Steve Cohen

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Steve Cohen
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 9th district
Assumed office
January 3, 2007
Preceded byHarold Ford Jr.
Member of the Tennessee Senate
from the 30th district
In office
January 11, 1983 – December 1, 2006
Preceded byJim White
Succeeded byShea Flinn
Personal details
Stephen Ira Cohen

(1949-05-24) May 24, 1949 (age 70)
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationVanderbilt University (BA)
University of Memphis (JD)

Stephen Ira Cohen (born May 24, 1949) is an American politician serving as the U.S. Representative from Tennessee's 9th congressional district, since 2007. He is a member of the Democratic Party. The district includes the western three-fourths of Memphis. Cohen is Tennessee's first Jewish congressman.[1]

Early life, education, and law career[edit]

Cohen was born in Memphis, Tennessee on May 24, 1949, the son of Genevieve (née Goldsand) and pediatrician Morris David Cohen. He has two older brothers, Michael Corey and Martin D. Cohen.[2][3] He is a fourth-generation Memphian,[4] and is a grandson of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania and Poland.[5] His immigrant grandfather owned a newsstand.[6] Cohen contracted polio when he was five, and the disease caused him to shift his attention from sports to politics at an early age.[4] When Cohen was eleven, John F. Kennedy made a campaign stop in Memphis, and Cohen took a picture of Kennedy sitting on a convertible. Cohen describes Kennedy as his political hero; the picture still hangs in his office.[6] In 1961, Cohen's family moved to Coral Gables, Florida where his father took a residency in psychiatry at the University of Miami. From 1964 to 1966, the Cohen family resided in Pasadena, California where Dr. Cohen completed a fellowship in pediatric psychiatry at the University of Southern California. Cohen, who had been attending Polytechnic School in Pasadena, returned to Florida in 1966 to graduate from Coral Gables High School, before returning to Memphis where his father had established his private psychiatry practice.

Cohen graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. While at Vanderbilt, he was a member of the Alpha Gamma chapter of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity.[7] In 1973, he graduated from the University of Memphis School of Law of Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) with a Juris Doctor degree.[2] From 1978–2006, Cohen was the sole practitioner of his own law firm, practicing civil and criminal law until his election to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Early political career[edit]

While serving for three years as Legal Advisor for the Memphis Police Department, Cohen rose to political prominence when he was elected to the Tennessee Constitutional Convention of 1977 at the age of 27. The Convention elected him its vice president.[8] Cohen was then elected to serve as a commissioner on the Shelby County Commission, an office he held from 1978 to 1980.[2] During his time at the Commission, Cohen was instrumental in the creation of The Med, a community-funded regional hospital.[8] In 1980, Cohen served as an interim Shelby County General Sessions Court judge.[2] He has also served as a delegate to the 1980, 1992, and 2004 through 2016 Democratic National Conventions.[2]

Tennessee Senate[edit]

Cohen was elected to the Tennessee Senate in 1982, representing District 30, which includes parts of Memphis. He held that position for 24 years.[2]

For 18 years, Cohen strove to repeal the ban on lotteries in the Tennessee State Constitution.[8] His efforts were successful in 2002, and a state lottery program designed to provide college scholarships for Tennessee students was adopted the following year.[8] The lottery program is regarded as the most well-known accomplishment of Cohen's Senate career, having raised over $2 billion for scholarships, afterschool programs, pre-K, technical center grants, and energy saving capital programs in K-12 schools as of 2012.[8] Cohen also sponsored legislation relating to expansion of community access to healthcare, the protection of animal rights, the reinstatement of voting rights, graduated driver licenses, and funding for the arts during his career.[8] He sponsored the T-Bo law, the nation's first-ever statute providing for damages up to $5000 in cases of intentional or negligent acts resulting in the death of a companion dog or cat.[9] He has won six awards from the Humane Society as of 2011.

He sponsored and passed legislation providing funding for the construction of the Autozone Park baseball stadium, creating the Holocaust Commission, and providing permanent funding for the arts with Tennesseans for the Arts license plates. He was awarded the Bill of Rights Award from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Bird Dog Award for Ethics from Tennessee Common Cause in 1992.

In 1994, Cohen ran for Governor of Tennessee, but finished fifth in the primary to Phil Bredesen with 4.95% of the vote. Bredesen lost the general election to Congressman Don Sundquist, but would go on to succeed Sundquist in 2003.[10]

In March 2005, Cohen was one of three members of the Tennessee Senate to vote against the Tennessee Marriage Protection Amendment, which Tennessee voters approved via a referendum in November 2006.[11] During the course of the debate on the amendment, Cohen offered several amendments to the amendment, all of which failed, including the proposed addition of an "adultery clause," which said "Adultery is deemed to be a threat to the institution of marriage and contrary to public policy in Tennessee."[12] Cohen won the Political Leadership Award from the Human Rights Campaign.

