Tag Archives: Steve Cohen

Lee Harris decides against challenging Cohen

State Senate Democratic Leader Lee Harris confirmed Thursday that he won’t challenge U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen for the District 9 seat in the Nov. 8 election, a possibility he had previously raised.

From the Commercial Appeal:

That could open the door to other challengers (to Cohen), including Republican Shelby County Commissioner Steve Basar, who said he’ll decide in late February or early March whether to run for the office.

Harris, who has represented District 29 in Memphis since 2014, said he was approached late last year by several Memphians who wanted a new generation of leadership. The two Democrats have supported each other in past elections.

But after talking to voters, family and colleagues at the state-level, he said “now is not the time for me to run for Congress.” Instead, he said, he’ll focus on making progress on a Democratic agenda that includes education, criminal justice and public infrastructure reforms.

Asked if he would seek federal office in the future, Harris laughed and said he’s trying to get out of politics, but keeps “getting sucked back in.”

“I don’t necessarily believe it’s in my best interest, or anyone’s best interest, to spend a very long time in politics,” he said.

…Asked about Basar’s chances, Harris said he likes both Basar and Cohen, but would support the Democratic nominee.

“I think Cohen has been around for a long time, and I think he’s going to be ready for any challenge, probably,” Harris said.

Basar, who doesn’t face reelection until 2018, said Cohen has “done a great job of beating back anybody who tries to run against him.”

“From what I’ve seen, it would be a very difficult race to win at this time,” he said.

For now, Basar said he’s focused on local issues like education, and a murder rate that’s “going through the roof” this year.

Note: Previous post HERE.

Lee Harris bows out of challenge to Cohen?

State Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris has decided against challenging U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen in this year’s Democratic primary and has so advised the congressman, according to Jackson Baker, though Harris has not confirmed the report.

Cohen, who said he would defer to Harris concerning any statement on the matter, acknowledged having received a message from Harris.

Note: Previous post on Harris eyeing a challenge, is HERE.

Harris eyes challenge to Cohen

State Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris says he may challenge U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen in the 9th Congressional District Democratic primary this year, according to The Tennessean.

“I’ve got to take a serious look at how I can best serve this community,” Harris said, adding that Memphis is facing challenges in many areas, including high poverty and crime rates. “We’re at the top of all the wrong rankings.”

Harris noted that Cohen has been serving as a public official in various capacities for 36 years.

“The question becomes whether it is time to pull the curtain back,” said Harris, adding that politicians can be in office too long and become “out of sync with the priority of the masses.”

Harris specifically pointed to Cohen’s opposition to Tennessee Promise, a state program that offers free community or technical college to eligible high school seniors. In December 2014, Cohen expressed his opposition to the program and praised the HOPE lottery scholarship in an op-ed printed in The Tennessean.

…When reached Monday evening, Cohen said he plans to run for re-election and despite Harris’ criticisms, he stood behind his record and ability to serve the district. Cohen pointed to his position on progressive issues, adding that he has had a “strong voice” on women’s issues.

“I think it is more important than ever that I continue to represent Memphis,” Cohen said, noting the city has benefited in many ways thanks to the connections and relationships he has made while serving in Congress.

“I think I get better and better each year,” Cohen said.
Continue reading

Cohen-backed bill on lawsuit payouts clears House

The U.S. House has approved a bill that requires federal agencies to keep track of how much they lose in lawsuits — something that apparently is not being done now. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, is a sponsor.

Further from Michael Collins:

The legislation will lead to more transparency, which will enable ordinary citizens such as veterans, seniors, small-business owners and advocates for clean air and water to fight unfair or illegal government action without fear of court costs, said U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat who was one of the bill’s primary sponsors.

“Openness is always good,” Cohen said.

People who sue the federal government and prevail in court have been able to recover attorneys’ fees and other costs since 1980, when Congress passed the Equal Access to Justice Act. The point of the law was to make sure decisions to contest government actions were based on merit and not the cost of the litigation.

The government used to track the payments that federal agencies awarded under the law, but Congress removed the reporting requirement in 1995. At the time, critics thought the effort and expense of tracking and reporting the payments was more costly than it was worth.

But since then, it has been next to impossible to determine how much money the federal government has paid out under the law.

A report by the Government Accountability Office, for example, concluded three years ago there was no way to readily determine who made claims against the Agriculture and Interior departments, the total amount each department paid or awarded in attorneys’ fees, who received the payments or under which statutes the claims were brought against the departments.

