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Could the GOP Become the Party of Women? Sen. Tom Cotton Says it Already Has
My Interview with U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton on Parents' Rights, the Republicans' Big Win in Virginia, and Gender Madness
This morning, I spoke to Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. I had planned to speak to him about the new bill he is sponsoring, the Empower Parents to Protect Their Kids Act, which would make it unlawful for schools to participate in reassigning a minor child’s gender identity without first obtaining parental permission. It is no exaggeration to say this is the single most important parents’ rights bill to come along in decades. It couldn’t come at a better time.
For years, parents’ rights have been subverted by state social workers, public school teachers and school guidance counselors. At last, parents are reclaiming the right to raise their children according to their judgment and values and Senator Cotton’s bill is an essential part of that. [Last month, Senator Cotton’s office sent me the bill in draft form to review].
But after Tuesday night’s stunning electoral victory in Virginia for the GOP—and, much more importantly from where I sit, a victory for parents—I spoke to the Senator about whether the GOP might become the Party of Parents or even (dare I suggest?) the party of women. I asked whether he would personally be willing to find common cause with Liberal colleagues and whether that was even practicable in today’s polarized political climate. I asked whether he considers same-sex marriage settled law. He offered his thoughts on Pete Buttigieg’s extended paternity leave.
I also asked the Senator about China’s role in exploiting our national divisions, his scorching cross-examination of AG Merrick Garland, the controversy over his infamous New York Times op-ed, and whether women in America are losing rights that took generations to secure.
AS: Senator, a lot of Democrats voted for Glenn Youngkin in Virginia. He won over voters that President Trump couldn't win just one year ago. And I was wondering what we can learn from that?
Sen. Cotton: Well, particularly in the Northern Virginia suburbs, you see many voters, especially parents, who are just seeking a return of sanity and normalcy to their lives, to their schools, and to their communities. Glenn campaigned to empower parents, to respect their role in their kids’ education, to give them a say in their kids’ education. And Terry McAuliffe said -- I think his exact line was ‘I don't think parents should be telling schools what to teach.’ And as the progressive Left in America has become more and more aggressive and authoritarian and enforcing their new and oftentimes bizarre cultural norms, they are turning off a lot of voters who otherwise might be willing to vote for the Democratic Party.
AS: The New York Times’ headline this morning was: “Republicans Pounce on Schools as a Wedge Issue to Unite the Party”? I was wondering if I might get your reaction. The subhead is: “Rallying around what it calls, ‘parental rights,’ the party is pushing to build on its victories this week by stoking white resentment and tapping into broader anger at the education system.”
Sen. Cotton: “Republicans Pounce.”
Sen. Cotton: Sometimes I wonder if New York Times writers understand that ‘Republicans pounce’ and ‘Republican seize’ is an entire meme that we use to mock them, and that they're just trying to gaslight when they write those headlines.
The New York Times, the High Priests of Woke progressivism in America think that defending parental rights to have a say in their kids’ education and control over their kids’ life is somehow a new ‘culture war’ or example of white supremacy or racism. And if the Democratic Party continues to believe what the high priest are saying in the editorial pages of New York Times, then what happened this week in Virginia and New Jersey will look like child's play to what will happen next November.
AS: Do you believe the Republicans can capitalize on that or or can run with that? I mean, these are a lot of Democratic voters.
Sen. Cotton: I do. The New York Times does not even have pretense to be a neutral and objective news source anymore. It is, in essence, fan service for its readers, which now provide the bulk of its revenue as well. So like a movie franchise that has to keep churning out stuff that its fans like, the New York Times has to keep churning out articles like this, as opposed to report plainly on what happened in Virginia and New Jersey.
And what public opinion polls, anecdotes and just basic common sense tells you is that Americans – regardless of their political persuasion – almost always are going to side with the party that supports the rights of parents, as opposed to a party that is trying to exclude parents from education or call them ‘domestic terrorists,’ or indoctrinate their kids.
There are tons of interesting anecdotes in reports from Virginia polling places of African American parents, Hispanic parents, single moms, parents who had said they voted for Biden last year, who just couldn't take what the Democrats were selling at this point.
AS: Senator, those of us who've watched your career for for a number of years now, have rarely seen you as indignant and angry as you seemed last week with Attorney General Merrick Garland when he was testifying. I was wondering what it was that aroused that level of indignation?