When elected in 1982, Cohen was the first Jewish member to serve in the Tennessee Senate since 1958.[6]

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]



In 1996, Cohen ran for election to the United States House of Representatives seat for the 9th District, which came open when 22-year incumbent and fellow Democrat Harold Ford, Sr. announced his retirement. The then 26-year-old Harold Ford, Jr., the incumbent's son, was his opponent in the Democratic primary.[6] Reflecting on the race, Cohen said, "I'd spent fourteen years in the [state] Senate, had the experience, and didn't like the idea of [the seat] being handed down like an heirloom."[6]

Cohen lost the primary to Ford by 25 points.[8] Noting that Ford, an African-American, did much better than Cohen in majority black precincts despite Ford's inexperience, Cohen said, "It is impossible for a person who is not African American to get a large vote in the African American community... against a substantial candidate. The fact is, I am white, and it doesn't seem to matter what you do."[6] Later, Cohen admitted that his statement was "impolitic" but also noted that "race is still an important factor in voting."[6]

Cohen was able to return to the State Senate after the election. Tennessee state senators serve staggered four-year terms, and Cohen did not have to run for reelection to the Senate until 1998.


In early April 2006, Cohen announced that he was again running for the 9th District seat; Ford, Jr. was not running for reelection. Cohen was the first candidate in the race with significant name recognition outside the Memphis area, but had fourteen opponents in the primary.[8] The Commercial Appeal, Memphis' daily newspaper, endorsed Cohen in the race.[13] The crowded nature of the primary was largely due to the district's demographics. The 9th is a heavily Democratic, black-majority district, and it was considered very likely that whoever won the Democratic primary would be the district's next congressman.

Cohen won the August 3 primary by a decisive 4,000-vote margin, despite being outspent 2 to 1 by the runner-up in the primary. In fact, six Democrats raised more money than he did.[14] He carried many of the district's predominantly black precincts by healthy margins. He faced Republican Mark White and independent Jake Ford (the younger brother of Harold Ford, Jr.) in the general election in November.[15]

Though the Ninth District is heavily Democratic, Jake Ford was seen as a serious contender for the race because of his significant name recognition among Memphis's black voters.[6] Jake Ford had skipped the Democratic primary because he felt it was too crowded, but stated he would caucus with the Democrats if elected. The Ford family has been a significant force in Memphis' black community since the days of E.H. Crump. Indeed, it seemed that the real race was between Cohen and Jake Ford. White was not a serious factor, and would have faced nearly impossible odds even in a two-way race with Cohen.

Cohen was endorsed by the mayor of Memphis, W. W. Herenton, and the mayor of Shelby County, A.C. Wharton, both of whom are black and members of the Democratic Party.[16] He was also endorsed by many local Democratic activists who had long felt Harold Ford, Jr. was too moderate.

However, many of the city's politically influential black pastors refused to support Cohen, and the area Black Ministers Association overwhelmingly voted to endorse Jake Ford. The Ford family itself was split. While Harold Ford, Jr. himself remained neutral (despite rumors of collusion between the two brothers' campaigns), their cousin Joe Ford, Jr., an entertainment lawyer, strongly endorsed Cohen after finishing third in the primary. However, Harold Ford, Sr. strongly supported his younger son.[17]

On October 8, 2006, Cohen, Ford, and White participated in a televised debate in Memphis. Among other topics, issues discussed included Iraq, medical marijuana, education, and the Tennessee Marriage Protection Amendment.[18] Ford attacked Cohen's record in the State Senate, including his opposition to the Marriage Protection Amendment, support for medical marijuana, and his voting attendance record.[18] Cohen responded by standing by his public record, pointing out Ford's lack of experience in public office, and indicating that Ford had been to jail and had dropped out of high school.[18]

Cohen won the election by a decisive margin, winning 60% of the vote to Ford's 22% and White's 18%.[19] Sixty percent of the votes received by Cohen were from African-American voters.


Despite Cohen's strong performance in the black community, many of the city's politically active blacks felt chagrined at being represented by him. Besides some sentiment that the 9th should be represented by a black Democrat, his socially liberal views (see below) also gave them pause. For example, Cohen's support for a hate-crimes bill drew particularly strong opposition from most of the city's black ministers because it included a sexual orientation provision. Cohen contends that every member of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for the bill, and Harold Ford, Jr. had voted for it in the previous Congress. Still, many of the city's black ministers tried to rally behind a consensus black candidate to challenge Cohen in the Democratic primary.[20]

Cohen faced four challengers in the August 7, 2008 Democratic primary for the 9th District. His major opponent was Nikki Tinker, a lawyer who had finished second to Cohen in the 2006 primary and had formerly been an aide to Harold Ford, Jr.[21] Tinker received the endorsement of the city's Black Ministerial Association.

At a June 2008 campaign event, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to Cohen as "the conscience of the freshman class", adding "He is a progressive and an important member of the Transportation Committee, which provides the infrastructure for jobs that will make America more competitive in the global economy."[22]

The campaign quickly turned ugly, with Tinker putting together a raft of negative ads. One attacked Cohen for voting against a proposal that would have removed a statue and the remains of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate lieutenant-general who was involved in the founding of the Ku Klux Klan,[23] from the Medical Center park. The ad falsely implied that Cohen had ties to the Klan by juxtaposing Cohen with a white-clad Klansman.[24] Another ad accused Cohen of "praying in our churches"[25] while voting against school prayer during his tenure in the State Senate. Tinker's campaign later removed the ads from its YouTube account amid criticism from a number of sources.

