Meet the Bush-loving, military women-fearing, likely new senator

Rep. Tom Cotton once argued against women serving in the infantry because their "nature" could "impair" the mission

By Jillian Rayfield
Published July 31, 2013 9:22PM (EDT)

Freshman congressman Tom Cotton will reportedly announce next week that he is running for Senate against Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat who is likely the most vulnerable incumbent up for reelection in 2014.

Cotton, a young veteran with a law degree from Harvard, and the support of Tea Partyers and neocons alike, is new to the national stage, and has mostly made a name for himself by vehemently opposing Chuck Hagel's confirmation to defense secretary. But here are some other fun facts about the hawkish new front-runner in Arkansas:

  • Earlier this year, he argued against allowing women to serve in the infantry, because "[t]o have women serving in infantry, though, could impair the mission-essential tasks of those units. And that’s been proven in study after study, it’s nature, upper body strength, and physical movements, and speed, and endurance, and so forth."
  • Cotton also suggested that Iraq was involved with al-Qaida and the 9/11 attacks, which the 9/11 commission determined in 2004 was untrue. "The evidence is inconclusive there, but I know that Saddam Hussein was widely believed by all western intelligence agencies, not just the United States, but western European countries not in a rush to war, to have weapons of mass destruction," he said in January.
  • In 2006, Cotton wrote an open letter to the New York Times calling for Times reporters Eric Lichtblau and James Risen to be imprisoned for their report on the government's program to track terrorist financing. He also added that Bill Keller, then the executive editor of the paper, should be prosecuted for the article. "I am well-versed in the espionage laws relevant to this story and others—laws you have plainly violated. I hope that my colleagues at the Department of Justice match the courage of my soldiers here and prosecute you and your newspaper to the fullest extent of the law," he wrote.
  • Shoring up his hawkish cred, Cotton told Politico in April that the Iraq invasion was a “just and noble war":  “I think that George Bush largely did have it right. That we can’t wait for dangers to gather on the horizon, that we can’t let the world’s most dangerous people get the world’s most dangerous weapons, and that we have to be willing to defend our interests and the safety of our citizens abroad even if we don’t get the approval of the United Nations."
  • Speaking of George W. Bush, Cotton argued in a speech on the House floor that President Obama has been weak on counterterrorism, while George W. Bush did not allow any terrorist attacks on American soil ... except for 9/11. "In barely four years in office, five jihadists have reached their targets in the United States under Barack Obama: the Boston Marathon bomber, the underwear bomber, the Times Square bomber, the Fort Hood shooter, and in my own state -- the Little Rock recruiting office shooter. In the over seven years after 9/11 under George W. Bush, how many terrorists reached their target in the United States? Zero! "

Politico profiled Cotton in January, painting him as a fresh representative of the GOP's blanket obstructionism:

In an interview in his still-bare office a few hours before being sworn in, Cotton told us he would have voted against both Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” tax on millionaires, and the final tax hike that got the country off the fiscal cliff. He vowed to vote against raising the debt limit in two months, absent the sort of massive cuts the president opposes. He said he is more concerned about the “cataclysmic” consequences of inaction than the “short-term market corrections” of default. “I’d like to take the medicine now,” he said.

Cotton has been flooded with calls in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, 9-to-1 against supporting any new gun control. There is zero chance he will vote for any new gun laws. And he sees a need to deal with immigration — but in small steps that avoid granting legal status or citizenship to people here illegally.

All of this is bad news for Pryor. The GOP needs to win six seats in order to take back the Senate -- and Pryor is an easy target. As a Democrat in a red state, he was already vulnerable, but to top it off he faced backlash from within his own party over his vote against gun background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings.

Michael Bloomberg's group Mayors Against Illegal Guns also ran an ad against Pryor, and Bloomberg himself urged Democratic donors in New York to cut off donations to Pryor and other Dems who voted against the measure.

Jillian Rayfield

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at

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2014 Elections Arkansas Mark Pryor Republicans Tom Cotton