The legislation passed last week would require every federal agency to begin tracking the payments again. The information would be compiled and sent to Congress annually and entered into a searchable database that would be accessible to the public.

…While the 1980 law was well-intentioned and meant to protect “the little guy,” it has been hijacked over time by “extremist environmental groups” who are profiting off the taxpayer dime, said U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, who introduced the tracking bill with Cohen and four other lawmakers.

“Special-interest groups shouldn’t be getting rich off American taxpayers by filing frivolous lawsuits,” Gosar said. “Common sense necessitates that, at minimum, we should track the sources and recipients of these taxpayer expenditures.”

The bill now goes to the Senate, which is unlikely to take it up until next year.

Cohen, Duncan working on highway funding deal

Congress has approved another short-term extension of federal highway funding — for two weeks — as a House-Senate conference committee tries to reach a compromise on longer-term legislation. Two Tennessee congressmen serving on the conference committee — Reps. Steve Cohen and John Duncan — say they are confident a deal will be reached.

“I think it’s pretty clear we will,” said Cohen, a Democrat who sits on the House-Senate conference committee negotiating the final language. “Transportation is generally a bipartisan issue, and everybody was in a very bipartisan, collegial, let’s-get-it-done mood.”

Duncan, a Republican who also serves on the House-Senate panel, thinks it’s just a matter of time until the new package is finalized.

“I think we’ll have a bill,” he said. “Everybody on both sides seems to want one. It’s all stuff that we’ve been working on for a long time, and this is a bill that we really need to do.”

It has been a decade since Congress passed a highway bill that extends longer than two years, even though the transportation industry and states that rely on federal highway funding say five or six years are needed to plan and develop major road and transit projects.

…Earlier this month, the House passed a bill that authorized $325 billion in spending on highways and transit projects over the next six years, but came up with enough money to pay for only half of them. The Senate passed its own highway bill back in July that guaranteed three years of funding for transportation projects.

Cohen casts sole TN ‘no’ vote on refugee restrictions bill

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis was the only Tennessean in the state’s nine-member House delegation to vote against a bill tightening restrictions on refugees from Syria and Iraq Thursday. The state’s only other Democratic representative, Jim Cooper of Nashville, was one of 47 Democrats joining Republicans in backing the bill.

Further from Michael Collins:

“We must ensure that not only refugees from Syria and Iraq, but also refugees from every country, are subject to a rigorous screening process that ensures no terrorist or criminals are allowed access to the United States,” the Memphis Democrat said. “We can do this while also maintaining our core humanitarian values.”

But the House measure, which passed on a 289-137, veto-proof margin, is “nothing more than a political attack on President Obama and does nothing to make us safer from terrorist or criminal threats,” Cohen said.

…”America has always welcomed refugees and should continue to do so,” Cooper said. “Today’s vote won’t change that tradition. This bill merely reinforces existing law that refugees not pose a threat to the U.S.”

The legislation, which now heads to the Senate, in effect would suspend admissions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. The Senate so far hasn’t scheduled any debate on the proposal.

It would require the FBI to conduct background checks on people coming to the U.S. from those countries. It also would oblige the heads of the FBI and Homeland Security Department and the director of national intelligence to certify to Congress that each refugee “is not a threat to the security of the United States.”

Cohen pushes to remove J. Edgar Hoover’s name from FBI HQ

Congressman Steve Cohen of Memphis is pushing to have J. Edgar Hoover’s name removed from the FBI headquarters building in Washington, reports Michael Collins.

Hoover’s well-documented attempts to silence civil-rights figures like (Martin Luther) King and to ferret out and fire gays and lesbians working for the federal government left a bad stain on the nation’s history, Cohen said.

“J. Edgar Hoover did some awful, terrible things in his life and as FBI director,” he said. “He was the opposite of justice.”

Cohen is leading a campaign in Congress to cleanse the FBI of what he and many others consider Hoover’s ill deeds. The Memphis Democrat recently filed a bill to remove Hoover’s name from the FBI headquarters, arguing that his questionable tactics during the 37 years he ran the law-enforcement agency don’t reflect the values of the FBI and its agents of today.

Hoover’s “is not a name that is worthy of being honored,” Cohen said.

