Anyone used to listening in to committee meetings of the Shelby County Commission via audio streaming on the commission's website came a cropper last Wednesday — literally. Workmen on the 11th floor involved in the renovation of the Vasco Smith County Administration Building inadvertently cropped the fiber optics cord that enabled transmission of commission activities.
The unfortunate circumstance wiped out audio records of some lively debate, though recordings survive of the commission's interviews with 11 candidates for the appointment to a vacancy in District 6 of the Unified School District's board.
The candidates for the seat vacated by Reginald Porter, now chief of staff for the Unified District, were: Shante Avant, Perry Bond, Tony Braxton, Justin Casey, Cherry Davis, Clara Ford, Rosalyn Nichols, David Page, Joya Smith, Rhoda Stigall, and Sharon Webb.
The commission will vote on a successor to Porter on Monday.
Another matter introduced last Wednesday was that of committee assignments made by chairman-elect James Harvey. Normally, the commission's approval of such assignments is pro forma, and it may turn out to be that way when the commission holds its next public meeting on Monday.
But Commissioner Walter Bailey, a Democrat, fired a shot last Wednesday across the bow of fellow Democrat Harvey, who on Monday will formally accede to the chairmanship, which he won in large part with Republican votes.
Bailey objected to the appointment of Republican Heidi Shafer as budget committee chairman and sought instead to amend the appointments resolution to reappoint Melvin Burgess as budget chair. Shafer objected, as did GOP commissioners Terry Roland and Chris Thomas, and Bailey's motion was defeated, with the full commission due to consider the issue next week.
What is involved is something more than mere honorifics. Shafer was a vociferous opponent of the increases in the county budget and tax rate sought by county mayor Mark Luttrell and approved this year after a protracted struggle. She is known for close line-by-line study of budgetary matters and sees herself as a watchdog against overspending.
Burgess, who works as director of internal audit for the Unified School District, is meanwhile still under attack by Roland, who unsuccessfully sought to have Burgess disqualified from voting on the budget and tax rate because of his employment with an agency receiving county funds.
As the interviews with candidates for the school board were being held on Wednesday, Roland apprised the Flyer of his intention to challenge Burgess' right to vote on the matter on Monday. "Melvin can't do that," Roland said. "He's trying to vote [to select] his own boss."
• The list of candidates who met last Thursday's filing deadline for a special election in state House District 91 indicates that name identification may play a major role in determining the winner. The seat was held for some four decades by the late, revered former House speaker pro tem Lois DeBerry, and the surname DeBerry is represented twice in the field of 11 candidates.
Dwight DeBerry, a political newcomer, is a cousin of Lois DeBerry, while Doris A. DeBerry-Bradshaw is the sister of District 90 representative John DeBerry (no relation to Lois). The extended Ford family figures in with the filing of Kemba Ford, daughter of former state senator John Ford, who is making her second electoral effort after running unsuccessfully for the city council in 2011.
Other candidates in a fairly nondescript field are Raumesh Akbari, Joshua R. Forbes, Terica Lamb, Clifford Lewis, Kermit Moore, Gregory Stokes, Mary Taylor Wright, and Jim Tomasik. All except Tomasik, an avowed libertarian and an independent, are running in the October 8th Democratic primary. No Republicans filed in District 91. The general election is November 21st.
• Stephen Fincher, a member in good standing of the congressional Tea Party caucus and an unabashed member of the Republican Party's right wing, struck some unwontedly moderate-sounding notes last Tuesday night as the featured speaker at the annual Master Meal event of the East Shelby County Republican Club.
Noting that he was "the first Republican to hold this seat," the 8th District congressman from Frog Jump in Crockett County called for unity among all Republicans of whatever faction. "This is a two-party system. We cannot eat our own. We must stay united if we're going to beat Barack Obama and the Democrats," he said.
And Fincher, who spoke before a packed house at the Great Hall of Germantown, urged caution regarding a proposal by some Republicans to force a shutdown of the government rather than allow the funding of Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act).
"If we do a CR [continuing resolution] without Obamacare, [Senate Democratic leader] Harry Reid is going to put it right back in and send it back to the House," Fincher said.
Then, after asking for a show of hands over the proposition that "the president will be right back on the campaign trail, and IRS scandals and Benghazi and all that will be swept under the rug, and he will use this to keep control of the Senate in 2014," Fincher said, "I think that's what'll happen. ... I think he's baiting us, he's trying to divide us." The congressman advocated instead a strategy of delaying the onset of aspects of Obamacare.