On the day the Primary was held, Barack Obama denounced Tinker's ads, saying they "have no place in our politics, and will do nothing to help the good people of Tennessee." Harold Ford, Jr. also denounced the ads.[26]

The primary had been marred by racial tensions for months prior to the August vote. In February 2008, Rev. George Brooks, a Tinker supporter, distributed literature in the district which stated that "Cohen and the Jews HATE Jesus" and urged the defeat of an "opponent of Christ and Christianity." Another minister, Rev. Robert Poindexter of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, said that he was supporting Tinker because Cohen "(is) not black, and he can't represent me, that's just the bottom line." [27]

Ultimately, Cohen won the primary in a rout, taking 79 percent of the vote to Tinker's 19 percent. In his victory speech, Cohen said his victory proved "Memphis has come a long, long way" from its racially divisive past.[26] Cohen's primary win virtually assured him of a second term; no Republican even filed, and any Republican challenger would have faced nearly impossible odds in any case. He was reelected with 87.9 percent of the vote against three independent challengers, one of whom was Jake Ford (who won 4.8 percent of the vote).

Cohen endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary on February 4, 2008, the day before the Super Tuesday primaries.[28] On September 10, 2008, while speaking on the floor of the House, Cohen compared Obama's work as a community organizer to Jesus' work.[29]


Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton announced that he would challenge Cohen in the 2010 Democratic primary for the seat. In a guest column in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Herenton wrote that while he hoped the campaign would focus on issues rather than race or religion, that "it remains a fact that the 9th Congressional District provides the only real opportunity to elect a qualified African-American to the all-white 11-member delegation representing Tennessee in Washington." Herenton also denied having supported Cohen in his 2006 bid against Jake Ford, writing "I did not support Steve Cohen the individual for the 9th Congressional District. I supported an idea that was bigger than him as an individual. I supported the principle of fairness."[30] During the 2006 campaign, Herenton endorsed Cohen, saying "Steve Cohen is the best-qualified candidate for this leadership role".[31] While Cohen's commanding win in the 2008 primary suggested that he has won strong support among the district's African-American community, Herenton was easily his highest-profile opponent to date.

In September 2009, Herenton drew controversy when he stated in a radio interview that Cohen "really does not think very much of African-Americans" and that "[Cohen]'s played the black community well." In addition, Herenton's campaign manager Sidney Chism told the New York Times that the Memphis-area congressional seat Cohen holds "was set aside for people who look like me. It wasn't set aside for a Jew or a Christian. It was set aside so that blacks could have representation." The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) criticized Herenton for these remarks, stating that he comments were "unacceptable in a Democratic primary or anywhere in our political discourse."[32][33]

President Obama endorsed Congressman Cohen for re-election, saying "Congressman Cohen is a proven leader in the United States Congress and a strong voice for Tennessee. Together, we passed historic health care reform and together we're continuing the fight to renew our economy and bring jobs back to the American people. I am proud to stand with Steve and support his re-election to Congress."

In the unofficial election results, Steve Cohen won 79% of the vote to Herenton's 21%. The vote marked the first time Herenton, 70, elected to a record five terms as mayor, lost a race for public office.[34] This all but assured Cohen of a third term. In the general election, Cohen defeated Republican challenger Charlotte Bergmann, taking 74 percent of the vote to Bergmann's 25 percent.


Cohen was challenged in the Democratic Primary by Tomeka Hart, a female African-American member of the Memphis School Board and Memphis Urban League President who was undefeated in elections up to that point. Cohen won the Democratic Primary with 89.2% of the vote on August 2, 2012[35]—the highest vote total in the district in recent history and the highest percentage vote for a white candidate running for office in a majority African-American district in history.

President Obama endorsed Cohen on April 5, 2012, saying "Congressman Steve Cohen has worked with me on jobs bills, health care, and other issues of importance to the middle class. He also never fails to pitch me on the city of Memphis, whether it's Booker T. Washington High School, Memphis basketball, or barbecue. I urge you to vote for Steve Cohen, a tireless advocate for the 9th District".[36] In the general election, Cohen defeated Republican businessman George Flinn, winning 75 percent of the vote.


Cohen was challenged in the Democratic Primary by prominent African American Attorney Ricky Wilkins. Cohen defeated Wilkins by a two-to-one margin, winning every precinct.


Cohen defeated his Republican opponent, Wayne Alberson, in the general election with 78.7% of the vote to Alberson's 18.9%.[37]


Cohen won the Democratic Primary against two opponents with almost 91% of the vote. He went on to defeat his Republican opponent, Charlotte Bergmann as well as Independent candidate Leo AwGoWhat, in the general election with 80% of the vote to Bergmann's 19.2% and AwGoWhat's 0.8%.[38]


Cohen is far and away the most progressive member of the Tennessee delegation, and arguably one of the most progressive congressmen ever to represent the state. He has a lifetime rating of 4.3 from the American Conservative Union; for most of his tenure he has had the lowest ACU rating of any lawmaker from Tennessee.