Cohen is far from the first member of Congress to push for the removal of Hoover’s name from the FBI building. Similar campaigns have been launched by other lawmakers over the years as more details of Hoover’s tactics have come to light. All of those efforts have come up short, and Cohen knows his bill will probably go nowhere in a Congress in which both the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans.

It’s still an issue worth pursuing, he said.

At a recent hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Cohen pressed Comey, the FBI’s current director, on whether Hoover’s legacy represents what the FBI stands for today.

“The FBI today is vastly different than it was under its first director,” Comey replied.

Comey refused to get drawn into the debate over whether Hoover’s name belongs on the side of the agency’s headquarters building. Hoover did a lot of good things for law enforcement, Comey said, but he did a lot of other things that, through the lens of history, are rejected as improper. Regardless, from a historical perspective, it’s important “to take the total measure of the person,” Comey said.

Norris, Cohen talk on rape kits at Memphis conference

Memphis has gone from a cautionary tale for its handling of untested sexual assault kits to a model for other cities, state Sen. Mark Norris said at a summit on the issue Monday.

Further from the Commercial Appeal:
Following his address at the second annual Sexual Assault Kit Summit for Cities at the Cook Convention Center, Norris said the more than 12,000 untested sexual assault kits Memphis had at its peak were a “prologue, not a backlog.”

Memphis has become an important example for other cities wrestling with the same problem, said Norris, the Senate majority leader and sponsor of three laws since 2014 to erase backlogs in Memphis and across the state.

“It’s not just a Memphis problem or a Tennessee problem,” Norris said. “It’s a national one. And they’re looking to us for best practices.”

Reporters were turned away from the closed meeting, which brought together representatives from 13 other cities to talk about best practices for reducing backlogs. Dewanna Smith, spokeswoman for Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, said the meeting was closed to media to allow the free exchange of information between participants.

Congressman Steve Cohen, who also spoke at the summit, criticized the event organizers for closing the meeting — a move he said “made no sense whatsoever.”

Even though the city has taken steps to reduce its backlog, it still faces two class-action lawsuits filed in 2013 and 2014 over the city’s initial handling of the kits. Cohen said the city failed to protect women from serial rapists by not processing the kits.

“We were a model in ineffectiveness at first because we had one of the biggest backlogs going,” he said.

Cohen helped the city get $4.1 million in federal money for testing, while Norris helped push through laws that required a statewide inventory of sexual assault kits, that repealed a statute of limitations on cases reported in the first three years, and one that goes into effect this January that requires kits to be processed in 60 days.

At the end of August, Memphis had completed analysis on 5,250 kits, 42 percent of its original backlog. The other kits were either at the laboratory awaiting analysis (18 percent) or needed additional analysis (39 percent).

Cohen joins Kerry for raising U.S. flag in Cuba

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen will travel to Cuba on Friday with Secretary of State John Kerry for the raising of the flag over the U.S. Embassy in Havana, reports Michael Collins.

The Memphis Democrat, who has been supportive of the decision by President Barack Obama to normalize relations with Cuba, will witness a ceremony in which the stars and stripes will be hoisted over the embassy for the first time in five decades.

The flag-raising ceremony is part of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which are converting their diplomatic missions from interests sections to full-fledged embassies.

Cuba raised the flag over its embassy in Washington in July.

TN congressmen unite on arming military recruiters

U.S. Reps. Scott DesJarlais and Steve Cohen on Monday co-introduced the “Enhancing Safety at Military Installations Act” with all other Tennessee representatives as co-sponsors, reports The Tennessean.

The South Pittsburg Republican and Memphis Democrat rarely see eye to eye legislatively, but they decided to work together on a change they believe is vital to keep military personnel safe.

“This commonsense, bipartisan legislation recognizes that we face a new era where terrorism and extremism exists both abroad and domestically. Therefore our men and women in uniform must have the ability to protect themselves regardless of where they are serving,” DesJarlais said in a media release.

…”We know our military facilities and recruitment centers are targets, and the five victims of last week’s attack in Chattanooga are sad evidence that more must be done to keep them safe,” Cohen said in the release.

Several Republican presidential candidates are among the many politicians, officials and citizens calling for changing the law. The Pentagon is in the process of reviewing ways to improve safety at its facilities across the country, but The Wall Street Journal and others have cited military sources who argue budget constraints could make measures such as armed guards at every recruiting facility a longshot.

Note: Press release below.
Continue reading