Tom Cotton attacks relief payments to prisoners but backed them under Trump

Republican senator condemns Democrats for giving money to ‘murderers and rapists’ and cites Boston Marathon bomber

Tom Cotton is a rightwing hardliner


Senator Tom Cotton has repeatedly attacked Democrats who voted for the Covid-19 relief bill for giving money to “murderers and rapists” in prison, citing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted in the Boston Marathon bombing. The Arkansas Republican has neglected to mention, however, that during Donald Trump’s presidency he twice voted for Covid bills that provided payments for prisoners.

Prisoners’ advocates say payments are warranted, as many will be released into a situation where the pandemic has ravaged the US economy, leading to high unemployment and many families struggling to pay for basic necessities.

Payments also decrease the burden on prisoners’ families, who often have to provide for them after they are released.

“Providing stimulus funds to incarcerated people helps protect the health and wellbeing of those behind bars and provides relief to their loved ones at home,” the Prison Policy Initiative said last year.

The $1.9tn American Rescue Plan passed the Senate on Saturday. It is expected to pass the House of Representatives this week before being signed by Joe Biden.

Like the rest of his party in Congress, Cotton voted no. Though analysts predict Republicans will be targeted in election ads for opposing relief, Cotton has tweeted that Democrats will “pay the price at the polls” for voting for the huge aid package, which includes prisoners among those eligible for $1,400 payments, based on income levels.

“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Bomber, murdered three people and terrorized a city,” he tweeted. “He’ll be getting a $1,400 stimulus check as part of the Democrats’ ‘Covid relief’ bill.”

The current legislation also includes a child tax credit that Biden has said will cut child poverty in half.

But Cotton, a rightwing hardliner also known for his desire that the US military be used to crush anti-racism protests, also opined: “How will sending stimulus checks to murderers and rapists in prison help solve the pandemic?”

Appearing on Fox News, he said Democrats were “crazy” and “radical” to allow checks to be sent to prisoners.

Critics were quick to point out that Cotton was among the Republicans who twice voted for Covid relief bills that provided money for prisoners.

The Cares Act, passed in March last year, provided $1,200 per person depending on income, including prisoners. A further bill in December handed out another $600 to people, prisoners among them, struggling with the impact of the pandemic. Almost every Republican, including Cotton, voted for both.

The Trump administration did try after the first relief bill to prevent prisoners getting checks but the move was blocked by a judge because the text of the legislation did not bar incarcerated people from getting the money.

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