He is the first Jew to represent Tennessee in Congress, as well as the first white Democrat to represent a significant portion of Memphis since freshman George Grider was defeated by Republican Dan Kuykendall in 1966, and the first Jew to represent a majority black district,[6] as well as one of the few white congressmen that has represented a black-majority district. Before being elected, Cohen told reporters that he would seek to become the first white member of the Congressional Black Caucus, but later decided against joining after members of the CBC (influenced by co-founder Bill Clay) indicated that they would not allow a non-black to join.[6]


Cohen voted against prioritizing spending in the event of the debt limit being reached.[39] He voted to create an $825 billion economic recovery package as well as an additional $192 billion anti-recession stimulus in 2009.[39] He has supported additional stimulus packages and bailouts, such as the GM and Chrysler bailout.[39]

Cohen supports raising Senate salaries.[39] He also supports extending unemployment benefits from 39 weeks to 59 weeks.[39] He opposes any move to privatize social security.[39]

Gun control[edit]

Cohen supports a ban on the gun show loophole and on 'fire sales' of firearms. However he does support citizen's rights to bear concealed firearms.[39] He supports educating children on gun safety through a school program.[39] Cohen was also one of 80 house members to sign a letter written to President Obama urging him to ban the importation of military-style semiautomatic firearms.[40]


To expand funds available for research and development of alternative energy sources, Cohen supports an excess profits tax on oil companies.[41] He supports investments into solar, wind, and hybrid cars.[39] He supports offering tax credits and incentives to companies that adopt renewable and clean energy methods.[39] He supports the regulation of oil and gas prices and seeks to criminalize oil cartels like OPEC.[39] He opposes off-shore drilling and seeks to revoke tax incentives for exploration of oil and gas.[39]


Cohen is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.[42] He supports environmental conservation.[43] He opposed a resolution that would bar the EPA from regulating emissions, and opposes allowing off-shore drilling.[39] In addition he supports the expansion of public transportation and train lines.[39]

He believes there are several more animal species that should be classified as endangered and thus receive protection. He believes outdoor classroom experiences should be expanded through massive federal funding.[39]


Cohen believes adequate healthcare is a basic right and has opposed any cuts to healthcare funding.[39] He has voted several times to extend healthcare coverage through federal funding.[39]

On May 10, 2012, at a House subcommittee hearing on asbestos trust transparency legislation, Cohen described plaintiff's attorneys who contacted him about the illness of his friend, Warren Zevon as "parasites." He said that Warren Zevon—who died from asbestos related cancer—did not seek a lawyer and did not want damages. In spite of Cohen's feelings against those plaintiff's attorneys, he spoke against the bill.[44][45]

Cohen has said that he believes that adequate health care is a "fundamental right" of all citizens.[46] Cohen supports gender equality, progressive taxation, medicinal use of marijuana, decriminalization of Marijuana, gun rights and capital punishment. Cohen was the headline speaker at the Marijuana Policy Project's January 2010 annual gala in Washington.[47]

Medical marijuana[edit]

On March 23, 2015, Cohen introduced into the U.S. House a version of the CARERS Act, H.R. 1538, the companion to the bill introduced into the U.S. Senate by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, which aims to remove medical marijuana from the list of controlled substances and shift cannabis policy to the state level from the federal government.[48]

Government reform[edit]

He supports limiting campaign donations and disclosure of amounts coming from lobbyists.[39]

During his first month in Congress, Cohen supported the "100-Hour Plan" in the House, which included raising the federal minimum wage, requiring the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower Medicare prescription drug prices, and reducing interest rates for student borrowers. Cohen also cosponsored House Concurrent Resolution 23, which "[expresses] the sense of Congress that the President should not order an escalation in the total number of members of the United States Armed Forces serving in Iraq."[49]

On February 27, 2007, Cohen introduced a resolution in the House that apologizes for African-American slavery and the system of Jim Crow laws that persisted for 100 years after the abolition of slavery. Cohen noted that no president has officially apologized for allowing slavery. The bill had 36 cosponsors.[50] The resolution passed on July 29, 2008, marking the first time a branch of the federal government had officially apologized for the institution of slavery and its aftermath.[51] Cohen was honored with the D. Emelio Castelar Work Recognition Award by the Vida Foundation in Madrid, Spain for his work on the slavery apology bill and served as the keynote speaker for their international symposium on the abolition of slavery and the slave trade.[52]

Cohen supported the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act (H.R. 2919; 113th Congress), a bill that would require the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) to prepare a report each year on the amount of fees and other expenses awarded by federal courts to nonfederal entities when they prevail in a case against the United States.[53] Cohen, an original co-sponsor of the bill, argued that "Americans have a right to know what their government is doing and their government has a duty to be as transparent as possible."[54]

Civil rights[edit]

Cohen received the American Bar Association's Day Award along with Congressman John Lewis (GA-5), Senator Olympia Snowe (ME) and Senator Richard Lugar (IN). Cohen was recognized by the ABA for his efforts to improve access to the justice system by providing more funding for the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal counsel for low income individuals and families. Cohen dedicated the award to Dr. Benjamin Hooks and Dr. Dorothy Height during his acceptance speech.[55]

Cohen sponsored the SPEECH Act banning the practice of libel tourism, rendering libel lawsuits unenforceable if the judgments were issued in a nation where the legal standard for libel is set lower than our own. The Senate Sponsor was Senator Patrick Leahy. The bill passed both houses of Congress in July 2010 and was signed into law by President Barack Obama the following month.[56]


Cohen supports legal abortion.[57] He opposes the repeal of federally funded abortions and supports a focus on preventing pregnancies with the availability of emergency contraceptives if needed.[39]

Iraq War[edit]

In 2006, he opposed Republican policy regarding the War in Iraq.[58]

