story by Michael Tilley and Ryan Saylor
The two leading Arkansas candidates in the U.S. Senate race were in Fort Smith on Friday (Aug. 8) with one talking about a jobs plan and the other pledging to help cattle farmers fend off federal rules that “interfere” with farm operations. The two candidates also expressed concern about President Barack Obama’s decision to attack ISIS forces in Iraq.
Obama said the airstrikes were needed to protect American diplomats and civilians and more than 15,000 non-Muslim Iraqis under siege without food and water by the hardline ISIS militants.
In an interview after his remarks to the 55th Annual convention of the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association in Fort Smith, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, said he understands that American citizens require protection, but said the action represents a larger problem.
“We have to protect our American diplomats and other personnel there, and anytime we can aid tens of thousands of religious minorities who are being persecuted by Al Qaeda with food and water, we should. But overall it just shows the lack of a strategy the President has had in Iraq for the last three years, and really, since he became President, and the lack of an overall Middle East strategy that’s designed to protect America’s interests and defend our allies,” said Cotton, who by several polls holds a narrow lead over incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
Pryor, who spoke Friday afternoon at Gerber’s baby food production plant in Fort Smith, told reporters that he worries about the action leading to more military involvement in Iraq.
"I really commend all of our men and women in uniform who are trying to deliver the humanitarian aid to the religious minority who are under siege right now. But I must say I share the concerns I think many Arkansans have about this becoming a deeper military commitment. So I know this is by nature, right now, humanitarian. And again, I think that is justified. And I think most people will support that because it is limited. So like the rest of us, I'm watching to see how this develops,” Pryor said.
Both candidates also addressed the contentious immigration issue and the ongoing crisis along the U.S. border with Mexico. Pryor pointed fingers at the U.S. House for the crisis.
"The Senate passed an immigration bill a year and a half ago, or a year ago I guess. I think perhaps had we had the House pass the immigration bills, perhaps we wouldn't be having the same trouble we're having on the border right now. Because there's so much in that legislation on border security. It was really about securing the borders first and then working on the rest of it secondly,” Pryor explained.
However, Pryor said he does not support unilateral action by President Obama to influence immigration policies through the use of executive orders.
"I do not agree with the President when he says he's going to start doing a lot of things in the immigration world by executive order. I don't think that's the way to go. I think Congress should be involved in the solution here. If we do immigration reform, hopefully the House will pickup the bill that we passed last year. I'm not saying they should pass it verbatim. Let the process work, they'll amend it, make their changes whatever and we'll get together and try to work it out."
Cotton said the U.S. House pushed legislation that would have fixed the problem, but the Senate failed to act. Cotton said he “played an instrumental role in toughening that (a recent House bill) up” to provide border security, ensure that the U.S. “expedite the return of illegal immigrants to their home country and not the settlement of them in our country,” and support border governors who have to call up the National Guard. Cotton also said the House bill would prevent Obama from “issuing future executive amnesties.”
“Mark Pryor voted for the President’s amnesty and then skipped town (Washington D.C.) for five weeks while we still have a crisis,” Cotton said.
PRYOR JOBS PLAN
Pryor’s visit to the Gerber plant – owned by Switzerland-based Nestlé – was to tout his jobs bill he said would promote onshoring manufacturing jobs in the United States and eliminate tax loopholes for employers who take jobs out of country. The plan would also extending tax credits through increased expensing and bonus depreciation.
Pryor said his proposed legislation could result in up to 10 separate bills he hopes to co-sponsor with multiple Republican and Democratic colleagues in the Senate.
Pryor wants to get the legislation passed this year, though as a "realist" he admitted that with only about three weeks of legislative work remaining before the November general election and only five or so weeks before the start of the new Congress in January, it would be a tall order to get multiple bills through the House and Senate.
"And we have a lot of catching up to do in that lame duck (session). So I'm going to do as much as I can to do the best I can and try to make it as bipartisan as we can. I think we'll get a ton of bipartisan support on it, but I can't… I would say probably most of this would happen next year realistically."
Even if the legislation does not make it to a vote, Pryor said he would make the legislation focusing on job creation a central theme in his tight campaign with Cotton as Pryor attempts to win a third term.
"I would like jobs and the economy to be the centerpiece of my campaign. Absolutely. I think I have a good record there. I think that the business community understands that I work with them all over the state of Arkansas to help create jobs here and I just know how important the economy is. So I guess short answer…yes."
COTTON’S FARM SUPPORT
Cotton, who has drawn criticism from farm interests in Arkansas for his vote against the federal farm bill, received a friendly introduction during the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association luncheon.
Cotton, whose family owns a cattle farm in Yell County, was the only member of Arkansas’ U.S. House delegation to post a ‘No’ vote in January when the farm bill was approved. The politically powerful Arkansas Farm Bureau had urged all members of the delegation to vote for the bill.
Mark Graves, a farmer from Howard County who introduced Cotton, said he was proud of Cotton’s vote against “the unfarm bill” that was more about bureaucracy and benefits than farming.
In his brief comments to the almost 200 gathered at the association luncheon, Cotton said he could continue to speak up for Arkansas farmers in a Washington D.C. environment that knows little about farming.
“They (legislators and regulators) think that food comes from a grocery store,” Cotton said.
His primary objective as a Congressman and if elected to the U.S. Senate, is to push back against “extreme” environmental regulations and certain aspects of the federal Clean Water Act that “interfere” with farm operations.
Graves told The City Wire that he believed “a greater percentage” of cattle farmers support Cotton than Pryor. Graves acknowledged that Cotton’s vote upset some on the farm community, but said those not happy were primarily row crop farmers “that get the big federal subsidies.”