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Thomas Allen Coburn (March 14, 1948 – March 28, 2020) was an American politician and physician. A Republican, he was a United States Representative and later a United States Senator from Oklahoma.

Coburn was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1994 as part of the Republican Revolution. He upheld his campaign pledge to serve no more than three consecutive terms and did not run for re-election in 2000. In 2004, he returned to political life with a successful run for the United States Senate. Coburn was re-elected to a second term in 2010 and kept his pledge not to seek a third term in 2016.[1] In January 2014, Coburn announced he would resign before the expiration of his final term.[2] He submitted a letter of resignation to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, effective at the end of the 113th Congress.[3]

Coburn was a fiscal and social conservative, known for his opposition to deficit spending and pork barrel projects,[4][5][6] and for his opposition to abortion. Described as "the godfather of the modern conservative, austerity movement",<

Thomas Allen Coburn (March 14, 1948 – March 28, 2020) was an American politician and physician. A Republican, he was a United States Representative and later a United States Senator from Oklahoma.

Coburn was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1994 as part of the Republican Revolution. He upheld his campaign pledge to serve no more than three consecutive terms and did not run for re-election in 2000. In 2004, he returned to political life with a successful run for the United States Senate. Coburn was re-elected to a second term in 2010 and kept his pledge not to seek a third term in 2016.[1] In January 2014, Coburn announced he would resign before the expiration of his final term.[2] He submitted a letter of resignation to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, effective at the end of the 113th Congress.[3]

Coburn was a fiscal and social conservative, known for his opposition to deficit spending and pork barrel projects,[4][5][6] and for his opposition to abortion. Described as "the godfather of the modern conservative, austerity movement",[7] he supported term limits, gun rights and the death penalty[8] and opposed same-sex marriage and embryonic stem cell research.[9][10] Democrats have referred to him as "Dr. No" for his use of technicalities to block federal spending bills.[11][12]

After leaving Congress, Coburn worked with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research on its efforts to reform the Food and Drug Administration,[13] becom

Coburn was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1994 as part of the Republican Revolution. He upheld his campaign pledge to serve no more than three consecutive terms and did not run for re-election in 2000. In 2004, he returned to political life with a successful run for the United States Senate. Coburn was re-elected to a second term in 2010 and kept his pledge not to seek a third term in 2016.[1] In January 2014, Coburn announced he would resign before the expiration of his final term.[2] He submitted a letter of resignation to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, effective at the end of the 113th Congress.[3]

Coburn was a fiscal and social conservative, known for his opposition to deficit spending and pork barrel projects,[4][5][6] and for his opposition to abortion. Described as "the godfather of the modern conservative, austerity movement",[7] he supported term limits, gun rights and the death penalty[8] and opposed same-sex marriage and embryonic stem cell research.[9][10] Democrats have referred to him as "Dr. No" for his use of technicalities to block federal spending bills.[11][12]

After leaving Congress, Coburn worked with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research on its efforts to reform the Food and Drug Administration,[13] becoming a senior fellow of the institute in December 2016.[14] Coburn also served as a senior advisor to Citizens for Self-Governance, where he was active in calling for a convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution.[15][16][17]

Coburn was born in Casper, Wyoming, the son of Anita Joy (née Allen) and Orin Wesley Coburn.[18] Coburn's father was an optician and founder of Coburn Optical Industries, and a named donor to O. W. Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University.[19]

Coburn graduated with a B.S. in accounting from Oklahoma State University,[20] where he was also a member of Sigma Nu fraternity. In 1968, he married Carolyn Denton,[20] the 1967 Miss Oklahoma;[21] their three daughters are Callie,[22] Katie and Sarah, a leading operatic soprano.[23] One of the top ten seniors in the School of Business, Coburn served as president of the College of Business Student Council.[24]

From 1970 to 1978, Coburn served as a manufacturing manager at the Ophthalmic Division of Coburn Optical Industries in Colonial Heights, Virginia. While Coburn was manager, the Virginia division of Coburn Optical grew from 13 employees to over 350 and captured 35 percent of the U.S. market.[24]

