have had a debate on the bill. Tim Scott pledged that he personally would offer the amendments the Democrats wanted to vote on. He'd have voted them up and down and we could have moved on to the final vote on the bill.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

The Democrats would have had a chance to filibuster, at 60 votes, but I think they made the decision that they would rather campaign on this issue in and November, than try to address the problem now. I think that's a miscalculation. If Democrats want to go to the election in November, as the party that refuses to condemn these insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters and looters in our street. As you saw on Seattle over the weekend with rioters breaking into stores and simply stealing their wares without a police presence anywhere in sight, that's an issue that Republicans should be happy to campaign on. What we would rather do though, is try to get a result that improves the problem.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

But if the Democrats insist upon taking it to the voters, then the voters will make a decision and I don't think they're going to give the decision Democrats want.

Reihan Salam:

You've offered your own proposal, the Better Policing Community Recognition Act. I wonder if you could share a bit of information about it with us?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Yeah, we offer cash rewards for police officers who have been recognized for engaging in best practices, for excelling in their work, for exhibiting the highest degrees of professionalism. It would be a program administered by the Department of Justice as other programs are similarly administered. I think it's important that even as we recognize that police departments have some officers who engage in misconduct and sometimes even criminal misconduct. The vast majority of officers, at all levels of law enforcement, do what they do because they believe in our country, they believe in our communities, they want to protect others from harm and they're willing to put their life on the line to do it.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

I can tell you that a couple of weeks ago, we had the attorney general in Arkansas, we had a law enforcement Roundtable, and one of the biggest concerns that we heard from police chiefs and sheriffs, was their growing challenges in recruiting and retaining the top talent in their communities. Pay is already stretched thin, hours are very long, the work is very dangerous. They've got a lot of sheriff’s deputies, they've got a lot of officers who think, "This is not for me." It matches the stories we've seen from places like Washington DC or New York city, with early retirements, or polls saying that more than half of all officers are thinking about leaving the force.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Morale, recruiting and retention is a real challenge with law enforcement agencies today. And this legislation is just one small way to say in a concrete fashion, "We respect you. We thank you. We want to honor and reward what you do."

Reihan Salam:

One backdrop for this debate, and one reason its become so toxic, is this notion that our criminal justice system, our law enforcement agencies, are plagued by racism. That is incredibly pervasive and that this is a reason to move in this more permissive direction. If this idea that this stringent focus on reducing violent crime and pro-active policing is in effect racist. I wonder about your thoughts on this? Obviously this has been a huge part of the larger public conversation, it has poisoned many people's views of law enforcement agencies. And I wonder about your perspective?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

I don't think our law enforcement agencies are systemically racists. I don't think our institutions are either. Do those institutions have some people who have racially prejudiced views? No doubt. You talk about law enforcement across the country, you're talking about millions of people. Of course there are some people who have those noxious views. But the vast, vast majority of all police officers in this country do not see the color of one's skin when they go on patrol. They see fellow citizens, who they're trying to protect from violent criminals. You can see that public opinion poll as well. Whether you're polling whites, blacks or other racial minorities, their respect for the police is extremely. And they recognize the vital work that police do in their neighborhoods to keep them safe.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

And that when the police pull back, or when the police are condemned, you have the kind of violence we've seen unfortunately over the last two months across the country. And many of those claims really echo what we heard in the '60s and the '70s from Liberals who first denied that we had a rising crime wave in our country. And then they attribute it to so-called root causes. Poverty, or lack of education, or so forth. And then when all that failed they just condemned it as racist, to point out that we had this crime wave. That didn't stop the crime wave. That didn't save all the black lives that were being lost in our cities. That didn't save any lives that were being lost to violent crime across our country.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

What saved those lives during the 1990s, we've had policing reforms, with Manhattan Institute and other conservative institutions for public and office holders implemented all across the country. That's what we're going to need again to protect our fellow citizens of all races.

