Marijuana and Student Debt: Congressman Steve Cohen comes to AU and gives a Glimpse into the Future of Congress Beyond the Trump Presidency


Professor Jane Hall (right) interviews Congressman Steven Cohen (left) last night.

Ian Gardner, Multimedia Member

Congressmen Steven Cohen was interviewed by School of Communications Professor Jane Hall last night in a conversation about the future of Congress at the American University. Throughout the night the hot button political issues of today were discussed such as the Green New Deal, student debt, and the 2020 election as Cohen engaged directly with students in a wide-ranging conversation.   

Cohen is a Democrat representing Tennessee’s 9th congressional district since 2007. His district has an African American majority and is the second blackest district in the nation.

“I understand you just came from chairing a committee today, so I know its a busy time,” Professor Hall said as she welcomed the congressman onto the stage, beginning her one-on-one interview with Cohen. Hall said that students would be asking questions about issues that were important to them.

“Does that mean marijuana and student debt?” joked the congressmen.

As the fog of an ongoing investigation hovered over DC, it was only natural for the Mueller investigation to be brought up.

“Do you think we are at a historic moment?” asked Professor Hall.

“No question,” said the congressman. Cohen said he did not attend the inauguration because he viewed Trump as an illegitimate president. When asked to elaborate, he said fellow congressman John Lewis inspired him to take this position.

Cohen took a sharply critical tone of President Trump throughout the night.

“He’s the least formed, least knowledgeable, least intelligent, least gracious, least civil, least equipt, most egoistic, most narcissistic person to ever hold a position in the federal government,” said Cohen about the president. Professor Hall then shifted the conversation towards the next two years of Trump’s presidency. She asked how Democrats will govern the time before the 2020 election.

“To survive another two is going to be…we’ll see what happens” Cohen responded.

The next topic was the articles of impeachment Cohen filed in August of 2017 and introduced in September 2017. The congressmen was quick to point out that his bill had 17 cosponsors, the most of any of the Trump impeachment articles.

When asked by Professor Hall about his reasoning for being so outspoken on these issues, the congressmen responded with a phrase he picked up during his time at Vanderbilt University. “Fly your freak flag,” he said prompting laughs throughout the crowded theater.

Shortly after the discussion surrounding the executive branch in her interview, Professor Hall moved into the audience and fielded student questions.

Jeffery a senior in the School of Communications asked one of the first questions, regarding education. “A lot of the new Dems on the left have been moving the conversation towards tuition-free education” they began.

“I just don’t think it should cost you an arm and a leg to go [to school]” said the congressmen, who was met with wide applause in the room.

However, the congressmen did not commit to a tuition-free college. Instead, he offered the idea of new legislation which would enable students to claim bankruptcy on private students loans.

“Eventually we will probably get there[tuition free education]” the congressmen said at the end of their exchange.

Another question came from sophomore political science major Alex Russo.

“How are you overcoming polarization and how do you do the work of governing?” he asked.

Cohen pointed to a number of areas in which the Congress is largely bipartisan, such as the majority of transportation and veterans issues.

“It is tough to pass anything in the Senate. Mitch McConnell is not going to want to pass anything at all except judges,” said the congressmen.

However, Cohen left this topic of discussion with a positive outlook on the future, saying that as a congress Democrats are setting the 2020 agenda. They are trying to show the “promised land” and what can be accomplished if they retain their majority and grow it, according to Cohen.

In contrast to this “promised land,” Cohen offered a different view on the environment and future policy goals such as the Green New Deal when asked about it directly.

In reference to the Green New Deal Jordan Bell, treasurer of AU College Republicans, asked: “Do you believe this issue justifies that cost to the American taxpayer?”

“Some of the folks who think they’re reinventing the wheel [well] the wheel has been around and broken,” Cohen said regarding the current push for the Green New Deal.

Cohen noted that the Green New Deal legislation, which he cosponsored, is more “aspirational.”

On the idea of limiting greenhouse gas emissions through limitations on cattle emissions, the congressmen called the idea “hooey.”

“We’re not going to have any problems having bacon and hamburgers,” the congressmen said, to small chuckles from the audience.

However, the discussion soon moved to areas where Cohen sees the possibility of action much sooner.

“We voted for a carbon bill which largely cost us the Congress for 8 years and a lot of people who took that vote lost,” he said. He also called for providing more jobs in the renewable energy sector, specifically solar and wind.

The congressman’s wit made an appearance when he mentioned the scale to which our environmental problems have grown. “When the environments really going to hell I’ll be rotting, so Y’all are going to be living with it. This is as serious as marijuana and student debt to Y’all.”

It didn’t take long for the 2020 election and Democratic party to come up.

Alexis Soto asked “Do you feel that this time the party will nominate a progressive or a moderate candidate”

“You got the folks like the Bernies and the Elizabeth Warrens and Kamala Harris who think that the more liberal you get, [the more you get] your base out, and you win by getting your base out. And I tend to agree with that,” Cohen said in response.

However, he gave no endorsements. Instead, he mentioned two candidates who he finds interesting: Joe Biden and Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, both of which have yet to announce their candidacies for the presidency.

The night ended on a more lighthearted note when Professor Hall asked him how he stays up to date with constituent communication, specifically social media.

Cohen, who manages 55,000  Twitter followers and his job as Congressman said: “even though I don’t chew gum, I can do it at the same time.”

The theater lit up with applause.