After recovering from an occurrence of malignant melanoma, Coburn pursued a medical degree and graduated from the University of Oklahoma Medical School with honors in 1983.[20] He then opened Maternal & Family Practice in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and served as a deacon in a Southern Baptist Church. During his career in obstetrics, he treated over 15,000 patients, delivered 4,000 babies and was subject to one malpractice lawsuit, which was dismissed without finding Coburn at fault.[25][26] Together Coburn and his wife were members of First Baptist Church of Muskogee.[27]

Sterilization controversy

A sterilization Coburn performed on a 20-year-old woman, Angela Plummer, in 1990, became what was called "the most incendiary issue" of his Senate campaign.[28] Coburn performed the sterilization on the woman during an emergency surgery to treat a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, removing her healthy intact fallopian tube as well as the one damaged by the surgery. The woman sued Coburn, alleging that he did not have consent to sterilize her, while Coburn claimed he had her oral consent. The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed with no finding of liability on Coburn's part.[29]

The state attorney general claimed that Coburn committed Medicaid fraud by not reporting the sterilization when he filed a claim for the emergency surgery. Medicaid did not reimburse doctors for sterilization procedures for patients under 21 and according to the attorney general, Coburn would not have been reimbursed at all had he disclosed this information. Coburn says since he did not file a claim for the sterilization, no fraud was committed. No charges were filed against Coburn for this claim.[10][26][30]B.S. in accounting from Oklahoma State University,[20] where he was also a member of Sigma Nu fraternity. In 1968, he married Carolyn Denton,[20] the 1967 Miss Oklahoma;[21] their three daughters are Callie,[22] Katie and Sarah, a leading operatic soprano.[23] One of the top ten seniors in the School of Business, Coburn served as president of the College of Business Student Council.[24]

From 1970 to 1978, Coburn served as a manufacturing manager at the Ophthalmic Division of Coburn Optical Industries in Colonial Heights, Virginia. While Coburn was manager, the Virginia division of Coburn Optical grew from 13 employees to over 350 and captured 35 percent of the U.S. market.[24]

After recovering from an occurrence of malignant melanoma, Coburn pursued a medical degree and graduated from the University of Oklahoma Medical School with honors in 1983.[20] He then opened Maternal & Family Practice in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and served as a deacon in a Southern Baptist Church. During his career in obstetrics, he treated over 15,000 patients, delivered 4,000 babies and was subject to one malpractice lawsuit, which was dismissed without finding Coburn at fault.[25][26] Together Coburn and his wife were members of First Baptist Church of Muskogee.[27]

A sterilization Coburn performed on a 20-year-old woman, Angela Plummer, in 1990, became what was called "the most incendiary issue" of his Senate campaign.[28] Coburn performed the sterilization on the woman during an emergency surgery to treat a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, removing her healthy intact fallopian tube as well as the one damaged by the surgery. The woman sued Coburn, alleging that he did not have consent to sterilize her, while Coburn claimed he had her oral consent. The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed with no finding of liability on Coburn's part.[29]

The state attorney general claimed that Coburn committed Medicaid fraud by not reporting the sterilization when he filed a claim for the emergency surgery. Medicaid did not reimburse doctors for sterilization procedures for patients under 21 and according to the

The state attorney general claimed that Coburn committed Medicaid fraud by not reporting the sterilization when he filed a claim for the emergency surgery. Medicaid did not reimburse doctors for sterilization procedures for patients under 21 and according to the attorney general, Coburn would not have been reimbursed at all had he disclosed this information. Coburn says since he did not file a claim for the sterilization, no fraud was committed. No charges were filed against Coburn for this claim.[10][26][30][31]

In 1994, Coburn ran for the House of Representatives in Oklahoma's 2nd congressional district, which was based in Muskogee and included 22 counties in northeastern Oklahoma. Coburn initially expected to face eight-term incumbent Mike Synar. However, Synar was defeated in a runoff for the Democratic nomination by a 71-year-old retired principal, Virgil Cooper. According to Coburn's 2003 book, Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders, Coburn and Cooper got along well, since both were opposed to the more liberal Synar. The general election was cordial since both men knew that Synar would not return to Washington regardless of the outcome. Coburn won by a 52%–48% margin, becoming the first Republican to represent the district since 1921.[32]

Coburn was one of the most conservative members of the House. He supported "reducing the size of the federal budget," wanted to make abortion illegal and supported the proposed television V-chip legislation.[33]

