CNN's Costello: 'Some People' Think GOP Seeks 'Total Control' of Congress

On Tuesday's CNN Newsroom, Carol Costello played up the possible fining of the congressional Democrats who organized the pro-gun control sit-in on the House floor in June 2016. Costello asked one of the sit-in participants, Rep. Steve Cohen, if he was "afraid" of the proposed punishment, and boosted a liberal talking point on the issue: "Some people might say that Republicans are trying to exert total control over the Congress, so they can get things done, and marginalize Democrats. Do you think this is all part of that critique?" [video below]

The anchor first noted that "Democratic lawmakers, including yourself, staged a sit-in on the House floor to force Republicans to act on gun control. Democrats Periscoped it, which enabled C-SPAN to broadcast the video; and that was in violation of House rules. Republicans want to impose fines on lawmakers for breaking the rules; and that means you." She continued with her "are you afraid" question. The Tennessee Democrat replied, in part, by ripping the congressional Republicans for not televising their protest: "It was almost like being in an eastern European republic, where the protests were cut off by the repressive administration."

Moments later, Costello dropped her "trying to exert total control" line about the GOP. Rep. Cohen responded by claiming, "We're looking at overall here, Carol, is oligarchy." He soon added that "the scary thing is about his position with Russia: the last two people I remember in this Western Hemisphere that were so close to Russia were Armand Hammer, who loved oil and money; and Fidel Castro, who loved to talk for long periods of time, hated disloyalty and dissent, and eliminated it; and was very much an egocentric individual."

The CNN journalist interrupted her guest and asked, "So you're comparing Donald Trump to Fidel Castro?" The Democratic congressman contended that "there are lot of personality traits that are similar." Costello then pressed him to defend his comparison of the President-Elect to the former dictator of Cuba: "Well, Congressman, I feel I have to push back on you, because those who support Trump and support a better relationship with Russia...would say that Donald Trump is just trying to evoke change, and get Washington to work —  especially Congress."

Rep. Cohen kept up his anti-Trump attack in his final answer: "I don't think he even understands the tripartite system of government we have; and that Congress, under Article I, is an independent branch of government. I don't think he understands that it's Congress; and, really, the Judiciary Committee that can bring impeachment charges." He concluded by getting the name of Trump's Florida resort wrong (though he did correct himself):

REP. STEVE COHEN, (D), TENNESSEE: ...They're going to try to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. People are going to die because they can't get health care. Community health centers will be limited in the funds they get. The people at the bottom will be hurt. The people at Lago-a-Mar (sic) — which is his focus group — it'll be a great life for them. Still is a great life now, but your focus group as president should not be Lago-a-Mar (sic). Or Mar-a-Lago — whatever it is — I haven't been there.

The transcript of the relevant portion of Carol Costello's interview of Rep. Steve Cohen on the January 3, 2017 edition of CNN Newsroom:

CAROL COSTELLO: There's another item at the top of the agenda in this 115th Congress — and that would be punishment. Last summer, Democratic lawmakers, including yourself, staged a sit-in on the House floor to force Republicans to act on gun control. Democrats Periscoped it, which enabled C-SPAN to broadcast the video; and that was in violation of House rules. Republicans want to impose fines on lawmakers for breaking the rules; and that means you. Are you afraid?

[CNN Graphic: "GOP Pushes Ban On Livestreaming From Floor"]

REP. STEVE COHEN, (D), TENNESSEE: I'm not afraid at all. I'll stand or sit with John Lewis anywhere. John Lewis led us in that demonstration and protest. The Republican leadership turned the cameras off — the C-SPAN cameras — and some of our younger, more techie members got the Periscope and whatever other means there were to televise this to the people of the world. It was almost like being in an eastern European republic, where the protests were cut off by the repressive administration.

John Lewis knew that there were certain areas where there was — you needed to stand up and make a difference. He said there's trouble, and there's good trouble; and this was good trouble. There was good trouble in the '60s, with voting rights and civil rights; and this was good trouble. They wouldn't take up a gun control bill that would — a simple gun control — no — if you can't get on an airplane, you shouldn't be able to buy a gun — no fly, no buy. The votes were there to pass it, but the House Republican rules wouldn't let it come to a vote. We were trying to see it come to a vote. We wanted to see some sanity in seeing people, who are terrorist threats, not get guns and terrorize our people.

