At a town hall attended by at least 700 individuals Monday, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said he told Gov. Asa Hutchinson earlier in the day that he supports the state’s plan to carry out multiple executions in April, while U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, also expressed support for the death penalty.
Cotton Deputy Press Secretary Dylan Haney said more than 700 seats at the Embassy Suites in Little Rock were set up for the 2 p.m. event, and when those were filled, additional space was opened and seats provided. The event was supposed to last an hour, but the congressmen answered questions from constituents for an hour and a half.
Asked about Arkansas’ plans to enact the death penalty – changing by the hour because of court decisions – Cotton said he had met with Hutchinson that morning and told him he “100 percent” supports his execution plans.
“My sympathy lies with the victims who don’t have a voice. I think it’s very unfortunate that liberal judges and lawyers and washed up celebrities and politically correct pharmaceutical companies are trying to interfere with the justice system,” he said.
Hill said some crimes are so heinous that juries and judges should have the option to impose the death penalty.
The crowd was composed of a section of constituents supportive of Cotton and Hill mostly sitting front and center, and many more who were opposed to the two Republicans. On most answers, some or many in the audience interrupted the congressmen with boos, jeers and other shouted expressions of disapproval. Supporters cheered the congressmen’s answers.
FOREIGN POLICY, MILITARY ACTIONS
Foreign policy was the topic of numerous questions from the audience. Both said President Donald Trump acted within his presidential authority in ordering the bombing of a Syrian airfield April 6 without a formal declaration of war from Congress. Cotton said the Founding Fathers left the conduct of foreign affairs largely in the hands of presidents, who have exercised that authority reaching back to President Thomas Jefferson’s military response to Barbary pirates.
In response to one question about President Trump’s foreign policy, Hill praised Trump’s foreign policy leadership team – National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and Vice President Mike Pence. He said they have “had constructive influence thus far,” including changing Trump’s views on NATO since the presidential campaign.
Cotton said in response to one question that the military has been underfunded and must be able to face global threats. He said Trump has adopted a peace through strength model much like the one adopted during the 1980s under President Reagan.
“The whole point of being strong and powerful is so we can maintain a peaceful, stable world for the United States of America,” Cotton said.
One audience member said she had lost a boyfriend in the Vietnam War and asked Cotton and Hill what they would do to control “our crazy president who thinks he can just” – the rest was drowned out by cheers. Hill said the world is a more dangerous place without American leadership, and the military must be prepared. Cotton said the best way to avoid a war is to be prepared to fight one. He praised Trump for striking at Syria and said the United States should show strength regarding North Korea.
“For three straight presidencies in both parties, we’ve failed at North Korea. We’ve been kicking the can down the road. Well, we’re out of road to kick the can down,” Cotton said to cheers from like-minded audience members.
RUSSIAN HACKING, INFLUENCE
One audience member asked if the two would be as forceful regarding claims of Russian hacking in the 2016 elections as they were about the attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the American ambassador, while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. Benghazi was often cited by Republicans during the presidential campaign.
Cotton said he had seen enough information as a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee to convince him that Russia was responsible for hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s emails and for releasing that information. He said the review is “going to take us wherever the facts lead us. I can commit to you that we are conducting on the Intelligence Committee just that kind of review.” He said the material is inherently classified but that he hoped to make public as much as possible.
“The intelligence I’ve seen is more sensitive than anything I’ve seen in over two years on the Intelligence Committee,” he said.
Hill said, “I certainly support both the Senate and the House’s work for a full investigation of any inappropriate, illegal espionage by Russia regarding our elections – executive branch, anywhere it leads.”
TRUMP’S TAX RETURNS, HEALTH CARE
When one constituent asked if Congress would subpoena Trump in order to obtain his tax returns, Cotton and Hill said Trump already is required to complete a detailed financial disclosure report, while Cotton added that Trump’s dealings are public because he attaches his name to his buildings.
The two also answered questions about health care. When Hill said Congress must repeal the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, the crowd reacted with a mixture of loud boos and cheers. Asked about the possibility that 300,000 Arkansans covered by the state’s Arkansas Works program would lose health insurance if the act were repealed, Cotton said ending Obamacare would not necessarily lead to that result. He said one of the reasons he opposed the recently failed American Health Care Act was because such a result was possible under it. He said the Affordable Care Act did help some people but it hurt more.
He said he had introduced legislation to speed Food and Drug Administration approval of generic drugs because research has shown the introduction of the second generic drug causes the price to fall more dramatically.
Asked about corporate tax cuts, Hill said the code needs to be simplified and it places American companies at a competitive disadvantage.
“Tax reform is super important. Our tax code is mindlessly complex,” he said.