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.
Upon being sworn into office in January 2007, Cohen sought to fulfill a promise he had made on the campaign trail in ’06, when he said that if he were to be elected, he would seek to become the first white member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). His efforts were harshly rebuffed, however. As CBC member William Lacy Clay told reporters: “He’s white and the Caucus is black. It’s time to move on. We [the CBC] have racial policies to pursue and we are pursuing them, as Mr. Cohen has learned. It’s an unwritten rule. It’s understood. It’s clear.”
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!”
In a December 2018 appearance on Joy Reid‘s MSNBC program, Cohen stated that special prosecutor Robert Mueller would soon produce a report proving “the reality of the fact that the Russians were involved in our election and were responsible for the result, and that the president we have is directly an agent — not an agent, but directly a byproduct of Vladimir Putin and Russian interference in our election.” “And I believe Mueller will show that he [Trump] participated and was a — part of a conspiracy,” Cohen added.
In a June 2019 interview on CNN, Cohen again voiced his contempt and low regard for President Trump:
“I think impeachment proceedings will help see that he is beaten [in the next election] but that’s not the reason to do it – I think we have a moral imperative to bring those charges…. I think we’ll see blood on our hands. I think we’ll see soldiers dying because this man will find a way to wag the dog, get us into a war to improve his standing and to make him feel like he’s a man and not just the young guy that got sent off from the upper-east side of Manhattan to the military school upstate because he was a bad, young man.”
In July 2019, Cohen was angered by a tweet in which President Trump said: “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States … how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.” Though Trump did not name any of the congresswomen by name, it was widely believed that he was referring to Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ayanna Pressley. After attendees at a subsequent Trump rally chanted “Send her back” regarding Somali native Ilhan Omar, Cohen said: “It was more reminiscent of Germany during the beginnings of the Hitler regime. People yelling send her back. That was un-American.” Cohen added that Nazi Germany was “where we got crowds get behind a xenophobic, nationalist leader, who took a minority and made them scapegoats, use them as a foil for his political rise to do some of the most awful things that have ever happened in this world…. I see the same tactics being used, and to bring those racists up to remind people where America could be going is important.”
In the aftermath of a December 2019 incident where a black man stabbed five Jews at a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey, New York, Cohen posted a tweet placing the blame on President Trump: “So sad but predictable. His conduct has made unacceptable conduct acceptable. It will take decades to cure.”
On January 11, 2021, Cohen introduced a joint resolution to amend the U.S. Constitution by abolishing the Electoral College. Said Cohen in a statement:
“Americans expect and deserve the winner of the popular vote for any office to win and assume that office…. The Electoral College is a vestige of the 18th Century when voters didn’t know the candidates who now appear daily on their phones and television screens…. The President should always be elected by the people, not by politicians. Currently, the system allows politicians to make the ultimate decision. It is well past time to do away with this anachronistic institution and guarantee a fair and accurate vote for President.”
On May 10, 2021, Cohen and two fellow Democratic members of the House of Representatives – Barbara Lee and Bobby Rush – hosted a forum about COINTELPRO, the FBI program that tracked the activities of radical leftist organizations in the 1960s and ’70s. Speakers at the forum heaped praise upon several convicted and incarcerated cop-killers – including Mumia Abu-Jamal, Mutulu Shakur, and H. Rap Brown (a.k.a. Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin) – describing them as “political prisoners.”
During the November 4, 2021 broadcast of C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, Cohen stated that Virginia’s Republican Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin, who had just defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in that state’s gubernatorial election, had run a racist campaign by emphasizing his opposition to the inclusion of Critical Race Theory‘s tenets in Virginia’s public school curricula. Said Cohen: “[H]e campaigned to win and he campaigned and talked about keeping racial — Critical [Race] Theory out of the schools in Virginia. Well, it’s not in the schools in Virginia. I want to keep dinosaurs out of the bathrooms of little girls. We don’t have dinosaurs in the bathrooms. But I could be against it, and everybody’s against it. And that’s the same thing about this Critical Race Theory in Virginia. It doesn’t exist in the schools in Virginia. So, he created an issue to appeal to people, which was basically appealing to their racial animus and their racial prejudices.”
For an overview of Cohen’s voting record during his years as a legislator, click here.
For additional information on Steve Cohen, click here.
Further Reading: “Black Caucus: Whites Not Allowed” (Politico.com, 1-22-2007); Cohen’s statements on “Progress in Iraq” (6-27, 2007), “Decision Not to Attend PM Netanyahu’s Address to Congress” (2-24-2015), “Boycott [of] Trump Inauguration” (1-16-2017), and Supreme Court nominees Neil Gorsuch (1-31-2017) and Brett Kavanaugh (7-9-2018); “Strzok Deserves ‘Purple Heart,’ Democratic Lawmaker Says” (7-13-2018); “Cohen: Trump’s Presidency ‘Directly a By-Product of Vladimir Putin’” (Breitbart.com, 12-8-2018); “Dem Rep. Cohen Makes Shocking Warning of ‘Blood on Our Hands’ if Trump Is Not Impeached” (Fox News, 6-13-2019); “Democrat Steve Cohen: Trump Rally Reminiscent of Germany During ‘Hitler Regime’” (by Joshua Kaplan, 7-18-2019); “Leftists Blame Trump for Rise in Antisemitism in Wake of Hanukkah Stabbing Attack” (by Penny Starr, 12-29-2019).