Cohen made a trip to Iraq from October 4, 2007, to October 7, 2007, as part of a congressional fact-finding delegation. Cohen noted that his impression was that the country was "not in very good shape" and that its economy has been "ravaged." Cohen met with soldiers who complained that long deployments are causing divorces. When Cohen raised this concern with General David Petraeus, Petraeus told Cohen that the claims were being exaggerated. After meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Cohen described him as "overly optimistic," noting his "bizarre" statement that sectarian war in Iraq is over.[59]

Afghanistan infrastructure[edit]

In 2012, Cohen sponsored the Cohen Amendment reducing infrastructure funding to Afghanistan. The Afghan Infrastructure Fund has been plagued with problems, with millions of taxpayer dollars disappearing. When another member of the House said the funding was essential to bringing our troops home, Cohen replied "The truth of the matter is that it has nothing to do with whether we can bring our troops home or not. The truth is that we cannot account for where this money is going, and it is likely going into the pockets of the top one-half of one percent in Afghanistan. The infrastructure holds up well enough there to deploy and redeploy our troops, so it's good enough to bring them home permanently." The Amendment passed 228–191 and is the first piece of legislation reducing funding to Afghanistan.[60]

National Guard & Reservist Debt Relief Extension Act[edit]

Cohen sponsored and co-authored, along with Congressman J. Randy Forbes (R-VA-4), Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA-46), Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9), and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-8) The National Guard & Reservist Debt Relief Extension Act, which allows qualifying members of the National Guard and reservists to bypass the often onerous means testing required under current bankruptcy law if their financial hardships were caused by deployment. The bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2011.[61]

Judicial recommendations[edit]

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi assigned Cohen to serve on the House Judiciary Committee, which was Cohen's first choice for a committee assignment, as well as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.[62]

As there are no Democratic U.S. Senators from Tennessee, President Barack Obama asked Cohen to recommend judicial nominees. Cohen recommended Judge Bernice Donald for United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, Judge John Fowlkes and Sheryl H. Lipman for District Court Judge for the Western District of Tennessee. All three have been confirmed by the United States Senate. Cohen also recommended Ed Stanton III as District Court Judge for Western Tennessee.

TVA Recommendations[edit]

Cohen recommended Bishop William Graves, V. Lynn Evans, and Ron Walter for the Board of Directors at the Tennessee Valley Authority. All three were nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the United States Senate. They are the only African-Americans on the TVA Board. Evans and Walter, both from Shelby County, represent the only time two residents of Shelby County have been on the TVA Board simultaneously.

U.S. Attorney[edit]

Cohen recommended Ed Stanton III to President Barack Obama as U.S. Attorney for Tennessee's Western District. Stanton was confirmed in August 2010.


Steve Cohen has sponsored 16 bills since January 4, 2007, of which 13 haven't made it out of committee and 2 were successfully enacted. Cohen has co-sponsored 762 bills during the same time period.[63]

Main Street to Main Street Multi-Modal Connector Project[edit]

Cohen announced in 2012 that Memphis is to be awarded a $15 million TIGER IV Grant for the Main Street to Main Street Multi-Modal Connector Project. The project will add a dedicated sidewalk to the Harahan Bridge connecting Tennessee to Arkansas, allowing people to walk, run, or bicycle over the Mississippi River. The project has drawn praise from many in the business community, including FedEx founder Fred Smith.[64]

Helsinki Commission[edit]

Cohen was appointed to the Helsinki Commission by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi in 2011. "Congressman Steve Cohen is a leader in promoting civil rights and opportunity of all Americans, and he brings this same passion to the promotion of human rights and democracy around the world," Pelosi said. "The Helsinki Commission is a focal point for security and cooperation among nations and leaders, and Congressman Cohen's voice is sure to strengthen and advance the commission's work."[65]

Armenian issues[edit]

Although his family has no knowledge of any Turkish heritage, Cohen's mother's birth certificate states his maternal grandfather was born in Turkey when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. He is a member of the Congressional Caucus on US Turkish Relations and Turkish Americans.[66] He has consistently opposed Congressional recognition of the Armenian Genocide on pragmatic grounds, believing that recognizing it officially in Congress would damage relations with Turkey.[67]

On August 6, 2008, one day before the August 7, 2008 Democratic Congressional Primary, a confrontation between California-based documentary filmmaker Peter Musurlian and Cohen erupted. During a press conference at Cohen's home, Musurlian was asked to leave by Cohen's staff and Cohen himself. Cohen then put both hands on Musurlian's arms and forced him out of the home after Musurlian refused to leave.[68][69]

In October 2017, Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, said that "Reps. Stivers, Cohen, and Sessions—in stripping out language about the Armenian Genocide from a bill about Turkish-Armenian relations—are, effectively, carrying Turkish President Erdogan’s water in Washington, advancing his shameful denial campaign even as he’s doubling down on his government’s anti-American actions and attitudes."[70]

2011 Nazi controversy[edit]

In a speech on the House floor on January 18, 2011, Cohen said of the Republican effort to repeal the Obama administration's health care reform law:

They say it's a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels. You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie and eventually, people believe it. Like blood libel. That's the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it and you had the Holocaust. You tell a lie over and over again. And we've heard on this floor, government takeover of health care.[71]

