Tom Cotton, the New Ted Cruz

Tom Cotton, the New Ted Cruz March 23, 2015

Watching Sen. Tom Cotton’s first couple months as a U.S. Senator is causing a bit of deja vu. I’ve seen this kind of behavior before, walking in on the first day and acting like a bull in a china shop. We saw the same thing two years ago when Ted Cruz was elected. It’s all about being as controversial as possible to get as much attention as they can. Look at Cotton’s latest bit of WTF:

Cotton, apparently unbowed by the outcry over his recent open letter to Iranian leaders, introduced a bill on Wednesday that would cut U.S. funding to countries that receive former Guantanamo detainees who are later suspected of terrorism. He toured the prison March 13 with three other senators.

Cotton’s Guantanamo Bay Recidivism Prevention Act of 2015 comes after his unsuccessful effort to slip similar language into a different bill during a closed-door Senate Armed Services Committee meeting last month. As The Huffington Post reported, Cotton suggested an amendment to a bill aimed at restricting detainee transfers out of Guantanamo. The amendment would have cut funds to any country that accepted detainee transfers.

Since November, 27 detainees have been transferred from Guantanamo, leaving 122. Of those, 54 have been cleared for transfer.

Cotton, along with several other Republican lawmakers, is determined to stop the releases. “Until President Obama stops releasing Guantanamo Bay detainees, Congress must do everything in its power to stop recidivism,” Cotton declared when he introduced his bill.

“President Obama seems to have little concern for what happens after a detainee leaves Guantanamo Bay. But these detainees are hardened terrorists and their release puts U.S. lives and our national-security interests at risk,” Cotton added…

Cotton claimed when he introduced the bill that “almost one in three detainees released from Guantanamo Bay are confirmed or suspected of returning to the fight.” However, in the February hearing that Cotton attended, McKeon pegged the recidivism rate at 17.3 percent. Since Obama took office in 2009, the recidivism rate for transferred detainees is 6.8 percent, he said. Of the 107 former detainees confirmed to have re-engaged in violent activity, 48 are either in custody or no longer alive.

So the overall rate of recidivism is 17.3%, but only 6.8% for Obama. But 520 of them were released by the Bush administration and only about 100 by the Obama administration, which means the recidivism rate under Bush was way higher. Clearly the Obama administration is vetting those detainees who are cleared for release far more effectively than was done under Bush.

Again, I see Cotton following Cruz’ strategy here. Traditionally, those who are elected to the Senate take their time getting to understand how the place works, keeping their head down and getting to work (this is less true of the House). But Cruz and Cotton have gone in and immediately started infuriating people (including their own federal Republicans). It gets a lot of attention, to be sure.

Why is this happening? Because of the Tea Party, which has pushed the GOP so far to the right that more and more extremists are making it to the Senate. It used to be that the really extreme people were mostly confined to state legislatures, with a few of them making it to the House and that was as high as they could rise. But now the Republican caucus in the House is at least half extremists and more and more of them are making it to the Senate as well. Joni Ernst, James Lankford and Tom Cotton would have had little chance to win a Senate election only a decade ago. Now they’ve got a clear path to it.

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