Reihan Salam:

You've mentioned on more than one occasion the sharp spike we've seen in homicides in a number of major cities around the country, the increase in gun violence we've seen over the past few months. Do you see this as a potentially durable phenomenon, or just a blip connected perhaps with the COVID crisis?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Well I worry a lot that not just over the last two months but some of the increasing crime we've seen over the last six months, over the last two or three years, perhaps is the beginning of a new crime wave. I hope that's not the case. I hope that the president and governors and mayors will be able to get this crime under control. That we won't lose more innocent lives in the weeks and the months ahead. But I do worry that with the potential election of Joe Biden and a Democratic majority in congress. With mayors and governors who are unwilling to defend their police and allow their police to protect innocent lives and properties as you've seen in places like Portland and Seattle.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

That criminals in those cities, and across the country will begin to get the picture that no one is going to stop them when they loot an Apple store. No one will stop them when they burn down a police precinct or a police officer's union building. And that crime will only continue to grow and it will spiral far beyond public institutions or police buildings and go into retributions or turf wars between drug gangs or what have you, because these criminals believe that they are not going to be policed and captured and imprisoned for their misdeeds. We should send the exact opposite message. We should send a message that the police will defend innocent life. The police will defend property, and that our prosecutors will pursue you and we'll put you in jail to protect public safety.

Reihan Salam:

During the recent protests in cities around the country, in the wake of the death of George Floyd, you had some number of peaceful protestors, but you also have quite a few violent activists, disruptors, criminals who are trying to exploit this moment for their own gain, and in the midst of that crisis you published an op-ed in the New York Times arguing that the president ought to invoke the Insurrection Act to take firm action to prevent and to tamp down looting and other kinds of violence.

Reihan Salam:

Can you tell us a bit about that experience? Obviously that's something that has sparked a lot of conversation since then. But just a bit about the context behind why you made that case initially, and about what came afterwards?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Well first let me apologize to all of our viewers, since it's made the New York Times more unreadable than it previously was, although they also said they were going to cut the number of op-eds that they were publishing from that point forward so, maybe I can take advanced credit for reducing the number of terrible left wing, woke, op-ed that you have to read in New York Times. But the case I made in that New York Times op-ed was very simple, the military stands ready as a force of last resort to protect our citizens lives and their property. And there's a long history of using the Insurrection Act that is more than 200 years old to help restore and maintain order.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

101st Airborne were sent to Little Rock in 1957 to override a racist, Democratic governor who used our National Guard until Eisenhower also federalized it to integrate with Little Rock Central. John F Kennedy did the same thing in 1962 and 1963 in Alabama and Mississippi. LBJ had to do so in 1968, just blocks from the White House, in fact on the same exact streets where some of those riots were happening in early June. And George Bush, '41, did so in Los Angeles to stop the riots there in 1991. Again, but the federal troops, the active military is a force of last resort. Police officers, sheriff's deputies are always the first resort in our streets in our communities. But if they're overwhelmed or if left-wing mayors won't allow them to do their job, the next step is the national guard.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

And that happened in Washington DC, it happened in part because the national guard is answerable not to the left-wing mayor of Washington, but to the Department of Defense. My op-ed was published on Monday, I said that if the situation doesn't get under control, the Insurrection Act should be used as a tool of last resort. Well the national guard was out in force along with specialized law enforcement agencies. That Monday night, that Tuesday night, that Wednesday night and the situation was brought under control. But with the situation spiraling out of control in cities across the country, of course the president had to entertain at least the contingency of using active duty troops.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

And that's why we had troops from the 82nd Airborne and the 10th Mountain Division stage outside of Washington, prepared to defend innocent life and property around the city. Now I'm glad it didn't come to that, but the president always has to be prepared to act under the law, that congress has given him for over 200 years to protect our citizens. It wouldn't come to that though if more governors and mayors would take this rioting seriously.

Reihan Salam:

Why do you think New York Time staffers were in open revolt after the publication of this op-ed? Do you have any intuition as to what was going on there?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Well, I think the woke children in the New York Times have taken over management of it along with Twitter in general. The publisher and the op-ed editor both defended the op-eds publication initially even though they disagreed with the argument, but within a couple of days they walked that back under massive internal pressure and then the publisher is not much more than a woke child himself, threw the op-ed editor overboard. And as I said, you can see from the pages of the New York Times over the last six weeks, I mean it's gotten so far left on intersectional critical race and gender theory that it sounds like a social justice seminar at a far-left-wing college campus.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

I think this is a situation in which you have institutions that don't have strong leadership, that are going to tell their workforce that you don't run this newsroom, you don't run this organization, you don't even work on this beat. And if you don't like that, you can go work somewhere else and there's 10 more people who would be happy to come in here and take your job. We are a newspaper that is dedicated to a diversity of opinion. Our editorial is obvious left-wing bent, however that's the exact point of having an op-ed pages.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Opposite of the editorial. Or we publish different news for our readers to see. But because so many of their newsroom staffers and really something that their readers don't want to hear dissenting opinions. Don't share that kind of traditional liberal view that we should have more speech, we should have more free exchange of ideas, but rather want to silence any dissenting opinions. Want to have safe spaces against micro oppressions, again to use the language of the social justice seminar. The leadership, the New York Time gave, they prove that they're a laughing stock and you can see that in their pages today.