According to Cohen's hometown paper, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, he was "accused of upsetting the newfound atmosphere of civility in the House" following the assassination attempt on Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.[72] Republicans,[73] as well as many in the media and in the Jewish community, expressed outrage and demanded that Democrats condemn Cohen's comment. Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency wrote that "someone needs to carpet Cohen, pronto, for his rhetoric."[74] His remarks were also condemned by the National Jewish Democratic Council, which issued a statement saying that "invoking the Holocaust to make a political point is never acceptable—on either side of the aisle. Cohen's comments and similar comments made by others are not helpful as our leaders and citizens conduct a joint effort to advance civility in our political discourse. We implore Cohen and all our leaders to choose their words carefully as we move forward."[74]

In response to the controversy, Cohen said "I said Goebbels lied about the Jews, and that led to the Holocaust. Not in any way whatsoever was I comparing Republicans to Nazis. I was saying lies are wrong."[73]

Cohen later expressed regret for his remarks:

I would certainly never do anything to diminish the horror of the Nazi Holocaust as I revere and respect the history of my people. I sponsored legislation which created one of the first state Holocaust Commissions in America and actively served as a Commission member for over 20 years. I regret that anyone in the Jewish Community, my Republican colleagues or anyone else was offended by the portrayal of my comments. My comments were not directed toward any group or people but at the false message and, specifically, the method by which it has been delivered.[74]

Boycott of Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress[edit]

In March 2015, Steve Cohen boycotted the speech of the Prime Minister of Israel to Congress, writing: "While Americans and members of Congress may disagree on anything, even foreign policy, providing a forum of such immense prestige and power to the leader of another country who is opposing our nation's foreign policy is beyond the pale. It endangers the negotiations, insults the good faith of the other nations involved in the negotiations and emboldens Iran who may well view this schism in our government as an opportunity for advantage. While we can disagree with our President, we as a nation should be as one on our foreign policy and any disagreements should be presented in a respectful, appropriate and time-honored manner.""[75]

In response, Israeli journalist Caroline Glick wrote in an opinion column in the Jerusalem Post: "Radical leftist representatives who happen to be Jewish, like Jan Schakowsky of suburban Chicago and Steve Cohen of Memphis, are joining Netanyahu's boycotters in order to give the patina of Jewish legitimacy to an administration whose central foreign policy threatens the viability of the Jewish state."[76]

Articles of Impeachment[edit]

On August 17, 2017, Cohen announced that he planned to bring forward articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump owing to the president's series of comments regarding a white nationalist rally in Unite the Right rally on August 12. Cohen stated on his website,

I believe the President should be impeached and removed from office. Instead of unequivocally condemning hateful actions by neo-Nazis, white nationalists and Klansmen following a national tragedy, the President said 'there were very fine people on both sides.' There are no good Nazis. There are no good Klansmen.[77]

Holocaust distortion[edit]

On April 25, 2018, 57 members of the House of Representatives, including Cohen,[78] released a condemnation of Holocaust distortion in Ukraine and Poland.[79] They criticized Poland’s new Holocaust law, which would criminalize accusing Poles of complicity in the Holocaust,[80] and Ukraine’s 2015 memory laws glorifying Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and its pro-Nazi leaders, such as Roman Shukhevych.[78]

Russian meddling[edit]

In July 2018, Cohen stated that Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections amounted to "an act of war", which the U.S. needed to counter with "cyber attacks against the Kremlin". Speaking to Hill.TV's Buck Sexton and Krystal Ball, he argued that Russia "invaded our country" by attacking free elections, and thus should be "crippled" by a retributory cyber attack that would have "made Russian society valueless".[81]


Cohen has been interviewed on The Colbert Report and is a frequent guest on MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes and Current TV's The Young Turks. He has also appeared on Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura in which he was confronted by Ventura for co-sponsoring H.R. 645 which directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish national emergency centers, otherwise known as Federal Emergency Management Agency camp facilities, on military installations.

Cohen became the subject of media attention when during the 2013 State of the Union address he accidentally publicly tweeted at model Victoria Brink, "pleased u r watching. ilu," and then deleted the tweet.[82] He later explained to reporters that Brink was his daughter and that he had only learned of her three years prior. In July 2013, CNN facilitated a DNA test with Cohen, Brink, and the man who raised her, John Brink. The test revealed that John Brink was in fact the father of Victoria. Cohen said in a statement "I was stunned and dismayed."[83]

During a 2018 open congressional hearing of FBI agent Peter Strzok, Cohen said, "If I could give you a Purple Heart, I would... This has been an attack on you and a way to attack Mr. Mueller and the investigation that is to get at Russian collusion involved in our election."[84] Veteran groups criticized his comment, as the Purple Heart is given to wounded soldiers.[84] Cohen apologized for his comments, saying "I regret mentioning the Purple Heart medal at yesterday's hearing. My intent was to speak metaphorically to make a broader point about attacks against the FBI and Special Counsel Mueller's investigation into a Russian attack on our country."[84]

Cohen became the subject of media attention when he branded Attorney General William Barr as "Chicken Barr" after Barr did not appear for a House Judiciary Committee hearing and then decided to eat from a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken during the hearing.[85]

Committee assignments[edit]

