Jim Cooper

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Jim Cooper
Jim Cooper, Official Portrait, ca2013.jpg
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee
Assumed office
January 3, 2003
Preceded byBob Clement
Constituency5th district
In office
January 3, 1983 – January 3, 1995
Preceded byRedistricted
Succeeded byVan Hilleary
Constituency4th district
Personal details
James Hayes Shofner Cooper

(1954-06-19) June 19, 1954 (age 67)
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Martha Hayes
(m. 1985; died 2021)
RelativesPrentice Cooper (father)
John Cooper (brother)
EducationUniversity of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (BA)
Oriel College, Oxford (MA)
Harvard University (JD)
WebsiteHouse website

James Hayes Shofner Cooper (born June 19, 1954) is an American lawyer and politician who has served since 2003 as the U.S. representative for Tennessee's 5th congressional district (based in Nashville). He is a member of the Democratic Party and the Blue Dog Coalition, and represented Tennessee's 4th congressional district from 1983 to 1995.[1] His district includes a large part of Nashville. He is the dean of Tennessee's congressional delegation.

Early life, education, and legal career[edit]

Cooper was born in Nashville and raised in Shelbyville, Tennessee.[2] He is the son of former governor Prentice Cooper and his wife Hortense (Powell).[3] His paternal grandfather, William Prentice Cooper, served as mayor of Shelbyville and speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives.[4] The Cooper family owns the River Side Farmhouse, built for his great-great-grandfather, Jacob Morton Shofner, in 1890;[5] the Gov. Prentice Cooper House, built for his grandfather in 1904;[6] and the 1866 Absalom Lowe Landis House in Normandy, Tennessee, all of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[7]

Cooper attended the Episcopal boys' boarding school Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts,[8] and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was a member of the Alpha Sigma Chapter of the Chi Psi fraternity, received the Morehead-Cain Scholarship, and earned a B.A. in history and economics. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford, where he was a member of Oriel College and earned a B.A./M.A. in philosophy, politics and economics in 1977. In 1980, he received a J.D. from Harvard Law School.[9]

Cooper spent two years working for the law firm Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP in Nashville, and then ran for Congress in 1982.[10]

U.S. House of Representatives (1983–1995)[edit]


Cooper during the 108th Congress

In 1982, Cooper won the Democratic primary for the 4th district, which had been created when Tennessee gained a district after the 1980 census. The new 4th ran diagonally across the state, from heavily Republican areas near the Tri-Cities, Knoxville and Chattanooga to the fringes of the Nashville suburbs. The district stretched across five media markets—the Tri-Cities (Kingsport, Johnson City, and Bristol), Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville and Huntsville, Alabama. Cooper defeated Cissy Baker, an editor in Washington for CNN and the daughter of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker,[11] with 66% of the vote.

Cooper was reelected five more times with little substantive opposition, running unopposed in 1986 and 1988. Before Cooper's election, much of the eastern portion of the 4th had not been represented by a Democrat since the Civil War.


In 1992, Cooper was co-author of a bipartisan health-care reform plan that did not include employer mandates compelling universal coverage. This initiative was strongly opposed by Hillary Clinton.[12]

In 1990, Cooper was one of only three House Democrats who voted against the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.[13]

Committee assignments[edit]

During Cooper's first period in Congress, he served on the United States House Committee on Energy and Commerce.[14][15][16]

1994 U.S. Senate election[edit]

In 1994, Cooper ran for the Senate seat vacated by Al Gore's election to the Vice Presidency, but was defeated by Republican attorney and actor Fred Thompson. He received just under 40% of the vote. It was a bad year overall for Democrats in Tennessee, as Republican Bill Frist captured Tennessee's other Senate seat and Don Sundquist was elected governor. The 4th district seat was also won by a Republican, Van Hilleary, as the GOP gained a majority of the state's congressional delegation for only the second time since Reconstruction.[citation needed]

Inter-congressional years (1995–2003)[edit]

After losing his Senate bid, Cooper moved to Nashville and went into private business, also serving as a professor at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management.