Sen. Cotton: That was the restrained and tempered version of my anger and outrage for Merrick Garland, by the way.
The Attorney General of the United States directing the FBI and the National Security Division to create task forces to coordinate the monitoring and prosecution of parents who go to school boards to complain about school closures, or mask mandates, or curriculum choices, is appalling. And there's no basis for it whatsoever. There's no factual basis whatsoever. There's no evidence at all that local police departments, in conjunction with school districts are not more than capable of maintaining order at a school board meeting if it gets somewhat contentious.
And, as we saw at about the time that hearing occurred, there's no basis even in the request that was made. The National School Board Association sends an offensive letter, asking for this type of support, calling in some cases, parents ‘domestic terrorists.’ It’s not even a string of cases that if you just dug a little bit, you'd realize, were not involving violence or the threat of violence. They were involving parents who were indignant that, for instance, a school board covering up a rape of a 15-year-old girl by a boy dressed as a girl—and then transferring the boy so he can assault another girl—all so that they could pass their transgender policy in the middle of Pride Month.
And Merrick Garland bought it hook, line and sinker. It happened in just four intervening days, two of which were weekend days. And I think, Abigail, as you know, the federal government can't order coffee from the pantry in four days, especially when two of them are weekend days. So this was obviously cooked up and hatched in concert with liberal activists of the School Board Association, political hacks, and Department of Justice in the White House. And that's why Merrick Garland sprang into action so quickly. And the fact that he's sprang into action so quickly when he's doing nothing about the border, nothing about the crime wave in our cities, nothing about the opioid epidemic, but rather cracking down on parents? Yeah, he he did get the tempered and restrained version of my anger last week.
AS: Senator, I was wondering: one of the first things Speaker Pelosi did in 2021, was to take the words mother and father from the House rules. And on President Biden's first day in office, he attacked girls’ sports. I was wondering, how did the Left gain such political power over the Democratic Party where they can even lead it to do things that are openly self-destructive?
Sen. Cotton: Yeah, both of those things are insane. And they show how Woke progressives have become so involved in Gender Ideology that they're now openly and objectively anti-woman in many cases: interfering with women and girls’ rights to play sports, or the safety that abused women have in shelters for battered women, or in the latest controversy about Pete Buttigieg [regarding] parental leave – insisting that you have absolute equality between the rights for parental leave between women and men.
I’m all for fathers bonding with their kids. But men don't go through the hardships of pregnancy and labor and childbirth and nursing. I think women should get some more special consideration. But you can't possibly say that even though it's objectively supportive of women because it would run afoul of Gender Ideology and because the progressive Left is so dominant in the opinion-making segments of our society and the Democratic Party’s power centers like the universities, like Big Tech and the Media, New York Times-style media in particular.
Most Democrats, I think, are scared to run afoul of it. Even if they recognize that it's politically toxic, they just hope that they can get away with it. Sometimes I think they hope they can get away because it sounds so crazy and bizarre that most people won't believe that it's actually happening and write it off when it comes time for campaigns and elections. I think what happened in Virginia, especially in the Northern Virginia suburbs, shows that that's not the case.
AS: Senator, you've been in the Senate for quite a while at this point. Do do you think your Democratic colleagues believe in putting biological males in women's prison and destroying women's sports, or putting out CRT-type messages, or are they really just afraid of the Left flank of their party?
Sen. Cotton: I think it’s some of both, and I don't want to generalize about each each of my colleagues, but it’s some of both. Some are genuinely so foolish and so naive, that they think putting men into women's prisons creates no problems, and it can be easily addressed and resolved. Or that allowing a young boy who identifies as a girl to play high school sports on the girls’ team or compete against girls—despite the obvious biological advantage he has—is probably both rare and a blow for gender equity and it has to be tolerated. But I think some of them don't believe those things. They're just scared of what the Squad-type politicians will say about them, and what they may get editorialized about in the New York Times, or on their local statewide papers that emulate the New York Times.
AS: Could the Republican Party ever become the party of women?
Sen. Cotton: Well, if you look at the exit polls from Virginia, it suggests that we already have. It’s very curious to see that so many self-styled feminists in politics and the media have taken steps that are objectively harmful to women.