Caucus memberships[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cohen beats back Memphis challenge Archived June 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine Jewish Telegraph Agency – August 8, 2008
  2. ^ a b c d e f Project Vote Smart biography Archived June 16, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Fiery Cohen builds loyal support base, by Halimah Abdullah, The Commercial Appeal, October 19, 2006". Archived from the original on November 5, 2006. Retrieved October 19, 2006. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  4. ^ a b Cohen's campaign website biography Archived August 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Yo Vey! (subscribers only), Jonathan Martin, The New Republic, September 25, 2006.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 5, 2016. Retrieved August 2, 2017. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Elder Statesmen", Jackson Baker, Memphis Flyer, June 14, 2006.
  9. ^ Animal Defense Fund
  10. ^ "TN Governor- D Primary". Our Campaigns. Retrieved October 16, 2017.
  11. ^ "Senate OKs gay marriage ban". Archived from the original on May 6, 2005. Retrieved July 29, 2006. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link), Skip Cauthorn, The City Paper, March 1, 2005.
  12. ^ "Marriage Act sponsor facing divorce". Archived from the original on February 13, 2007. Retrieved July 29, 2006. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link), Skip Cauthorn, The City Paper, April 15, 2005.
  13. ^ From the editorial board: Our recommendations in August 3 races, The Commercial Appeal, July 28, 2006.
  14. ^ Tennessee Congressional Races in 2008 Archived August 12, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Steve Cohen wins; will face Jake Ford, Mark White in November, Halimah Abdullah, The Commercial Appeal, August 3, 2006.
  16. ^ Mayors endorse Cohen, Halimah Abdullah and Lawrence Buser, The Commercial Appeal, September 7, 2006.
  17. ^ "Campaign 2006: Politics Are a Family Matter in Tennessee". Time. September 25, 2006. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
  18. ^ a b c 9th District rivals spar over war, pot, politics, by Alex Doniach, The Commercial Appeal, October 9, 2006
  19. ^ " – Elections 2006". CNN. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
  20. ^ In Memphis, Debate Over a White Representative. All Things Considered, September 28, 2007
  21. ^ O' Brien, Michael. Cohen defeats Tinker in Tennessee primary The Hill, August 7, 2008.
  22. ^ Cohen For Congress Archived October 27, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Nossiter, Adam (August 7, 2008). "Race Takes Central Role in a Memphis Primary". The New York Times.
  24. ^ Tinker lowers bar in the 9th. Editorial, The Commercial Appeal, August 5, 2008.
  25. ^ Kraushaar, Josh. Obama forced to deal with Tenn. primary. The Politico, August 7, 2008.
  26. ^ a b Incumbent Cohen holds off Tinker in overwhelming 9th District win, Zack McMillin and Cindy Wolff, The Commercial Appeal, August 7, 2008
  27. ^ Race-baiting in the 9th Commercial Appeal, Wednesday, February 13, 2008
  28. ^ Rep. Cohen Endorses Obama; So Does Local Democratic Chairman, Jackson Baker, The Memphis Flyer, February 4, 2008
  29. ^ Cohen: Jesus was a community organizer
  30. ^ "Guest column: Mayor hears higher calling to national stage". The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved July 12, 2010.
  31. ^ Sullivan, Bartholomew. "Cohen on Herenton's commentary: Mayor's opinions outdated". The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved July 12, 2010.
  32. ^ Ex-Mayor of Memphis Starts Bid for Congress, Invoking Race in Campaign by Robbie Brown, New York Times, September 13, 2009.
  33. ^ NJDC defends Cohen, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), September 18, 2009.
  34. ^ Steve Cohen's landslide 9th District win ends Willie Herenton's run, by Kristina Goetz, Commercial Appeal, Memphis, August 5, 2010
  35. ^ Cohen, Flinn to meet for Memphis' Congressional seat, Commercial Appeal, Memphis, August 3, 2012
  36. ^ Obama endorses Cohen in 9th District race; Hart makes primary challenge official, Commercial Appeal, Memphis, April 5, 2012
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "Steve Cohen (Democrat, district 9)". On the Issues.
  40. ^ Sherfinski, David (April 9, 2014). "Obama urged to enforce ban on importing military-style firearms". The Washington Times. The Washington Times. Retrieved August 31, 2014.
  41. ^ Cohen campaign website, Issues-Energy Archived November 19, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  42. ^ "Caucus Members". Congressional Progressive Caucus. Retrieved January 30, 2018.
  43. ^ Cohen campaign website, Issues-Environment Archived November 19, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  44. ^ John O'Brien (May 11, 2012). "Dem. Congressman calls attorneys who contacted him 'parasites'". Legal Newsline (LNL). Archived from the original on May 18, 2012. Retrieved May 18, 2012. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help); Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  45. ^ Dem Congressman Describes Asbestos Lawyers as Parasites. Institute for Legal Reform. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
  46. ^ Cohen campaign website, Issues-Health Care Archived November 19, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  47. ^ Rep. Cohen a hit at Marijuana Policy Project gala dinner, by Ben Evans, Associated Press, January 14, 2010
  48. ^ "H.R. 1538: To extend the principle of federalism to State drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana". GovTrack. Washington, D.C. March 23, 2015. Retrieved March 24, 2015. This bill was assigned to a congressional committee on March 23, 2015, which will consider it before possibly sending it on to the House or Senate as a whole.