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]



When Thompson opted not to run for reelection to the Senate in 2002, 5th district Congressman Bob Clement (with whom Cooper had served from 1988 to 1995) ran for Thompson's seat. Cooper entered the 5th district Democratic primary along with several other candidates, including Davidson County Sheriff Gayle Ray, Tennessee's first female sheriff, and state legislator John Arriola.[17] Cooper won the primary with 47% of the vote and went on to win the general election easily.[18] The 5th, based in heavily Democratic Nashville, has long been one of the South's most Democratic districts. It and its predecessors have been in Democratic hands without interruption since 1875, and no Republican had made a serious bid for it since 1972. Upon his return to Congress, the Democrats gave him back his seniority.


Cooper defeated Republican nominee Scott Knapp by 39 points. Write-in candidate Thomas F. Kovach got 15 votes.[1]


In the 2006 election, Cooper faced Republican nominee Tom Kovach, the state public relations coordinator for the Constitution Party, who ran as a Republican since the Constitution Party did not have ballot access in Tennessee at the time. No one opposed Kovach for the Republican nomination. Cooper defeated him by 41 points.


In 2008, Cooper defeated Republican nominee John Gerard Donovan, 68%–31%.[19]


Cooper defeated Republican nominee David Hall, 57%–42%. This was his smallest margin of victory during his time representing the 5th district.[20]


The 2010 midterm elections saw Republicans gain complete control of state government for the first time since Reconstruction. This led to speculation that the legislature might try to draw the 5th out from under Cooper. In the summer of 2011 Cooper and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean told The Tennessean that they had heard rumors that Nashville would be split between three Republican districts. Despite its large size, Nashville has been entirely or mostly in a single district since Reconstruction. Cooper said he had seen a map that would have put his Nashville home in the heavily Republican 6th district. The 5th would have been reconfigured into a strongly Republican district stretching from Murfreesboro to the Alabama border, while the rest of Nashville would have been placed in the heavily Republican 7th district. Had it been implemented, the map would have left Cooper with only two realistic places to run—an incumbent-versus-incumbent challenge in the 6th against freshman Republican Diane Black, or the reconfigured 5th, which had reportedly been drawn for State Senator and Murfreesboro resident Bill Ketron, chairman of the redistricting committee.[21] But the final map was far less ambitious, and made the 5th slightly more Democratic than its predecessor. Notably, Cooper picked up all of Nashville; previously, a sliver of southwestern Nashville had been in the 7th.

Cooper defeated Republican nominee B. Staats, 65%–33%.[22]


Cooper is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition[1] and the New Democrat Coalition,[23] and he has a generally moderate voting record. He is the only Tennessean on the Armed Services Committee. He also serves on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Despite the different policy affiliation, he became one of Barack Obama's earliest Congressional endorsers.[24] Cooper opposed an $819 billion economic stimulus plan that passed the House in 2009,[25] but ended up voting for the revised $787 billion final package.[26] He is one of only a few Blue Dog members not to seek earmarks.[27][28] Cooper voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March 2010.[29] In 2009, ThinkProgress reported that a Daily Kos poll "found that 60 percent of his constituents disapprove of his handling of the health care issue."[30]

In 2009 the Wall Street Journal wrote of Cooper's concerns about the national deficit, "It's even worse than most people think, he says, because of dodgy accounting used by the federal government. ... 'The U.S. government uses cash accounting,' he says. 'That is illegal for any enterprise of any size in America except for the U.S. government.'"[31] He made similar remarks on PBS, saying, "The real deficit in America is at least twice as large as any politician will tell you. And it may be ten times larger."[32]

In 2011, Cooper was one of five Democrats to vote for the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act,[33] and co-sponsored the Stop Online Piracy Act.[34]

In 2012, Cooper authored the No Budget, No Pay Act, which specified that members of Congress would not be paid unless they passed a budget by October 1, 2012.[35][36][37]

