Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen –He Takes on “Chicken” (“Finger Licking Bad”) Attorney General Barr May 6, 2019
Sometimes just sometimes, the only answer to Demagogue Donald and his crew of lap dog licking enablers is up front biting humor. Yes, at the 5/01/2019 hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General William Barr, Trump’s Lapdog #1 made a fool of himself with lies and ridiculous legal parsing, (“removing” Special Counsel Mueller doesn’t mean “firing” him). Yes, HI’s Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono brilliantly put down “Barr and Friends” the way they should have been a long time ago. Hirono’s declared, “Mr. Barr, now the American people know you are no different from Rudy Giuliani or Kellyanne Conway or any of the other people who sacrificed their once-decent reputations for the liar and grifter who sits in the Oval Office.” Yes, Hirono called Barr, “Trump’s lawyer, not that of the American people.” She demanded that he resign. She attacked Barr for his lies and selective quotes of the Mueller report that created a false public relations effort to help Donald (See vox.com, Kirby, J., 5/01/19). Yes, these are excellent words. Words, however, will not get Barr’s attention. Negative words alone don’t normally break through the current “he said, she said” political atmosphere.
Barr, of course, felt “safe” going before a GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. He “pretended” to be forthcoming before “Red” Senators who had his back and then some. All the Senators received a limited amount of time to question him. In the Senate, Barr had the nerve to call the Mueller report his “baby,” once Mueller handed it over to him. Barr called Mueller’s letter criticizing his absurd “no collusion/no obstruction” summary “snitty.” Barr refused to provide notes on his conversation with Mueller about his four-page summary (vox.com, Kirby, 5/01/19). After this Senate “farce” of a hearing, Barr stated he would not go to the House Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled for the following morning, 5/02/2019. Of course not. This hearing would have been run by the House Democratic majority, where Trump shill Barr would be up against really tough questioning. Barr specifically objected to being questioned by a staff lawyer for an extended period (vox.com, Kirby). Barr’s awful Senate “performance” would then be magnified a thousand times. Barr might find himself caught in more damning lies trying to save Master Donald under questioning from a top-notch attorney.
On Thursday, 5/02/2019, lawmakers and the media waited to see if Barr would physically show up at the House Judiciary Committee hearing. He didn’t. House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) seriously opened the hearing with a statement about Barr’s failure to show. Nadler stated how this action was typical of other Trump officials not showing up to be questioned so that Congress could get information on other key matters such as health care, immigrant family separations, and voting rights (cbsnews.com, O’Kane, 5/02/19). While Nadler formally criticized Barr, this then non-dramatic hearing, which would normally have gone unnoticed, suddenly went viral via tweets and social media. Why? House Judiciary member Steve Cohen (D-TN) took a symbolic humorous approach to Barr’s no-show. Cong. Cohen brought a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and started eating from it. Cohen then left the KFC bucket, along with a ceramic chicken at the table where Barr would have sat, and shouted, “He’s (Barr’s) here (cbsnews.com, O’Kane,5/02/19, huffpost.com, 5/02/19, @laurengambino, 5/02/19)!” Cohen added that “Chicken Barr should have shown up today (@aabramson, 5/02/19).” Cohen, who is Jewish, also stated, “Why is this hearing different from all other hearings (@RepCohen, 5/02/19)?” That line is a parody of the opening line of the Four Questions, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The Four Questions asks adults to explain the meaning of Passover. They are sung by the youngest Jewish child at the Passover Seder meal, just observed this past April (time.com, Greenspan, R., 5/02/19). Before leaving the hearing room, Cohen shared his KFC with fellow committee members and reporters (time.com, Greenspan, 5/02/2019). Pundit/reporter Chris Cillizza was upset that Cohen’s “chicken stunt” didn’t help Congress’ image (See Cillizza, cnn.com, “The Point,” 5/02/19). I disagree. Again, the only way to sometimes get back at Trump, Barr, and all their MAGA followers is to attack their lying and bullying tactics with a strong dose of slashing humor. Meet Cong. Cohen.
Seventh-term Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen (69) presently represents TN’s 9th Congressional District (CD) in West TN, located entirely within Shelby County. This district begins north on the border with Tipton County and takes in most of the city of Millington. The 9th is bounded by AR on the west and MS on the south. The 9th includes nearly all of Memphis, TN’s largest city. This district contains historic Beale Street, where black musicians invented the Blues style of music as well as Soul. Graceland, Elvis Presley’s mansion, is located here. Memphis is the largest city along the Mississippi River between St. Louis and New Orleans and is a transportation hub. Auto Zone has its headquarters here. The pediatric cancer center founded by actor Danny Thomas, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, is in the 9th (Barone & CQ Political Almanacs 14).
Memphis has the largest black population in TN, and was plagued for many years by racial tension. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968 in the 9th’s Lorraine Hotel, now a civil rights museum. The 9th CD is 66.15% black to 25.84% white. It remains the strongest Democratic district in TN and key to the success of Democrats running statewide (Barone 14). The 9th is TN’s only majority minority congressional district. It has a current Cook Partisan Voting Index, PVI, of D+28 (Cook Political Report, 4/07/17). Obama won by margins of 54.5% and 57.4 % in 2008 and 20012, while Hillary bulldozed Donald here by a 57.7 % margin (Pres. Election Results).