Despite representing a heavily Democratic district and President Coburn was one of the most conservative members of the House. He supported "reducing the size of the federal budget," wanted to make abortion illegal and supported the proposed television V-chip legislation.[33]

Despite representing a heavily Democratic district and President Bill Clinton's electoral dominance therein, Coburn was reelected in 1996 and 1998.[34][35]

In the House, Coburn earned a reputation as a political maverick due to his frequent battles with House Speaker Newt Gingrich.[36] Most of these stand-offs stemmed from his belief that the Republican caucus was moving toward the political center and away from the more conservative Contract With America policy proposals that had brought the Republicans into power in Congress in 1994 for the first time in 40 years.[37]

Coburn endorsed conservative activist and former diplomat Alan Keyes in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries.[38] Coburn retired from Congress in 2001, fulfilling his pledge to serve no more than three terms in the House. His congressional district returned to the Democratic fold, as attorney Brad Carson defeated Andy Ewing, a Republican endorsed by Coburn. After leaving the House and returning to private medical practice, Coburn wrote Breach of Trust, with ghostwriter John Hart, about his experiences in Congress. The book detailed Coburn's perspective on the internal Republican Party debates over the Contract With America and displayed his disdain for career politicians. Some of the figures he criticized (such as Gingrich) were already out of office at the time of the book's publishing, but others (such as former House Speaker Dennis Hastert) remained influential in Congress, which resulted in speculation that some congressional Republicans wanted no part of Coburn's return to politics.[39]

During his tenure in the House, Coburn wrote and passed far-reaching pieces of legislation. These include laws to expand seniors' health care options, to protect access to home health care in rural areas and to allow Americans to access cheaper medications from Canada and other nations. Coburn also wrote a law intended to prevent the spread of AIDS to infants. The Wall Street Journal said about the law, "In 10 long years of AIDS politics and funding, this is actually the first legislation to pass in this country that will rescue babies." He also wrote a law to renew and reform federal AIDS care programs.[12] In 2002, President George W. Bush chose Coburn to serve as co-chair of the Canada and other nations. Coburn also wrote a law intended to prevent the spread of AIDS to infants. The Wall Street Journal said about the law, "In 10 long years of AIDS politics and funding, this is actually the first legislation to pass in this country that will rescue babies." He also wrote a law to renew and reform federal AIDS care programs.[12] In 2002, President George W. Bush chose Coburn to serve as co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA).[40]

During his three terms in the House, Coburn also played an influential role in reforming welfare and other federal entitlement programs.[12]

As a congressman in 1997, Coburn protested NBC's plan to air the R-rated Academy Award-winning Holocaust drama Schindler's List during prime time.[41] Coburn stated that, in airing the movie without editing it for television, TV had been taken "to an all-time low, with full-frontal nudity, violence and profanity."[42][43] He also said the TV broadcast should outrage parents and decent-minded individuals everywhere. Coburn described the airing of Schindler's List on television as "irresponsible sexual behavior. I cringe when I realize that there were children all across this nation watching this program."[44]

This statement met with strong criticism, as the film deals mainly with the Holocaust.[45] After heavy criticism, Coburn apologized "to all those I have offended" and clarified that he agreed with the movie being aired on television, but stated that it should h

This statement met with strong criticism, as the film deals mainly with the Holocaust.[45] After heavy criticism, Coburn apologized "to all those I have offended" and clarified that he agreed with the movie being aired on television, but stated that it should have been on later in the evening. In apologizing, Coburn said that at that time of the evening there are still large numbers of children watching without parental supervision and stated that he stood by his message of protecting children from violence, but had expressed it poorly. He also said, "My intentions were good, but I've obviously made an error in judgment in how I've gone about saying what I wanted to say."[46][47][48]

He later wrote in Breach of Trust that he considered this one of the biggest mistakes in his life and that, while he still felt the material was unsuitable for a 7 p.m. television broadcast, he handled the situation poorly.[49]

After three years out of politics, Coburn announced his candidacy for the Senate seat being vacated by four-term incumbent  Republican Don Nickles. Former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys (the favorite of the state and national Republican establishment) and Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony joined the field before Coburn. However, Coburn won the primary by an unexpectedly large margin, taking 61% of the vote to Humphreys's 25%. In the general election, he faced Brad Carson, the Democrat who had succeeded him in the 2nd District and was giving up his seat after only two terms.[50]

