Stephen Ira Cohen was born in Memphis, Tennessee on May 24, 1949. After earning a BA from Vanderbilt University in 1971 and a law degree from Memphis State University in 1973, he served several years as a legal adviser for the Memphis Police Department. Cohen then worked as a private practitioner of both civil and criminal law from …
Stephen Ira Cohen was born in Memphis, Tennessee on May 24, 1949. After earning a BA from Vanderbilt University in 1971 and a law degree from Memphis State University in 1973, he served several years as a legal adviser for the Memphis Police Department. Cohen then worked as a private practitioner of both civil and criminal law from 1978-2006. In addition, he served as Shelby County Commissioner from 1978-80, and as a Democratic member of the Tennessee State Senate from 1982-2006. In 2006 Cohen was elected to Tennessee’s 9th Congressional District seat in 2006 and has been a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the House Judiciary Committee since taking office.
An opponent of America’s involvement in the Iraq War under President George W. Bush, Cohen in June 2007 stated that the recently initiated troop surge, which had significantly increased the number of U.S. soldiers deployed in Iraq to thwart the insurgency, was “not working.” Thus he called for “ending this war, bringing our troops home, and saving America’s face.” Contrary to Cohen’s claim, however, the troop surge ultimately proved to be a spectacular success and enabled the United States to defeat the insurgency.
Speaking from the House floor in January 2011, Cohen characterized the Republican claim that the recently enacted Obamacare legislation represented “a government takeover of health care,” as “a big lie just like [the lies of Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph] Goebbels.” Cohen added: “You say it enough, 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.”
On February 14, 2015, Cohen announced that he would not attend Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 address before Congress, where the Israeli Prime Minister was expected to speak about the gravity of the growing Iranian nuclear threat and his “profound disagreement” with the negotiated nuclear-technology deal that the Obama Administration was pursuing with Tehran. By Cohen’s telling, Netanyahu’s scheduled speech amounted to nothing more than “political theater … just two weeks before the elections in Israel.”
In January 2017, Cohen refused to attend the inauguration of the newly elected President Donald Trump. Trump did “not deserve” to be president, Cohen explained, because he had exhibited “racism” and promoted “fake news” in his past criticisms of leading black Democrats like Rep. John Lewis and President Barack Obama. Moreover, Cohen claimed that Trump was turning Martin Luther King’s famous “dream” of a post-racial society “into a nightmare.”
Cohen opposed several of President Trump’s early cabinet picks, including Senator Jeff Sessions for U.S. Attorney General, Rep. Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, and Scott Pruitt for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. On January 31, 2017, Cohen announced his opposition to Trump’s selection of Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. And on July 9, 2018, Cohen criticized Trump’s selection of Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retiring Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. Said Cohen: “I have profound concerns that, with the choice of Brett Kavanaugh, the Court will be further emboldened to roll back women’s reproductive rights, voting rights, affirmative action in higher education and other guarantees of democracy and equal opportunity.”
While questioning FBI agent Peter Strzok during a House Oversight Committee hearing on July 12, 2018, Cohen, citing attacks by Senate Republicans against Strzok during that hearing, told Strzok: “If I could give you a Purple Heart, I would. You deserve one.” Strzok recently had been removed from the team of investigators aiding Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe of alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, after it was learned that Strzok, in a multitude of text messages during the run-up to the election, had expressed a passionate hatred for Trump and had vowed to “stop” Trump from winning the White House.
After President Trump, in a July 2018 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, declined to directly and publicly condemn Putin for allegedly trying to influence America’s 2016 presidential election, Cohen, in a tweet that seemed to advocate a military coup, said: “Where are our military folks? The Commander in Chief is in the hands of our enemy!”
For an overview of Cohen’s voting record during his years as a legislator, click here.
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