I mean, Title IX was a long-sought and hard-fought battle to try to achieve equality between women's sports and men's sports. Some of the very same people that fought those battles—or their philosophical and political inheritors—are willing to sacrifice those gains, all in service of this radical abstraction of Gender Ideology. And to simply stand up and say, ‘No, we're going to protect the rights of girls and women to play sports—to compete in sports on an equal basis—we’re going to protect the rights of women who are in shelters for those who face domestic abuse, or we're going to recognize that there are natural and biological differences between the sexes, and that justifies a difference in how we treat new mothers and new fathers. That's not some kind of radical ideology; that is just common sense. That is pushing back against a radical ideology, and most Americans are not ideologues.
And when you add that to the concerns that so many mothers have just going to the grocery store today and not be able to find the fixings for Thanksgiving dinner, being worried about getting gifts for Christmas, both because the shelves may be bare or they may cost too much because of inflation. Whether their kids are going to be indoctrinated in school to hate America, and whether they're gonna be safe on their streets walking back home from school. I'm not surprised that we saw significant gains among female voters in Virginia and New Jersey, closing what is often called the [Republican] ‘gender gap’ in the vote between men and women.
AS: Senator, regarding your Empower Parents to Protect their Kids Act, I want to ask: what about in those rare situations where a kid might be subjected to abuse at home if he declared a transgender identity, and he mentions this identity to [a teacher or employee of his] school? Should we worry about cases like that?
Sen. Cotton: Well, of course schools – and any authority figure – should always worry about child abuse at home. That's why my bill includes a provision that would expressly state that nothing in the bill prevents a school from contacting legal authorities if they suspect the child's safety is at risk. And legal authorities like the police or like Child Protective Services have very well-established procedures that both protect the parents’ due process rights and also child safety. Those safeguards are not always in place or sometimes they're actively circumvented in schools, however. And I think it's very troubling when you see Woke school boards or the ACLU, who are trying to expand that definition of ‘safety’ into ‘a child's sense of self-esteem will be harmed if their parents don't want to affirm and celebrate their supposed gender transition’ and use that as a justification to hide what's happening at school from parents. In some cases, engaging in elaborate ruses to conceal what they're supporting from parents. So of course, we should be worried about child abuse. Not just gender transitions, but on any basis—always and everywhere. But we can't allow that to be a justification for infringing on parents’ rights.
AS: Under the Empower Parents to Protect their Kids Act, what's the threshold for an employee of the school needing to report on a conversation with a child that involves the child's purported gender identity?
Sen. Cotton: Well, the bill’s focused primarily on schools who are actively aiding and abetting a child transitioning their gender and concealing it from the parents. So at a minimum, if you're going to do that, you have to get your parents’ permission. I mean, you have to get permission to take a kid on field trip or give him medicine or let him play sports or use corporal punishment. Surely, you'd have to get parental notification and get permission to aid a child in transitioning their gender. Now, the bill doesn't compel a teacher to snoop around or read over the shoulder of a kid or eavesdrop on their conversation. But it does require immediate notification if if the school is aware of and actively aiding those kinds of transitions.
AS: Senator, I know you didn't support gay marriage and probably didn't agree with Obergefell. But I was wondering, at this point, do you consider that settled law? Are you comfortable with the status quo of legal gay marriage in all 50 states? Or do you actively wish to overturn Obergefell?
Sen. Cotton: I mean, Obergefell is now settled Supreme Court precedent, going back six years, and I'm not aware of cases that are trying to reverse it. There's other legal controversies, obviously, that are important, and a lot of these are the ones we've been discussing about dealing with parental rights of young children.
AS: Can conservatives, like you, Senator, still find allies among moderate liberals? Is that possible today?
Sen. Cotton: I think it is possible because moderate Liberals are increasingly concerned about crazy Liberals—Woke progressives who have caused the Democratic Party to lurch far to the Left. I was just approached, a couple of weeks ago by a prominent liberal. We'd never met. And he said, ‘You might know who I am’—this successful businessman in Silicon Valley. And he said, ‘But I wanted to meet you, and I want to support you, because I believe the authoritarian Left is the greatest risk our country faces today.’ And while I'm sure I don't agree with that gentlemen or many other moderate liberals on a whole host of issues, when it comes to our basic common-sense questions—that parents should have a say over their kids’ education, and they should know if a school is actively aiding a child in transitioning gender, concealing it from parents. Or that people should not be canceled and deplatformed and lose their jobs because they use the wrong pronoun to describe someone. There is much space for cooperation between common-sense Americans of all political stripes. Whether they're moderate liberals or centrist or center right, or what have you.
