The U.S. Congress if wrapping up the year with several key bills. Last week, the House passed a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind law, and the Senate sent a highway bill to President Obama’s desk.
On today’s show we’ll talk with Republican Congressman Tom Cole. The veteran lawmaker from Oklahoma spoke with KGOU’s Jacob McCleland on November 24 in his Norman office.
McCleland: You’ve noted in the past for a while now that you want Congress to debate authorizing war against ISIS. Do you think a war authorization debate is more crucial now than ever?
Cole: I absolutely do. I’ve never doubted, frankly, that we’ve allowed the administration to exercise war-making authority without appropriate Congressional oversight. The Constitution is pretty clear about who has the ability to declare war. It’s not the President of the United States. He’s operating under the assumption that the authorizations given to George W. Bush in 2001 and 2002 cover this situation. I don’t think they do.
Nobody in that time frame had any idea we’d be at war in Syrian. ISIL didn’t even exist. If the authorizations are indeed that broad, then the President could take you to war any time, any place he chooses to without Congressional authority.
I also think there’s a lot of Congressional dodging going on here - that is, people want to be free to criticize the President without putting themselves on the line. I think you ought to be able to listen to the debate, cast your vote and come home and explain it. That’s what you get paid to do. I’ve been frankly disappointed that we haven’t had more members willing to do that.
McCleland: Now that the details of the Trans Pacific Partnership are out, it’s a 6,000 page document. Have you had a chance to go through it?
Cole: I have not had a chance to read it. I have gotten some supporting material from the U.S. special representative for trade who negotiated it. There’s still a couple of reports that are due from various agencies. So I don’t expect Congress will get to this until next year in any serious kind of way. There haven’t been any hearings. At some point I certainly will read the documentation that I have been given plus the treaty itself and listen to the debate. But I think we’re some months away from that.
McCleland: Have you been able to formulate any views on this might be something you would support yet?
Cole: No, it’s a little early to do that. And again, as you point out, it’s a several thousand page document. Until I get in it a little bit more deeply, I want to be careful about taking any definitive position. I will point out, historically I have been in favor of free trade so these are not votes that are difficult for me to cast as long as I think it’s a good deal. And I certainly supported giving the President the Congressional authority that he needed to negotiate an up-or-down deal.
McCleland: (Donald) Trump’s immigration stance has drawn some sharp criticism from Latino groups. Does it concern you that candidates like Trump are turning Latino voters away from the GOP?
Cole: Well, look. I think Donald Trump is a … he’s running as a Republican. He’s been on all sides of all kinds of issues and he hasn’t always been a Republican. So we’ll see how he fares over the course of the campaign. I think it’s much more important to look at somebody who’s actually in office than somebody’s who’s aspiring to be in office. So somebody like a Paul Ryan who I think is pretty thoughtful about this and who I think has laid out a set of principals in the past is a much more meaningful figure since he is the Speaker of the House as opposed to any presidential candidate in defining who and where the Republican party is on the issue.
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