  49. ^ Thomas search via The Library of Congress
  50. ^ Bartholomew Sullivan (February 28, 2007). "Cohen calls for slavery apology". Commercial Appeal. Archived from the original on March 18, 2007. Retrieved February 28, 2007.
  51. ^ House apologizes for slavery, 'Jim Crow' injustices, CNN, July 29, 2008.
  52. ^ Congressman Steve Cohen to be Honored by The Vida Foundation, Cohen for Congress, November 15, 2008 Archived October 27, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  53. ^ "CBO – H.R. 2919". Congressional Budget Office. Retrieved May 5, 2014.
  54. ^ D'Amico, Christine (August 1, 2013). "Lummis, Cohen Draft Bill to Track Equal Access to Justice Act Payments Bipartisan legislation restarts agency tracking obligations; modernizes record-keeping with online database". House Office of Cynthia Lummis. Archived from the original on May 5, 2014. Retrieved May 5, 2014. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  55. ^ Cohen House Site
  56. ^ Cohen for Congress Archived October 27, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  57. ^ Cohen campaign website, Issues-Women's Issues Archived November 2, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  58. ^ Cohen campaign website, Issues-Iraq Archived November 19, 2006, at the Wayback Machine[better source needed]
  59. ^ Bartholomew Sullivan (October 8, 2007). "Cohen, Wicker back from Iraq". Commercial Appeal. Retrieved October 8, 2007.
  60. ^ Cohen House web site
  61. ^ Cohen for Congress Archived October 27, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  62. ^ Cohen named to Judiciary panel, by Bartholomew Sullivan, The Commercial Appeal, December 13, 2006. Retrieved December 18, 2006.
  63. ^ Members of Congress – Steve Cohen, retrieved on October 10, 2008
  64. ^ Downtown Memphis Commission Archived January 21, 2013, at
  65. ^ Cohen For Congress Archived October 27, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  66. ^ "Turkish Coalition Of America". Retrieved July 12, 2010.
  67. ^ House Speaker Now Unsure if Armenian Genocide Motion Will Reach a Vote, Carl Hulse, New York Times, October 18, 2007
  68. ^ Cohen asks photographer to leave his home, then pushes him out, by Zack McMillin, The Commercial Appeal, August 7, 2008.
  69. ^ "APA – U.S. Congressman expels Armenian journalist from the hall for asking about so-called genocide". Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved July 12, 2010. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  70. ^ "Genocide Deniers Introduce 'Fake' Armenian Genocide Resolution". The Armenian Weekly. October 13, 2017.
  71. ^ Wing, Nick (2011-01-19) Democratic Congressman Compares Republicans To Nazis On House Floor (VIDEO), Huffington Post
  72. ^ Sullivan, Bartholomew (January 19, 2011) Goodbye civility as Rep. Steve Cohen says Republicans lie like the Nazis, Memphis Commercial Appeal
  73. ^ a b Sargent, Greg (January 19, 2011) Dem Rep: No apology for saying GOP mendacity is worthy of Goebbels, Washington Post
  74. ^ a b c Kampeas, Ron (January 19, 2011) Doesn’t Steve Cohen read JTA? Archived January 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, JTA
  75. ^ Statement of Congressman Steve Cohen on His Decision Not to Attend PM Netanyahu’s Address to Congress February 24, 2015, Official Website
  76. ^ In Israel’s hour of need By CAROLINE B. GLICK \ February 26, 2015
  77. ^ Le Miere, Jason (August 17, 2017). "Trump impeachment process begins as Democrat states the president "failed test of moral leadership"". Newsweek. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  78. ^ a b History, Defending (April 25, 2018). "57 Members of US House of Representatives Condemn Holocaust Distortion in Ukraine and Poland".
  79. ^ "Congress members urge US stand against Holocaust denial in Ukraine, Poland". The Times of Israel. April 25, 2018.
  80. ^ "It's now a crime in Poland to suggest Poles were complicit in the Holocaust". Vice News. March 1, 2018.
  81. ^ Manchester, Julia. "Dem calls Russia meddling 'act of war,' urges cyber attack on Moscow banks TWEET SHARE MORE". The Hill. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  82. ^ Sullivan, Bartholomew. "Memphis Congressman Cohen tweets Texas co-ed: 'ilu'". Memphis Commercial Appeal. Retrieved July 18, 2013.
  83. ^ Marquez, Miguel. "'New Day' Exclusive: CNN DNA test proves congressman not model's father". CNN. Retrieved July 18, 2013.
  84. ^ a b c "Rep. Steve Cohen regrets Purple Heart remarks, vets call them 'insult to every service member'". The Tennessean. Retrieved July 14, 2018.
  85. ^ "Democrat Steve Cohen mocks 'Chicken Barr' at House hearing, eats KFC fried chicken". USA Today. May 2, 2019.
  86. ^ "Committees and Caucuses". Archived from the original on March 4, 2019. Retrieved September 17, 2014.
  87. ^ "Our Members". U.S. House of Representatives International Conservation Caucus. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
  88. ^ "Membership". Congressional Arts Caucus. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  89. ^ "Members". House Baltic Caucus. Retrieved February 21, 2018.
  90. ^ Mehta, Hemant. "The Congressional Freethought Caucus Continues to Grow on Capitol Hill". Friendly Atheist. Retrieved September 25, 2018.
  91. ^ "Members". U.S. - Japan Caucus. Retrieved December 1, 2018.

External links[edit]

Tennessee Senate
Preceded by
Jim White
Member of the Tennessee Senate
from the 30th district

Succeeded by
Shea Flinn
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Harold Ford
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 9th congressional district

U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Yvette Clarke
United States Representatives by seniority
Succeeded by
Joe Courtney