AS: Is there any intersection between—the global challenge of our lifetime—of an authoritarian, aggressive China—and the authoritarian Left at home?
Sen. Cotton: Well, some of these Woke progressives in Congress intersect with them, because they are fellow-traveling Maoists, who like to see struggle sessions akin to the Red Guards and the Cultural Revolution under Mao. But there's another intersection in which the Chinese Communists use these insane allegations about America against us.
If you recall, in March, top Communist officials were deriding Tony Blinken and Jake Sullivan to their face in Alaska. In essence, using BLM talking points. You had our own United Nations ambassador asserting that white supremacy is woven into our founding principles. And I can tell you Abigail, that happens every day in capitals around the [world] where low-level functionaries from Chinese embassies tell host nations that they should not listen to America or be lectured by Americans about human rights or democratic governance or anything else because of all of [America’s] transgressions at home. So there is a genuine intersection. And all these lies about America just feed into Communist propaganda. As they did in the Cold War as well.
AS: Is the Chinese Communist Party merely exploiting divisions that are here? Or are they doing anything to foment racial division?
Sen. Cotton: Well, I don't want to get into classified information, and your question touches upon that. I will simply say that that: One, they don't care about this stuff. Do you think Xi Jinping cares what pronouns someone uses? But, Two, they're certainly exploiting it, and using Biden Administration officials’ words against them. And, Three, there’s a long history, I will say, Abigail, of communist regimes using propaganda and subversion in democratic societies at their weak points. Much of that history from the original Cold War has been now declassified. So you know, for instance, that Soviet Russia was behind things like the Nuclear Zero movement. No one should be surprised that communist regimes today are actively trying to subvert through the use of propaganda and opinion manipulation America and our allies around the world.
You know they have a term called ‘Baizuo,’ right?
Sen. Cotton: Baizuo. I'll have my staff get you more information about it. One of the one of the few insights of the Chinese Communists that I agree, Baizuo, roughly translated means ‘White Liberal.’ And they make fun of ‘Baizuo’ for only being concerned about things like immigration and the environment and Gender Ideology, as opposed to things like [naval] ship and missile counts.
[Ed. Note: ‘Baizuo’ might even be translated as ‘Stupid White Leftist.’ It is an epithet.]
AS: Senator, before the summer of 2020 with with your New York Times op-ed [that led to the resignation of Opinion Editor James Bennet], it was possible to imagine the New York Times as a Progressive, Left-leaning institution that was still willing to include voices like yours. And and today, that's not even possible to imagine. And I wondered what do you think is the consequence of that moment and that shift for the culture and for America?
Sen. Cotton: That shift definitely occurred. I'll just say for the record, I would not have allowed that happen when I owned the New York Times.
Sen. Cotton: Come on, that’s funny!
AS: [Nervous laughter]
Sen. Cotton: Well, as I said earlier, the New York Times doesn’t even have a pretense anymore of being an objective, neutral, fact-finding reporter. You can see that in headline you read to me earlier, or their choice of topics that are on the most obscure, kind of silly, and pedantic matters that the vast majority of Americans have never heard of and certainly wouldn't care about. But it's again, all a kind of fan service for their readers who—because of digital subscriptions and loss of advertising revenue—now [these stories] make up the bulk of editorial assignments. It does, though, have a broader effect on the culture.
Now, I think you see a backlash from this. You have a lot of talented center-left reporters and writers, and analysts, like Bari Weiss or Andrew Sullivan, who are striking out on their own, doing very well on their own—sometimes literally leaving the New York Times or [other] dominant liberal-media outlets. And as I said, I think there's gonna be more of that, more independent journalism. But it's also a blow to the credibility of the New York Times and all kinds of traditional mainstream media when they don't even take a stab, don't even make an effort, at being neutral fact-finding reporters. And it undercuts their own credibility. But also it feeds into the echo chamber in which Democratic politicians live.
And if my Democratic colleagues in Congress read that story, those headlines you read to me, Abigail, and that's what they really think? In a way, it's good for the Republican Party. Because, as I said, it will make what happened this week in Virginia and New Jersey look like child's play come next November. If if they get their news and analysis from New York Times and think the New York Times’ priorities are the priorities of normal Americans, of whatever political stripe.
AS: Thank you.