[CNN Graphic: "House Republican Gut Independent Ethics Watchdog"]

COSTELLO: Still, to Periscope from the House floor was a violation of the rules. And evidently, the fines imposed would be — what, 500 hundred bucks for the first offense; $2,500 for a second offense — and those fines would be deducted directly from your paycheck.

COHEN: And they would be — it's levied by a House staff member; which, I think, is an unconstitutional rule — appropriate abrogation. The House members should vote on the fines themselves, not a staffer who they're delegating that position to.

So, I think it's unconstitutional. I think it's a question of freedom of speech and freedom of protest in the First Amendment; and it's another bad optic that the Republicans have in this rules package. It's hard to fathom why they'd come with gutting the ethics commission; and then, having an iron fist come down on what was a very popular — and, I think, righteous protest — to show that the House was not operating in regular order and not allowing bills to come to the floor that had the votes of the majority of the membership.

COSTELLO: But some people might say that Republicans are trying to exert total control over the Congress, so they can get things done, and marginalize Democrats. Do you think this is all part of that critique?

COHEN: Oh, no question they would marginalize Democrats, and this shows they are going to have a heavy hand; and that's really unfortunate. You know what? We're looking at overall here, Carol, is oligarchy. When Citizens United let's the wealthiest people put more and more money into the government; when one of the priorities of this Republican team is to cut taxes — particularly, for the wealthiest — eliminate the inheritance tax, which would benefit the 5,000 richest families in the country each year not to have to pay an inheritance tax — it gives the rich more and more money, and more and more power.

Right now, the Republican Cabinet that you're looking at is a cut-out-the-middleman Cabinet. They're putting the billionaires as the Cabinet members, and you buy your way in with campaign contributions to the — to the Trump campaign; and then — rather than have experienced people operate the departments, they're putting inexperienced billionaires in. So, this truly is an oligarchy in the formation.

And, you know, the scary thing is about his position with Russia: the last two people I remember in this Western Hemisphere that were so close to Russia were Armand Hammer, who loved oil and money; and Fidel Castro, who loved to talk for long periods of time, hated disloyalty and dissent, and eliminated it; and was very much an egocentric individual. I'm afraid there's a problem—

COSTELLO: So you're comparing Donald Trump — you comparing Donald Trump to Fidel Castro?

COHEN: Personality traits? Indeed. Castro wanted—

COSTELLO: Really?

COHEN: You watch the Netflix program on 'Cuba Libre.' Castro needed to be the center of attention at all times. He executed certain of his comrades for trumped up charges, because he wanted total control and wanted to put that fear into people. He was very close to his family, and he — he had a multitudinous family — didn't trust others. And it was all about him and public speaking, and he liked to speak on ad infinitum. He was not — so with the exception of the fact that he was dedicated to a philosophy and to his country making allegiance with Russia, there are lot of personality traits that are similar.

COSTELLO: Well, Congressman, I feel I have to push back on you, because those who support Trump and support a better relationship with Russia would certainly disagree with you. They would say that Donald Trump is just trying to evoke change, and get Washington to work —  especially Congress, which hasn't worked very well in the last, oh, more than several years — more than a decade?

COHEN: I don't think he has anything to do with Congress. I don't think he even understands the tripartite system of government we have; and that Congress, under Article I, is an independent branch of government. I don't think he understands that it's Congress; and, really, the Judiciary Committee that can bring impeachment charges. He needs to work with Congress, and not threaten people like Paul Ryan; and threaten other people, as he did during his campaign. You don't bully people to have a system work. You need to work together. And I don't think this is about Congress, and I think he thinks he can do a lot by executive action and by independent action that he can't do, unless the Congress passes appropriations bills that are similar to what he proposes.

They're trying to cut out Medicaid. They're trying to cut out — limit Medicaid and change it to a voucher system — make people work. If you're sick and you can't work, you should still get Medicaid. They're going to try to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. People are going to die because they can't get health care. Community health centers will be limited in the funds they get. The people at the bottom will be hurt. The people at Lago-a-Mar (sic) — which is his focus group — it'll be a great life for them. Still is a great life now, but your focus group as president should not be Lago-a-Mar (sic).

COSTELLO: All right. I have to leave it there—

COHEN: Or Mar-a-Lago — whatever it is — I haven't been there.

COSTELLO: Mar-a-Lago. Congressman Cohen, thank you so much for being with me this morning.

NB Daily Congress Guns Labeling Conservatives & Republicans Liberals & Democrats CNN CNN Newsroom Video Steve Cohen Carol Costello Donald Trump Fidel Castro
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