Memphis Rep. Cohen: DNC Staffers Should Be Fired for Seeking to Use Religion Against Sanders

Rep. Steve Cohen: 'I find that politics despicable, and I say it as an American but also as a politician who has had race and religion used against me.'

Rep. Steve Cohen (Left), Rep. Joe Courtney and Rep. Rosa DeLauro participate in sit-down protest seeking a a vote on gun control measures, Wednesday, June 22, 2016.
Chellie Pingree, AP

A Jewish congressman from Tennessee said the Democratic National Committee staffers whose leaked emails questioned Bernie Sanders’ religiosity should be fired.

“For a party to question his religion, or lack thereof, as a way to defeat that person, those people should resign and if they don’t resign they should be fired,” Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, told his state’s delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Tuesday, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

“Some people will think, ‘Oh well, politically we shouldn’t do it and those people have done X, Y and Z for the party,’” he added. “But they crossed the Rubicon. They crossed the line.”

At issue is a May 5 email leaked Friday by WikiLeaks in which Brad Marshall, the DNC’s chief financial officer, suggested that the party should “get someone to ask” about “his” religious beliefs, meaning Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was waging a surprisingly strong challenge in the Democratic presidential primaries against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“It might [make] no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief,” the message says, presumably referring to Kentucky and West Virginia. “Does he believe in a God? He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”

The email was sent to several top DNC officials — CEO Amy Dacey, communications director Luis Miranda and deputy communications director Mark Paustenbach.

DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who like Cohen and Sanders is a Jewish member of Congress, resigned Monday from the party post as a result of the leaks.

Interviewed by The Tennessean, Cohen said the email about Sanders’ alleged atheism “really turned my stomach and I don’t want that type of mentality.”

“I find that politics despicable, and I say it as an American but also as a politician who has had race and religion used against me,” he added.

Cohen, who is white, has represented Tennessee’s predominantly African-American 9th District since 2007. He served in the Tennessee Senate for 24 years, where he was the first Jewish member since 1958, according to the New Republic.

Despite his concerns about the DNC’s treatment of Sanders, Cohen, a superdelegate, called on Sanders supporters to back Clinton as the party’s nominee.