In January 2013, Cooper was the only Democrat in the House to vote against an emergency bill to provide disaster and recovery funds in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.[38]

In recent cycles, Cooper has consistently voted for someone other than Nancy Pelosi for speaker. He cast his vote for Heath Shuler in 2011,[39] Colin Powell in 2013,[40] January 2015[41] and October 2015,[42] and for Tim Ryan in 2017.[43] He voted present in 2019. In 2021, Cooper broke his streak and voted for Pelosi.[44][45]

In 2017, Cooper worked with Republican Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama on a proposal to establish a Space Corps under the Department of the Air Force. This proposal passed in the House and then failed in the Senate.[46] Two years later, a bill with very similar language was signed into law, creating the United States Space Force.[47]

On December 18, 2019, Cooper voted for both articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump.[48]

Criticism of Congress

Cooper spoke with Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig about reforming Congress.[49] According to Lessig, Cooper said that members of Congress are so preoccupied with the question of what they will do after leaving Congress–the most obvious career path being lobbying–that they fall into the habit of thinking about how to serve special interests rather than how to serve the public.[49] According to Lessig, Cooper called Congress a "Farm League for K Street".[49][50]

In 2011, Cooper said, "Working in this Congress is deeply frustrating; in fact, it's enraging. My colleagues are misbehaving. They're posturing for voters back home. They're taking the cheap political hit instead of studying the problem that's before us."[51] The same year, he "called the partisan posturing over the debt ceiling 'an extremely dangerous game of chicken,' and said he'd 'never seen politicians act more irresponsibly than they have been recently,' over the nation's debt."[52]

Cooper was ranked the 20th most bipartisan member of the House during the 114th United States Congress (and the most bipartisan member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee) in the Lugar Center and McCourt School of Public Policy's Bipartisan Index, which ranks members of Congress by bipartisanship (by measuring how often each member's bills attract co-sponsors from the opposite party and each member's co-sponsorship of bills by members of the opposite party).[53]

Committee assignments[edit]

Caucus memberships[edit]

  • Blue Dog Coalition[55]
  • New Democrat Coalition[56]
  • Congressional Scouting Caucus (Co-Chair)
  • Congressional Skin Cancer Caucus (Co-Chair)
  • Congressional Wire Products Caucus (Co-Chair)
  • Fix Congress Now Caucus (Co-Chair)
  • 21st Century Healthcare Caucus
  • Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus/Disabilities Advisory Caucus
  • Congressional Arts Caucus
  • Congressional HBCU Caucus
  • Kurdish American Caucus
  • National Guard and Reserve Components Caucus
  • Servicewomen and Women Veterans Congressional Caucus
  • Bipartisan Task Force Combating Anti-Semitism
  • Gun Violence Prevention Task Force[57]

Personal life[edit]

Cooper with his wife Martha

Cooper was married to Martha Bryan Hays, an ornithologist, from 1985 until her death from Alzheimer's disease in 2021 at age 66.[4][58] They had three children.[59] His daughter, Mary, was the student body president at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.[60] Cooper's son Hayes attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his son Jamie graduated from the University of Georgia.[citation needed]

Cooper is an honoris causa member of Omicron Delta Kappa. He was inducted in 2011 by Cumberland University.

Cooper's brother, John, is the mayor of Nashville and formerly served on the Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County.[61]


