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VOL. 132 | NO. 161 | Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Cohen Defines Gap Between Trump and Republicans

By Bill Dries

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U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen

There is a distinction to be made between the Republican majorities in the U.S. House and Senate and President Donald Trump, says U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, one of Trump’s most vocal and virulent critics.

“Sociopaths don’t have philosophies. It’s about themselves, aggrandizement and attention. This man wants attention,” Cohen said on the WKNO/Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines.” “He’s not a normal human being. It’s a scary time in America to have this man as president. And more and more Republicans are realizing it.”

That, according to Cohen, includes Republicans in the Capitol.

“The Republican Congress people and the Democratic Congress people see things much more in common than the Trump presidency,” he said. “The Trump administration is really aberrant to the entire rest of the legislative political world.”

When Congress returns from the August recess next month, Cohen sees the big issue as whether to raise the federal government’s debt ceiling.

“(Republican House Speaker) Paul Ryan is going to have to reach out to Democrats to get Democratic votes and some Republican votes to approve a clean debt ceiling,” he said.

Cohen also said Republicans and Democrats can work together on tax reform – an issue that Republican U.S. Rep. David Kustoff of Germantown has said is his priority after the recess.

Kustoff favors a simpler tax code that reduces corporate taxes. Cohen’s focus is on personal income taxes and where the income line is for who gets a tax cut.

“It all needs to be geared toward the middle class in a major way – people earning $200,000 a year, $250,000 at the most – and less,” he said. “There’s a big difference in incomes in New York and San Francisco, Los Angeles and Memphis. So I look at $100,000 as being a reasonable breaking point.”

At least part of the debate will be about the effect any proposed tax cut, no matter where it falls on the income scale, would or could have on the national economy.

“If you put the money in the middle class’s hands they will spend it and that helps the economy,” Cohen said. “If you put it across the board, which Trump basically has, it’s virtually going to go to the people who have the big bucks – the upper 1 percent. That money won’t stimulate the economy and won’t be helpful. But that’s his constituency.”

The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

Cohen, who represents a district that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried with 61 percent of the vote last November even as Tennessee went to Trump, said he understands why Trump was elected.

“He was elected because there were a lot of people that were angry at Washington, which is somewhat understandable. ... It resonated and people thought Hillary Clinton and the Democrats were spending too much time concerned about, let’s say the software of the American political system,” Cohen said, defining that as “making it more just, extending voting rights, expanding civil rights, not only racial but also sexual orientation and gender, and trying to make America a more tolerant and inclusive country.”

“And they were more concerned about, I think, everyday dollars and cents and what’s going in my pocketbook. Trump appealed to them,” Cohen said.

But Cohen argues Trump hasn’t done what those voters expect and he added that Trump’s election was far from a mandate.

“Maybe I should have started with the fact that Hillary Clinton got the most votes. So we’re not talking about any great dynamic shift,” he said. “She got the most votes. She lost the Electoral College, which I think has lost its purpose.”

Cohen defined the Electoral College’s purpose as being to see “that a narcissistic sociopath without qualifications would not become president.”

Criticism of the president in the House has fallen largely along party lines. Kustoff said earlier this month at the Memphis Rotary Club that he doesn’t think his constituents are interested in the question of whether the Russian government influenced the 2016 presidential election or Trump’s ties to Russia.

Tennessee’s two Republican U.S. Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, have been critical of Trump on some points, notably Corker. But they haven’t been as vocal as other Senate Republicans.

“Senators run every six years. House members run every two years,” Cohen said in explaining the difference between the two chambers.

He also invoked a political axiom attributed to several political leaders over the last 50 years, at least including former U.S. Sen. Albert Gore Sr. of Tennessee and President Lyndon Johnson.

“Senators have healthier self-images. A senator looks in the mirror and he sees a president,” Cohen said. “A House member might think he sees a senator. But he doesn’t see a president necessarily.”

Cohen also expressed confidence in the reorganization of the Shelby County Democratic Party earlier this month as a start toward 2018 elections for countywide positions after two disastrous countywide election cycles for Democrats in 2010 and 2014.

“The previous executive committee was dysfunctional,” Cohen said. “The Democrats have got the numbers in this county. We haven’t had the candidates to get the numbers out there to elect Democrats to countywide office. … They can do no worse.”

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