Reihan Salam:

During the debate over replacing the Affordable Care Act, I remember you addressing a Townhall in Arkansas, and it was a Townhall that was essentially packed with people who took strong exception to your views, I'll put it that way. And one thing I was really struck by, one thing I was very impressed by is you just very calmly, methodically and very politely engaged with what was an unrelenting barrage of hostile criticism.

Reihan Salam:

And this incident with the New York Times made me think of that, because in a way for you as an elected official and just in having observed you for some years you really do seem to take seriously the mission of reaching people who don't share your priors, who don't necessarily agree with you. And I wonder about your thoughts on how the media landscape has changed since you were first elected to congress.

Reihan Salam:

You were educated at Harvard law school, you've got a bid in many elite settings. You've had to interact with people with very different views for much of your adult life. It seems like something that you take seriously. You don't just want to preach to the choir. So, how has the change in media landscape affected your ability to communicate?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Reihan, it's gotten harder to reach a diverse audience with lots of different viewpoints at the national level. I say that in distinction to a local level, when we had the attorney general at Arkansas, the week before last, we interviewed with local television stations, a local newspaper. They asked tough but fair questions. We were happy to engage. That's not really the case though I don't think anymore and the major national newspapers like the New York Times or the Washington Post, major news channels like CNN and MSNBC or networks news divisions, I mean I can't get inside the heads of these editors and producers and the emotional reactions they've had to the election of Donald Trump over the last three and a half years.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

And they continue to distort their coverage and their news judgment, that every story is portrayed through the lens of Donald Trump. Even if that has nothing to do with the president or nothing to do with federal government, or nothing to do with politics whatsoever. I can tell you that in my first two or four years in office, I was a much more common guest on those stations or interviewed with those newspapers, in part because they wanted to have a fair hearing of ideas, they wanted to give their readers and their viewers a chance to hear a different viewpoint. That's really not the case anymore.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

It's very hard to go on those channels, to speak in those newspapers, and have anything other than just a shouting fest where they're berating Republican office holders for supporting the president, that was elected by more than 300 electoral votes. I get it, that they don't like Donald Trump and they want to defeat him, and that distorts their news coverage. That's fine they've got a chance to do that in 15 weeks. And they can do it then if they want to, but in the meantime we will be better served if supposedly objective and neutral newspapers like the New York Times, like the Washington Post or cable news channels or major network news divisions actually tried to report the news.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Not spin it, not slant it, not put it in the context of how terrible the president is, and how terrible all of the supporters all across the country must be. But simply presented the news, as is.

Reihan Salam:

How is that you've been navigating this environment? Do you rely more on social media for example, in order to get your message directly to your constituents and the people around the country, or I wonder, is there some other approach you're taking, given this expectation that much of the media coverage is not necessarily going to give a full and fair accounting of your views?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

We're fortunate in Arkansas, that we have one of the country's truly great regional newspapers, the Arkansas Democrat, that still has a correspondent in Washington DC which is weird for regional newspapers these days. So, that newspaper, given its dominant position in Arkansas, is a good opportunity to reach out to Arkansans. Our local TV stations as I said, Little Rock, North West Arkansas and North East Arkansas do a very good job of covering us anytime we're traveling around the state. It's been a little bit harder over the last four months, of course, but no they do a good job. And we have a good cooperative working relationship with them.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

I also use talk radio a lot, I believe my other colleagues also use talk radio. You can always call into a radio station in Little Rock or in Faith Hill, during the week while we're in session in Washington and reach listeners that way. And then of course social media. Especially Facebook. I know that Twitter is the assignment editor for the New York Times and MSNBC. But very few Arkansans are on that platform. The vast majority of all Americans though... Or all Arkansans, like most Americans, that use social media are on Facebook and that's a very effective way to keep Arkansans up to date on what is happening in Washington, and what we're doing for them.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

