Will Senate’s Leading Immigration Hawk Move To CIA?

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s latest public dispute with the White House has ginned up speculation that the former ExxonMobil CEO will soon depart the administration, leading to a reshuffling of personnel and ultimately, a big impact on the GOP’s immigration agenda.

The chain of appointments could go something like this: Tillerson may head home to Texas and be replaced by CIA director Mike Pompeo. GOP Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas could then replace Pompeo, Axios reported Monday,

A Harvard law grad and Army veteran with combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan under his belt, Cotton was briefly considered for CIA director and secretary of defense during the presidential transition. Since then, he has become a trusted outside adviser to President Donald Trump and a leading booster of the administration’s immigration policies.

Cotton emerged as immigration hawks’ dream lawmaker this summer when, along with GOP Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, he introduced the RAISE Act — a bill that would cut legal migration levels by about half and move the U.S. to a merit-based immigration system. The bill largely ends family based chain migration, a practice many immigration reform groups have sought to curtail for years.

Cotton bolstered his hard-line immigration bona fides in September, when he gave a speech at Hillsdale College in Michigan warning about the dangers mass immigration poses to the American economy and social fabric. In calling for an immigration system that creates “conditions in which normal, hard-working Americans can thrive,” Cotton placed himself squarely in the camp of groups that make similar economic arguments for less immigration.

Now, with Cotton reportedly in contention for the top CIA job, immigration hawks fear the Senate could lose its most influential voice for tighter immigration controls. Cotton’s presence in the Senate is essential to keeping Trump’s immigration policies at the top of the GOP’s to-do list, said Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration reform.

“If President Trump is indeed going to be looking for a new CIA director, we hopes he looks somewhere else,” Stein told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email. “Senator Cotton is much needed in the Senate to ensure that President Trump’s agenda on immigration moves forward.”

That concern was shared by many other immigration hawks, who worried Trump would be undermining his own agenda by asking Cotton to be CIA director. Blogger Mickey Kaus, a Democrat who has become a leading voice for lower levels of immigration, argued that there are other candidates for the CIA job who aren’t as important to immigration policy.

“Plenty of people can run the CIA,” Kaus tweeted Monday. “Hard to find a senator like @TomCottonAR to buck KSt lobbyist $$ & support reasonable immigration control.”

Immigration hard-liner Ann Coulter was even more emphatic, tweeting that Cotton’s move would mean one less “patriot” in the Senate.

As to the likelihood that Cotton would accept the CIA nomination if Trump were to make the offer, Axios quoted one of the senator’s longtime friends as saying he “does his duty when the country calls.”

Given Cotton’s already close working relationship with Trump, that sense of duty suggests a real possibility the rising Republican star will make the move if and when Tillerson makes his own move back to Texas.

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