U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton said Tuesday that Donald Trump should apologize to the family of a slain Muslim American Army captain along with other families who have lost loved ones in combat, but he still supports Trump’s candidacy. He also called for the building of a fence on the southern U.S. border with Mexico.
On Thursday at the Democratic National Convention, Khizr Khan, the father of slain Army Captain Humayun Khan, criticized Trump for his proposed ban on Muslims entering the country. The Khans and Trump have been having words since then.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday after addressing the Political Animals Club in Little Rock, Cotton, R-Ark., said he had presided over military funerals and presented flags to grieving families while stationed at Arlington National Cemetery.
“I think he should express his regret and apologize for what he said to the Khans, and again, to all Gold Star families. … I think the best course of action for him is to express regret for what he said, to apologize, and to move forward to focus on real issues,” Cotton said.
Cotton also disagreed with Trump’s recent suggestion that the United States might drop its commitment to support NATO members that don’t spend 2% of their gross domestic products on defense.
“If anyone thinks that not honoring our obligations under NATO would make war less likely, they’re exactly wrong. It would make war more likely because it would embolden our adversaries,” he said.
However, Cotton said the American people would be better off with a Republican president and a Republican Congress.
“In the end, with a Republican Congress, we will pass a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. Trump will sign it. (Hillary) Clinton won’t,” he said. “We will pass real immigration reform that will enforce our border and enforce our laws. Trump will sign it. Clinton won’t. We’ll pass a law to increase our defense budget. Trump will sign it. Clinton won’t.”
During a press conference Wednesday, Trump encouraged Russia to find missing emails on Clinton’s server, later saying the remarks were made in jest. Some believe Russia was responsible for the recent hacking of Democratic National Committee emails. The Clinton campaign accused Trump of encouraging espionage by a foreign government.
Cotton said that it’s too soon to know if Russia was behind the hack, though it has the ability and the demonstrated intent. He said there should be consequences if so.
“This is not a matter of partisanship or electoral politics,” he said. “It’s a matter of protecting America’s national security interest.”
However, regarding Trump’s remarks, he said, “I think Hillary Clinton’s decision to put classified information on a private server is much more serious than anything Donald Trump has said about it.”
During his talk to the Political Animals Club, Cotton said the American people will not accept broad immigration reform until policymakers focus on enforcing existing laws, enforcing the border and serving Americans. He said Congress has repeatedly voted to fund a fence on the border with Mexico. He later told reporters that fences have proven to be effective rather than a wall, as Trump has proposed. He said he supports a double-sided fence augmented by technology.
“Fences work. There’s a reason it’s around the White House. There’s a reason why people have fences on their property. …
“The point is, there has to be a physical barrier. Physical barriers work. That’s one reason why when we were in Iraq and Afghanistan, the first thing you do when you set up a new outpost is you set up physical barriers. … There needs to be a physical barrier that is the outward expression of our inward determination to control our borders and enforce our immigration laws.”
Trump has said Mexico should be made to pay for the wall. Cotton said it could pay for part of it.
“Mexico is very tough on their southern border,” he said. “There’s no reason why they shouldn’t cooperate with us on our northern barrier. We’re one of their biggest trading partners, and they need American support in a lot of different ways. I’m not sure we can make them pay for the whole thing, but we can probably make it a joint, bi-national effort.”
In his speech, Cotton said Republicans are a minority party and the underdog in presidential elections. He said the party must better appeal to moderates, centrists and disaffected Democrats. Asked afterward if he is running for president in four years, Cotton said with a laugh, “I don’t think so. … We’re going to be re-electing a Republican president in four years.”