Meet Tom Cotton, the Arkansas senator with Trump’s ear who graduated from Harvard in 3 years and might become the next head of the CIA

Sen. Tom Cotton on Capitol Hill in May.

Sen. Tom Cotton on Capitol Hill in May.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Donald Trump may be replacing secretary of state Rex Tillerson with current CIA director Mike Pompeo by the end of the year, The New York Times reported on Thursday. Pompeo’s probable successor? Young Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

The White House denied the report, and has tamped down rumors that Tillerson is exiting the administration for months. But Cotton is a rising conservative star, and has emerged as one of Trump’s closest congressional advisers on foreign policy and national security.

If Trump offered him the CIA position, he would accept it, according to the Times. After the report, Cotton’s spokesman said that his “focus is on serving Arkansans in the Senate.”

The junior senator has found himself at the center of national politics and policy in Trump’s DC, and has come a long way since his small-town beginnings in Arkansas.

Here’s a rundown of his impressive career so far:

Tom Cotton was born in Dardanelle, Arkansas in 1977. He graduated from Harvard University in only three short years, where he wrote a 92-page thesis on the Federalist papers, and worked at the prestigious Harvard Crimson.

Sources: The Atlantic, Harvard Crimson

After finishing graduate school and working in law, Cotton enlisted in the US Army as an infantryman in 2005, serving tours in Afghanistan and as a member of the storied 101st Airborne in Iraq. Cotton wrote that he was motivated to join the armed forces after 9/11.

Tom Cotton in army gear in 2009 while stationed in eastern Afghanistan. He received the Bronze Star upon his official discharge from reserve service in 2013.
Tom Cotton

Sources: Tom Cotton, Politico

In 2006, Cotton wrote a letter to The New York Times from Baghdad accusing the paper of violating the espionage act by detailing a US program that tracked terrorist financing. The Times didn’t publish the letter, but it went viral in the conservative blogosphere.

Sources: Power Line, Snopes

In 2012, Cotton ran to represent Arkansas’s 4th district in the House Representatives, which he served from 2013-15. Quickly making a name for himself as a conservative firebrand, he appealed to both the Republican leadership and grassroots movements like the Tea Party.

Sources: The Atlantic, ABC 6

In one fiery floor debate on a bill that would allow some undocumented immigrants to achieve legal status, Cotton voiced the views of the most conservative wing of the Republican Party and convinced the House to table the bill.

Sources: National Review, PBS

In 2015, Cotton became the junior senator from Arkansas, defeating Mark Pryor, a Democrat. Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida both endorsed him. To this day, he’s the youngest member of the Senate.

Sources: Arkansas Secretary of State, Talking Points Memo, Arkansas Times

Since his election to the Senate, Cotton has maintained his fiercely conservative posture, and has advocated a more aggressive strategy toward Iran. He serves on a number of committees, including the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Republican Sens. Tom Cotton, John Thune, and Mitch McConnell, attend a meeting called by President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Source: NPR

In 2015, Cotton made international headlines by penning a letter to the leadership of Iran urging it not to enter into a nuclear deal with the Obama administration. Senate Republicans applauded the move, and almost all of them signed their names to it.

Sources: The New York Times, Huffington Post

The letter was an unprecedented move by domestic politicians to undermine international negotiations. Former Major General Paul D. Eaton called it  “mutinous.” Regardless, it only further cemented Cotton’s place at the helm of the Senate’s most conservative wing.

Tom Cotton speaks at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sources: The New York Times, Washington Post

In June, Cotton was one of the 13 senators who drafted the Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act behind closed doors. That effort failed in July.

Cotton endured tough questions on the Obamacare repeal from an audience of about 2,000 people at a public forum in Springdale, Arkansas on February 22, 2017.
Arkansas Online

Sources: Bloomberg , Business Insider

Since Trump’s 2016 win, Cotton has positioned himself as a close adviser to the president who shares many of his views. Many Republicans see him as a “bridge” between the Trumpian wing of the party and the old guard of the GOP.

Source: The New Yorker

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said Cotton was “the elected official who gets it the most — the economic nationalism” of Trump’s base.

Cotton after Senate Republicans unveiled their version of legislation that would replace Obamacare in Washington on June 22, 2017.
Thomson Reuters

Source: The New Yorker

One of the positions Cotton shares with Trump is the use of waterboarding for interrogation. After the 2016 presidential election, Cotton said he doesn’t believe it qualifies as torture. Former CIA veterans told Business Insider that Cotton’s views on torture concern them.

Cotton told CNN last November that “waterboarding isn’t torture,” arguing that “Donald Trump is a pretty tough guy and he’s ready to make those tough calls.”
Screenshot via CNN

Sources: CNN , Business Insider

Despite his success and expertise, many say his qualifications for CIA director are mixed. Intelligence veterans expressed concern that he is too partisan to lead the agency. Until Trump names him director, though, Cotton remains one of the president’s strongest defenders in the Senate.

Cotton in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” in August 2017.

Source: Business Insider