But Fincher made it clear that, in proposing discretion, he was not advocating that Republicans surrender their principles. "If we fall, it won't be because of the Democrats. It'll be because of the Republicans not standing up."
Other speakers at the annual East Shelby GOP affair included Luttrell, Shelby County Republican chairman Justin Joy, and state Republican chairman Chris Devaney of Nashville. Devaney defended a decision by the National Republican Committee to keep NBC and CNN out of the GOP's future televised-debate plans as the penalty for those networks' pursuing program projects relating to potential Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
• Shelby County chancellor Arnold Goldin, who has figured in several important cases in recent years — notably the challenge by several Democratic losing candidates to the county election of 2010, which he denied — is one of three judges appointed last week by Governor Bill Haslam to fill appellate-court vacancies a year from now.
Goldin will replace Judge Alan Highers, who is retiring, on the Court of Appeals, Western Section.
The other judge-in-waiting appointments are those of Nashville lawyer Neal McBrayer to the Court of Appeals, Middle Section, to succeed Judge Patricia Cottrell, and Criminal Court judge Robert Montgomery of Sullivan County to the Court of Criminal Appeals, Middle Section, to succeed Judge Joseph Tipton.
The unusual situation is the result of the General Assembly's failure during the 2013 legislative session to renew the state's Judicial Nominating Commission, which has had the duty of recommending candidates to fill appellate vacancies. Mindful of the situation, Judges Highers, Cottrell, and Tipton gave the governor early notice of their intention not to be on the August 2014 retention ballot.
The Judicial Commission, which expired at midnight on June 30th, did its part to fill the procedural gap, meeting in the two or three days prior to that and making its last recommendations to Haslam for the three positions.
The November 2014 statewide ballot will contain a constitutional amendment empowering the governor to fill such appellate vacancies on his own, subject to the legislature's confirmation.
Meanwhile, another Memphian, state Supreme Court justice Janice Holder, has also announced that she intends to retire when her term expires on August 31, 2014, and, since the Judicial Commission expired without making recommendations for her successor, Haslam is in something of a quandary as to how to proceed.
• Memphis Democrats used to getting emails from the Daily Buzz newsletter, published by Trace Sharp and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter of Dresden, will be getting a bonus from now on.
The Daily Buzz email, reconfigured as the Crockett Policy Buzz, will now incorporate investigative and analytical efforts of the newly formed Crockett Policy Institute, whose executive director is Sharp.
As she wrote, in a message to subscribers, "It is time for reasonable and educated discussions on policy, reaching out for common sense solutions that can change our state for the better. ... The Crockett Policy Buzz which will come to your emails each morning will continue to focus on news of the day as well as looking at how we can problem solve effectively the tests we face in our society right now."
For other persons with a similar name, see Stephen Cohen.
Stephen Ira Cohen (born May 24, 1949) is the U.S. Representative for Tennessee's 9th congressional district, serving 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.
Early life, education, and law career
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. He is a fourth-generation Memphian, and is a grandson of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania and Poland. His immigrant grandfather owned a newsstand. Cohen contracted polio when he was five, and the disease caused him to shift his attention from sports to politics at an early age. 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. 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 attended Polytechnic School, returned to Florida in 1966 to graduate from Coral Gables High School before returning to Memphis where his father 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. 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. 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
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. Cohen was then elected to serve as a commissioner on the Shelby County Commission, an office he held from 1978 to 1980. During his time at the Commission, Cohen was instrumental in the creation of The Med, a community-funded regional hospital. In 1980, Cohen served as an interim Shelby County General Sessions Court judge. He has also served as a delegate to the 1980, 1992, 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016 Democratic National Conventions.
Cohen was elected to the Tennessee Senate in 1982, representing District 30, which includes parts of Memphis. He held that position for 24 years.
For 18 years, Cohen strove to repeal the ban on lotteries in the Tennessee State Constitution. His efforts were successful in 2002, and a state lottery program designed to provide college scholarships for Tennessee students was adopted the following year. 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. 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. 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. 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 was 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.
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. 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." Cohen won the Political Leadership Award from the Human Rights Campaign.
Cohen was widely regarded as one of the Senate's toughest and most articulate debaters, as he has an unusually straightforward and direct style when compared to other Southern politicians. One Tennessee writer described him as "very outspoken, very persistent, and a lot more cerebral than most of his colleagues."
When elected in 1982, Cohen was the first Jewish member to serve in the Tennessee Senate since 1958.
U.S. House of Representatives
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. 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."
Cohen lost the primary to Ford by 25 points. 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." Later, Cohen admitted that his statement was "impolitic" but also noted that "race is still an important factor in voting."