  1. ^ a b "Members". Blue Dog Coalition. Retrieved February 7, 2018.
  2. ^ Dobie, Bruce. "Jim Cooper Runs Again". Nashville Scene.
  3. ^ "About Jim". Official campaign site. Archived from the original on October 1, 2010. Retrieved July 6, 2010.
  4. ^ a b "REP. JIM COOPER OF TENNESSEE IS WED TO MARTHA BRYAN HAYS, ORNITHOLOGIST". The New York Times. April 7, 1985. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
  5. ^ "National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: River Side Farmhouse". National Park Service. United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved October 9, 2017.
  6. ^ "National Register of Historic Places Inventory--Nomination Form: Gov. Prentice Cooper House". National Park Service. United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
  7. ^ "National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Absalom Lowe Landis House". National Park Service. United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
  8. ^ Cooper, James H.S. "Jim" (Fall 2012). "Is Congress Broken? Grotonians Explain What's Wrong — and How Legislators Could Fix It: Why Congress Needs Groton" (PDF). Groton School Quarterly. Groton School. LXXIV (3): 20–21. Retrieved June 3, 2014.
  9. ^ Bumiller, Elisabeth (December 24, 1982). "Young and Restless". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 9, 2017.
  10. ^ "Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.)". The Washington Post. December 21, 2011. Archived from the original on March 11, 2016.
  11. ^ "The House: Political Genes and Reaganomics". Time. October 4, 1982. Archived from the original on December 6, 2008.
  12. ^ Brooks, David (February 5, 2008). "The Cooper Concerns". The New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2008.
  13. ^ "FINAL VOTE RESULTS FOR ROLL CALL 123". Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives. May 22, 1990. Retrieved February 2, 2008.
  14. ^ Secter, Bob (April 11, 1986). "Victory Spotlights Power, Strategy of NRA Lobbyists". Los Angeles Times.
  15. ^ Cooper, Jim (November 11, 1991). "New Monopolies From Old". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Franklin, Ben A. (April 22, 1988). "House Panel Assails Approval of T.V.A. Reactor". The New York Times.
  17. ^ Dark Horse John Arriola trudges uphill in the 5th District congressional race
  18. ^ McCutcheon, Michael; Barone, Chuck (2013). 2014 Almanac of American Politics. The University of Chicago Press.
  19. ^ "Tennessee 2008 Election Results". The Green Papers. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  20. ^ George, Stephen (November 2, 2010). "Democrat Rep. Cooper easily wins re-election". Nashville CityPaper. Archived from the original on September 3, 2012. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  21. ^ Sisk, Chas. Jim Cooper, Karl Dean say redistricting could divide Nashville into three parts. The Tennessean, August 29, 2011.
  22. ^ "2014 Election Results Senate: Map by State, Live Midterm Voting Updates". Politico.
  23. ^ "Members". New Democrat Coalition. Archived from the original on February 8, 2018. Retrieved February 5, 2018.
  24. ^ Rodgers, John (July 18, 2008). "Cooper says Obama best choice to reform America". The City Paper. Archived from the original on August 2, 2008. Retrieved March 18, 2009.
  25. ^ Theobald, Bill (January 28, 2009). "Cooper one of few Democrats to vote against stimulus plan". WBIR-TV. Gannett News Service. Retrieved February 2, 2009.[permanent dead link]
  26. ^ Theobald, Bill (February 14, 2009). "Cooper changes vote, backs final stimulus bill". The Tennessean. Retrieved February 15, 2009.[dead link]
  27. ^ Stern, Christopher (May 6, 2009). "'Blue Dog' Democrats Ask for Billions in Spending". Bloomberg.com. Retrieved May 11, 2009.
  28. ^ Theobald, Bill (July 5, 2009). "Oak Ridge tops list of TN senators' special requests". WBIR-TV. Gannett.[permanent dead link]
  29. ^ "The Doctors of the House". Wall Street Journal. March 21, 2010.
  30. ^ "60 percent of Blue Dog Jim Cooper's constituents disapprove of his actions on health care". ThinkProgress.
  31. ^ Levy, Collin (January 17, 2009). "The Weekend Interview with Jim Cooper". Wall Street Journal.
  32. ^ "Interview: A Misrepresented Deficit". PBS.