The kind of help that we provide them with federal government. So across all those different medium I think we do a pretty good job of reaching out to Arkansans. We always try to find ways to improve, to be in contact with them. Like the Townhall you mentioned earlier. I think we had to move venues three different times to accommodate more than 2,000 guests, and we saw people lined up outside. Obviously, as you said, we have lot of folks from the center left in Arkansas that didn't agree with what I said, even in Arkansas if you've got a two-thirds approval rating that means not many people disapprove the job you're doing.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

And it's important to listen to them as well, and that they know that whether you agree or disagree with them, you'll give them a respectful hearing and answer their questions fair and square, straight up and honestly.

Reihan Salam:

We've received a number of questions from our audience, and so I'll just go ahead and share one with you now. What will the senate majority do to prevent cities and states from using funds to abandon broken windows policing?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

So I think that may be referring specifically to legislation that will be under debate this week, and for the coming two weeks about virus recovery measures. The one thing we don't want to do is to provide funds with no strings attached to cities and states like Chicago and Illinois and Connecticut that have been irresponsible in their public finance for decades. I am sympathetic though to any city and state, with sound budgeting that is seeing a decline in tax revenue, because of the pandemic. Because I know that, that hurts police officers, fire fighters and so forth. However, the Department of Justice, already has some ability to make conditional grants to those institution using best practice policing techniques.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

And I think the senate should consider extending those to ensure that we're not giving money to radical mayors who won't let their police chiefs and their police officers do their job, engage in the very kinds of policing tactics that help reduce crime before crime even occurs. Like broken windows policing, like community policing.

Reihan Salam:

Another question in a similar vein, will you support more effective training and more community outreach for our officers? It seems unfair to them, to send them into situations they have no training for.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

That's absolutely unfair to them. That's why the defund the police movement is so insane. All these far-left wingers that are advocating for defunding the police want to do so because they want to have police wrapped in less violent ways, or de-escalate situations that could be de-escalated. Well those aren't natural or easy techniques to learn. You have to be trained in those techniques. Especially if you're a young and new officer. But anyone whose run an organization knows that one of the first things that gets cut when budgets are tight, is training.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

If you want the police to be well trained, to be professional. The police need more funding. They need to get funding for more training, more regular training. For pay raises. For benefits, that are going to help recruit and retain the best, the most professional, the most public spirited among us. So I believe very strongly, that we should provide police officers and sheriff’s deputies and all law enforcement officers, with that kind of effective training in difficult but teachable techniques that help improve policing, improve public safety, improve the trust of the communities that are being policed.

Reihan Salam:

Do you expect there to be support in the phase four legislation for law enforcement agencies, at the state local level?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Potentially, Reihan, it is dependent in part on how big the scope of that legislation is. One thing that center Republicans have assisted about from the very beginning, going back to February, is that we not use the crisis of this pandemic to lard up a bunch of unrelated measures. Now, I've got a lot of priorities that aren't related to this pandemic. I'm not pushing them under this legislation. I didn't push them in the last legislation. There is a link of course, as I mentioned earlier, between the impact that this pandemic has had on local tax revenue, especially sales tax revenue, and the ability to fund our police departments.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Now we provided over $100 billion of funding for local and state governments in the last major piece of legislation. Much of which is unspent. Some of which it turns out had too many strings attached to it. What Little Rock needs may be different from what Jonesboro and what we need in Arkansas may be different from what's needed in Wisconsin. So one thing we should do in this legislation is go back and look at the conditions we put on that money and allows states and cities and towns to have more flexibility in the way they use it.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

That's what I've heard from our governor, Asa Hutchinson. That's what most senators have heard from their governors as well, is that they need more flexibility in how to spend that money to address the needs of their states and their communities as the pandemic has impacted them and local in particular ways.

Reihan Salam:

A number of your colleagues in the senate, including Senator Rand Paul, have argued that criminal justice reform, the term that they embrace, that they use, is essential for reaching black American voters. To build that constituency to help win over those voters to the GOP, this is essential. However, there's another argument, which is that when you're looking at violent crime, when you're looking at the disproportionate victims of violent crimes, something that you've invoked, it is typically black and brown communities that are disproportionately burdened by violent crime.