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.The Commercial Appeal, Memphis' daily newspaper, endorsed Cohen in the race. 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. He carried many of the district's predominantly black precincts by healthy margins. He faced RepublicanMark White and independent Jake Ford (the younger brother of Harold Ford, Jr.) in the general election in November.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
Cohen won the election by a decisive margin, winning 60% of the vote to Ford's 22% and White's 18%. Sixty percent of the votes received by Cohen were from African-American voters.
See also: United States House of Representatives elections in Tennessee, 2008 § District 9; and United States House of Representatives elections in Tennessee, 2010 § District 9
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.
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. 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.”
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, from the Medical Center park. The ad falsely implied that Cohen had ties to the Klan by juxtaposing Cohen with a white-clad Klansman. Another ad accused Cohen of "praying in our churches" 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.
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." 
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. 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. On September 10, 2008, while speaking on the floor of the House, Cohen compared Obama's work as a community organizer to Jesus' work.
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." During the 2006 campaign, Herenton endorsed Cohen, saying "Steve Cohen is the best-qualified candidate for this leadership role". 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."
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. This all but assured Cohen of a third term. In the general election, Cohen easily dispatched 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—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". In the general election, Cohen trounced Republican businessman George Flinn with 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%.
Cohen 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, 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.
Cohen voted against prioritizing spending in the event of the debt limit being reached. He voted to create an 825 billion dollar economic recovery package as well as an additional 192 billion dollar anti-recession stimulus in 2009. He has supported additional stimulus packages and bailouts, such as the GM and Chrysler bailout.
Cohen supports raising Senator salaries. He also supports extending unemployment benefits from 39 weeks to 59 weeks. He opposes any move to privatize social security.
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. He supports educating children on gun safety through a school program. 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.
To expand funds available for research and development of alternative energy sources, Cohen supports an excess profits tax on oil companies. He supports investments into solar, wind, and hybrid cars. He supports offering tax credits and incentives to companies that adopt renewable and clean energy methods. He supports the regulation of oil and gas prices and seeks to criminalize oil cartels like OPEC. He opposes off-shore drilling and seeks to revoke tax incentives for exploration of oil and gas.
Cohen is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He supports environmental conservation. He opposed a resolution that would bar the EPA from regulating emissions, and opposes allowing off-shore drilling. In addition he supports the expansion of public transportation and train lines.
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.
Cohen believes adequate healthcare is a basic right and has opposed any cuts to healthcare funding. He has voted several times to extend healthcare coverage through federal funding.
On May 10, 2012, at a House subcommittee hearing on asbestostrust 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.
Cohen has said that he believes that adequate health care is a "fundamental right" of all citizens. 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.
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. SenatorDianne 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.
He supports limiting campaign donations and disclosure of amounts coming from lobbyists.
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."
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. 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. 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.
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. 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."
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.
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.
Cohen supports legal abortion. He opposes the repeal of federally funded abortions and supports a focus on preventing pregnancies with the availability of emergency contraceptives if needed.
He opposed Republican policy regarding the War in Iraq.
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.
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.
National Guard & Reservist Debt Relief Extension Act
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.
House SpeakerNancy 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.
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. Stanton is still waiting for confirmation by the United States Senate.
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.
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.
Main Street to Main Street Multi-Modal Connector Project
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.
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.”
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. 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.
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.
2011 Nazi controversy
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.
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. Republicans, 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." 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."
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."
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.
Boycott of Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress
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.”"
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."
Articles of Impeachment
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.
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. 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."
- ^Cohen beats back Memphis challenge Jewish Telegraph Agency – August 8, 2008
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- ^From the editorial board: Our recommendations in August 3 races, The Commercial Appeal, July 28, 2006.
- ^Tennessee Congressional Races in 2008
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- ^ abc9th District rivals spar over war, pot, politics, by Alex Doniach, The Commercial Appeal, October 9, 2006
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- ^Tinker lowers bar in the 9th. Editorial, The Commercial Appeal, August 5, 2008.
- ^Kraushaar, Josh. Obama forced to deal with Tenn. primary. The Politico, August 7, 2008.
- ^ abIncumbent Cohen holds off Tinker in overwhelming 9th District win, Zack McMillin and Cindy Wolff, The Commercial Appeal, August 7, 2008
- ^Race-baiting in the 9th Commercial Appeal, Wednesday, February 13, 2008
- ^Rep. Cohen Endorses Obama; So Does Local Democratic Chairman, Jackson Baker, The Memphis Flyer, February 4, 2008
- ^Cohen: Jesus was a community organizer