Cohen is a fourth -generation Memphian, the son of a psychiatrist. At age five, he contracted polio, which made him change his interest from sports to politics. In 1960, when Cohen was eleven, JFK campaigned in Memphis and Cohen took a picture of Kennedy sitting on a convertible. Cohen described Kennedy as his political hero, and Cohen’s picture of JFK still hangs in his office (Barone 14, tnr.com, Martin, J., 9/25/06). Educated at TN’s Vanderbilt Univ. and Univ. of Memphis Law School, Cohen first worked for the Memphis Police Dept. as a legal adviser and then went into private practice. He was elected to the Shelby County Commission and won a Memphis-based State Senate seat in 1982 where he served for the next 24 years. In 2002, Cohen succeeded in getting a referendum passed repealing a lottery ban. He passed legislation that used lottery money to fund college scholarships (Barone 14). During his State Senate career, Cohen additionally sponsored legislation expanding health care, protecting animal rights, and funding for the arts. He received the Bill of Rights award from the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). Cohen created the TN Holocaust Commission. He helped pass legislation providing funding for construction of the Autozone Park baseball stadium (memphisflyer.com, 6/14/06).
The Memphis 9th was represented in Congress for 22 years by prominent African American Congressman Harold Ford, Sr. When Ford, Sr. retired, Cohen ran for this open seat, but lost the Democratic primary to Ford’s son, Harold Ford, Jr. When Ford, Jr. unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006, Cohen won the primary and general election. He handily beat Jake Ford, Ford, Jr’s brother, 60%-22% as well as his GOP rival. Sixty-percent of the votes Cohen received were from African Americans (cnn.com/ELECTION/2006). Cohen became TN’s first Jewish congressman (GOPer David Kustoff in the present TN 8th is its second). Cohen is also known for being a white congressman in a black majority minority district. In this “Royal Blue” district where winning the primary is equivalent to winning the election, Cohen has faced primary opponents in just about all his seven races. Most of them have unsuccessfully argued that a black should represent a majority black district. In 2008, Cohen faced an ugly campaign full of anti-Semitism and homophobia (In the State Senate, Cohen had voted against TN’s referendum that marriage is only between a man and a woman). These bigoted attacks were condemned by Memphis newspapers, then presidential candidate Obama, and Harold Ford, Jr. In the end, black and white Memphian voters overwhelmingly said “NO” to this bigotry and Cohen won, 79%-19% (commercialappeal.com, McMillin & Wolff, 8/07/08). In all his other primary and election contests, Cohen has similarly cruised to victory.
In his first congressional term, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called Cohen the “conscience of the freshman class.” Cohen is the most progressive member of the TN delegation and one of the most progressive congressmen to ever represent that state. He has a lifetime rating of just 4.3% from the right-wing ACU (American Conservative Union). Cohen was an opponent of the Iraq War and has a very solid rating on civil rights. From 2008-2012, he voted with his progressive party nearly 98% of the time. During that same time period, he voted with labor 98% of the time and with the liberal ADA, Americans for Democratic Action 97% of the time (CQ 14). In the present 116th Cong., Cohen has not voted at all with Demagogue Donald (projectsfivethirtyeight.com). He has voted with progressive CA Cong. Ted Lieu 94% of the time. However, Cohen has disagreed with fellow co-religionist and neighboring TN 8th CD Congressman David Kustoff 70% of the time (projectspropublica.org).
We should not at all be surprised at Cohen’s ability to memorably make his points. In his State Senate days, Cohen was already known as “one of the toughest and most articulate debaters, with an unusually direct and persistent style (Martin, tnr.com, 9/25/19).” In the House, Cohen will discuss just about any subject and is a frequent speaker on the House floor. Cohen participates as a feisty liberal with a self-assured flair. Cohen’s chicken-eating demonstration along with the ceramic chicken placed before Atty. General Barr’s empty chair is just what the voters in his Memphis district expect from him. Cohen aptly describes himself as “being progressive, looking for justice and equity and fairness in the system.” Cohen, however, as a white in an overwhelmingly black district, also knows that he has to take practical care of Memphis. As he once stated, “For a Jewish guy, I bring home the bacon (not kosher under Jewish dietary laws).” Besides sitting on the Judiciary Committee, Cohen sits on Transportation and Infrastructure (116th Cong. At Your Fingertips). And he sure brings home lots of well fried bacon. A two-year surface transportation law enacted in 2012 contained Cohen’s provision to include helping develop planned infrastructure surrounding airports. That provision aided Memphis’ airport, one of the world’s top in cargo traffic. In addition, Cohen has steered home grants for the airport, hospitals, and the University of TN’s biocontainment lab. Cohen persuaded the Commerce Dept. to establish a Minority Development Business Center that opened in Memphis in 2012 (CQ 14). Cong. Cohen is both a progressive idealist and a pragmatic doer.
Cong. Cohen, as long as he survives his primary challenges, can keep getting re-elected in Memphis’ 9th. We must encourage his voters to remain standing behind him to take on Demagogue Donald, his hatchet man Barr, and all their other wacko right-wing GOP buddies.