Reihan Salam:

Do you believe that, that's an argument we'll be seeing and hearing more of from you and other colleagues who believe that we need to take a more forceful pro-active approach to policing?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Yeah, sadly too many of our black fellow citizens have been the victims of violent crime. These shootings and these murders over the last few weeks. Seems like every Monday morning there was another horrific story of a young child, even toddlers and infants being killed accidentally in stray gunfire. That has to stop and the way to stop it is stronger more effective policing. And cracking down on the violent, often repeat offenders who are committing these heinous crimes. That's a simple fact and anytime policing pulls back, anytime you have a rise in crime rates, unfortunately in our big cities at least, it almost always disproportionately hurts our black fellow citizens.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

So we should again, keep in mind as we've seen in the crimes that are being committed over these last two months, the impact that reduced policing or less effective policing has on all of our fellow citizens. Some politicians may have security details, they may live behind armed gates, but very few Americans live that way and those Americans are the ones that need the protection of the police more than anyone.

Reihan Salam:

There's been a great deal of controversy recently over the deployment of federal agents to a number of cities and so we have a question. Is sending undercover DHS officers to Portland to arrest people, a violation of state's rights?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

No, of course it's not. It's no more a violation of the prerogatives of Oregon as a state than trying within Fort Sumter was from insurrectionists in 1861. We've all seen the news. There's been vandals attacking federal court house or other federal buildings downtown Portland. The federal government has a right, it has a duty to defend all federal property. If anything the federal government should have deployed agents earlier to protect federal properties, and they should be arresting them and they should be charging them, and doing so in a public fashion that deters all of these anarchists and rioters and insurrectionists on our streets.

Reihan Salam:

Do you believe that there's a role for federal law enforcement when you have cities that are facing a particularly sharp spike in violent crime. Even if it's not necessarily an anarchist or insurrectionists activity per se?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

There can be a role, that role is much easier when you have the cooperation of local authorities. Just week before last, the Department of Justice, launched Operation Legend for instance, in Kansas City, that is helping surge more federal support into the city to try to stop the crime wave there. Much harder to do though, in a place like Portland where you don't have the support of the local mayor or the governor of the state. You have to remember too that federal law enforcement is relatively small compared to the millions of police officers and sheriff’s deputies we have across the country.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

In Washington, specialized law enforcement agencies like the Park Police, or the Secret Service, the Customs and Border police, they were able to help quell the rioting in Washington DC. That's a really unique situation, since Washington is a federal city. You simply don't have that kind of presence in large numbers of federal law enforcement officers in most cities around the country. That's why it falls first to our local police, sheriff’s deputies to try to stop this crime wave that's building. Now if local authorities want the cooperation of federal government, then it is absolutely incumbent on the Department of Justice to provide that support, as they have in many cities already over the last couple of months.

Reihan Salam:

Senator Cotton, one more question for you, the revolutionary movement in the 1960s was not where Americans were ideologically, and it resulted in two significant Republican victories in 1968 and 1972. Do you think the current excesses of the left will generate a similar result?

Sen. Tom Cotton:

They could Reihan, but these things are never determined until the voters go to the polls in November. And as I said, the Democrats want to make this a campaign issue, I think that they're badly miscalculating. The vast majority of Americans respect the police, they want public safety. They want to be protected from criminals, much less from criminal anarchists and insurrectionists, who seem to roam with impunity in cities like Portland and Seattle. We need to respond to those desires. Make it clear that while we'll always respect the rights of peaceful protests and demonstrations in this country.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

While we're always open to trying to improve policing techniques and to building trust among policed communities, we have zero tolerance for the kind of violence that we have seen in our streets in places like Portland and Seattle over the last two months.

Reihan Salam:

Senator you've been very generous with your time, thank you very much for a fascinating conversation. I want to thank you again for joining us and speaking to our audience. I also want to thank everyone who tuned in and asked questions this afternoon. If you would like to hear more from the Manhattan Institute I encourage you to subscribe to our newsletters and to make a contribution. There are links for doing so in the comments window below. Thank you again, Senator. This was terrific. Deeply grateful for your time.

Sen. Tom Cotton:

Thank you Reihan, and thanks to the Manhattan Institute again. Not just for this forum, but for all you've done to help make America safe over the last 25, 30 years.

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