‘My constituents don’t look at me as a white person,’ says Rep. Steve Cohen

Updated
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee member Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. gestures as he speaks during a committee hearing.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee member Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. gestures as he speaks during a committee hearing.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Tennessee Democrat Rep. Steve Cohen had a long week: a paternity test showed that the aspiring model he thought was his daughter wasn’t; he was slammed for commenting on a reporter’s appearance; and he perplexed onlookers when he tweeted that a black man had heard of his bad week and commented  ‘You’re black!’

On Monday’s Morning Joe, Cohen—the first white person to represent Tennessee’s predominantly black 9th district in decades—attempted  to set the record straight.

“I drive an 86 Caddy, a lot of African-Americans drive old cars, Cadillac’s. It dies, twice in two weeks. Albert King didn’t have bad luck, had no luck at all,” he said referencing King’s ‘Born Under a Bad Sign.’ “I’m having no luck, he drives me, we ditch the car, I come out and tell him the story. I said I’ve had a tough week. Daughter, great, find out it’s not daughter, blitz. Say something nice to reporter, get attacked. It’s been hell. He goes, man, you’re black! I took it as a compliment.”

Cohen went on to say this isn’t an unusual remark in his district.

“I hear it in Memphis all the time. My constituents don’t look at me as a white person, they say you’re one of us.  They come up in the basketball line going to the game. All the business guys in line, the wealthy guys that own the corporation. The black guys that sell the cars grab me around the chest and pull me up and say, ‘You can’t have him, he’s ours.’ It’s a wonderful thing; district nine is a microcosm of how America can work. Blacks can and do embrace me as their congressperson. That’s what America needs to do in all cases. White people in some areas have not accepted Barack Obama yet. That’s part of the race dialogue we need to have.”

President Obama endorsed Cohen’s re-election in the 2010 midterms, calling him a “proven leader.”

Cohen made headlines last week for announcing that he had recently learned that Victoria Brink, the 24-year-old woman he spent three years thinking was his daughter, wasn’t in fact biologically related to him.

Cohen explained the paternity test on Morning Joe, saying he did it because the woman he thought was his daughter asked him to.

“I did the test for her, I had no thought that it would come out anything other than I was the father,” he said.

Cohen’s relationship with the woman became public after he tweeted with her during the State of the Union. He wrote to her effusively, finishing the tweet with ‘ilu,’ shorthand for ‘I love you.’

“I was thrilled she was watching the State of the Union. She’s been raised in Texas and her main issues are Louis Vuitton and expensive stylish clothes and fun, and going to see her boyfriend play softball. That’s what she gets into. I was happy she was seeing the State of the Union because I was trying to teach her about government,” he said.

But now, he hopes to return to his work—not his scandalous week.

“The press has made this a story,” he said.  ”This is a personal tragedy that should be allowed for me and Victoria to deal with independently. She’s hiding out in Houston. She’s hated it. So has her mother. I want to get back to legislating.”

Watch the full interview below.

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'My constituents don’t look at me as a white person,' says Rep. Steve Cohen

Updated