  33. ^ Berman, Russell (July 19, 2011). "Five Blue Dogs join GOP in vote for 'cut, cap and balance' bill". The Hill. Retrieved July 23, 2011.
  34. ^ Bill H.R.3261; GovTrack.us;
  35. ^ Nocera, Kate. "'Fix Congress Now' rallies around Cooper's 'No Budget, No Pay Act'", Politico, May 16, 2012. Retrieved on November 8, 2012.
  36. ^ Weigant, Chris. "No Budget, No Pay Act", The Huffington Post, March 14, 2012. Retrieved on November 9, 2012.
  37. ^ Cunningham, Paige W. "2-party Group Puts Pay on Line in Get Budget Passed in House", The Washington Times, May 16, 2012. Retrieved on November 9, 2012.
  38. ^ Congressional Record "Roll Call Vote 23", Clerk of the House, January 15, 2013. Retrieved on August 28, 2017.
  39. ^ http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2011/roll002.xml#Cooper
  40. ^ http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2013/roll002.xml#Cooper
  41. ^ http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2015/roll002.xml#Cooper
  42. ^ http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2015/roll581.xml#Cooper
  43. ^ http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2017/roll002.xml#Cooper
  44. ^ "Nancy Pelosi elected House Speaker | FULL VOTE - YouTube". www.youtube.com. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
  45. ^ "Pelosi wins tight race for House speaker". ABC News. Retrieved March 4, 2021.
  46. ^ Smith, Marcia (September 27, 2018). "ROGERS, COOPER REJECT GOLD PLATING OF SPACE CORPS". SpacePolicyOnline.com. Retrieved January 29, 2021.
  47. ^ Erwin, Sandra (December 11, 2019). "Space Force proponents in Congress warn Air Force: 'We will watch you like a hawk'". SpaceNews. Retrieved January 29, 2021.
  48. ^ "Trump Impeachment Vote Results: Who Voted for and Against in the House".
  49. ^ a b c Lawrence Lessig (February 8, 2010). "How to Get Our Democracy Back". CBS News, The Nation. Retrieved December 14, 2011. Part of the economy of influence that corrupts our government today is that Capitol Hill has become, as Representative Jim Cooper put it, a "farm league for K Street."
  50. ^ Lawrence Lessig (November 16, 2011). "Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It". YouTube. Retrieved December 13, 2011. (see 30:13 minutes into the video)
  51. ^ "Congressman Cooper: 'My colleagues are misbehaving'". marketplace.org.
  52. ^ Marin Cogan. "In debt talks, moderate Dems resist deal-maker role". Politico.
  53. ^ The Lugar Center - McCourt School Bipartisan Index (PDF), The Lugar Center, March 7, 2016, retrieved April 30, 2017
  54. ^ "Committee Assignments". Congressman Jim Cooper. December 13, 2012. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  55. ^ "Members". Blue Dog Coalition. Retrieved December 23, 2018.
  56. ^ "Leadership | New Democrat Coalition". newdemocratcoalition.house.gov. Retrieved March 29, 2021.
  57. ^ "Caucuses, Coalitions and Task Forces". Congressman Jim Cooper. August 22, 2013. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  58. ^ Morris, Chuck. "Martha Cooper, wife of Rep. Jim Cooper, dies after battle with Alzheimer's Disease". wsmv.com. WSMV. Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  59. ^ "Congressman Jim Cooper". Official U.S. House website. Retrieved January 1, 2010.
  60. ^ "SBP Candidate Mary Cooper Primed for Politics". The Daily Tar Heel. February 3, 2011.
  61. ^ Rua, Nate (September 13, 2019). "How John Cooper will assume the Nashville mayor's office in an unprecedented transition of power". The Tennessean. Retrieved September 13, 2019.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 4th congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 5th congressional district

Honorary titles
Preceded by Baby of the House
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Tennessee
(Class 2)

Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the Blue Dog Coalition for Policy
Served alongside: Jim Matheson (Administration),
Dennis Cardoza (Communications)
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the Blue Dog Coalition for Policy
Served alongside: John Barrow, Kurt Schrader (Administration),
Kurt Schrader, Jim Costa (Communications)
Succeeded by
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by United States representatives by seniority
Succeeded by