In the election, Coburn won by a margin of 53% to Carson's 42%. While Carson routed Coburn in the generally heavily Democratic 2nd District, Coburn swamped Carson in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area and the closer-in Oklahoma City metropolitan area and the closer-in Tulsa suburbs. Coburn won the state's two largest counties, Tulsa and Oklahoma, by a combined 86,000 votes, more than half of his overall margin of 166,000 votes cast.[51]

Coburn's Senate voting record was as conservative as his House record.[11]

Coburn was re-elected in 2010. He received 90% of the vote in the Republican primary and 70% in the general election. While he already planned on not seeking a third term in tbe Senate due to his self-imposed two-term term limit, on January 16, 2014, Coburn announced he would resign his office before his term ended at the end of the year due to his declining health.[52]

On April 29, 2014, Coburn introduced the Insurance Capital Standards Clarification Act of 2014 (S. 2270; 113th Congress) into the Senate and it passed on June 3, 2014.[53]

Coburn used the Senate hold privilege to prevent several bills from coming to the Senate floor.[54] Coburn earned a reputation for his use of this procedural mechanism.[54] In November 2009 Coburn drew attention for placing a hold on a veterans benefits bill known as the Veterans' Caregiver and Omnibus Health Benefits Act.[55][56] Coburn also placed a hold on a bill intended to help end hostilities in Uganda by the Lord's Resistance Army.[57]

On May 23, 2007, Coburn blocked two bills honoring the 100th birthday of Rachel Carson. Coburn called Carson's scientific work "junk science," proclaiming that Carson's landmark book On May 23, 2007, Coburn blocked two bills honoring the 100th birthday of Rachel Carson. Coburn called Carson's scientific work "junk science," proclaiming that Carson's landmark book Silent Spring was "the catalyst in the deadly worldwide stigmatization against insecticides, especially DDT."[58] Democratic Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland had intended to submit a resolution celebrating Carson for her "legacy of scientific rigor coupled with poetic sensibility,"[59] but Coburn blocked it, saying that "the junk science and stigma surrounding DDT—the cheapest and most effective insecticide on the planet—have finally been jettisoned."[60]

In response to Coburn's holds, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced the Advancing America's Priorities Act, S. 3297, in July 2008. S. 3297 combined thirty-five bills which Coburn had blocked into what Democrats called the "Tomnibus" bill.[11][61] The bill included health care provisions, new penalties for child pornography, and several natural resources bills.[62] The bill failed a cloture vote.[63]

Coburn opposed parts of the legislation creating the Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness Area, which would add protections to wildlands in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.[64] Coburn exercised a hold on the legislation in both March and November 2008,[65][66] and decried the required $10 million for surveying and mapping as wasteful.[67] The Mount Hood bill would have been the largest amount of land added to federal protection since 1984.[67]

In March 2009, those wilderness areas became protected under the Omnibus Public Land Management Act, which passed the Senate 73–21.[68]

According to the Boston Globe, Coburn initially blocked passage of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), objecting to provisions in the bill that allow discrimination based on genetic information from embryos and fetuses. After the embryo loophole was closed, Coburn lifted his hold on the bill.[69]

Coburn had initially blocked passage of the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which would help to disarm the Lord's Resistance Army, a political group accused of human rights abuses. On March 9, 2010, Coburn lifted his hold on the LRA bill freeing it to move to the Senate floor after reaching a compromise regarding the funding of the bill,[70] and an eleven-day protest outside of his office.[71]

Coburn was affiliated with a religious organization called The Family. Coburn previously lived in one of the Family's Washington, D.C. dormitories with then-Senator John Ensign, another Family member and longtime resident of the C Street Center who admitted he had an extramarital affair with a staffer in 2009. The announcement by Ensign of his infidelity brought public scrutiny of the Family and its connection to other high-ranking politicians, including Coburn.[72]

Coburn, together with senior members of the Family, attempted to intervene to end Ensign's affair in February 2008, before the affair became public, including by meeting with the husband of Ensign's mistress and encouraging Ensign to write a letter to his mistress breaking off the affair.[73][74][75] Ensign was driven to a branch of Federal Express from the C Street Center to post the letter, shortly after which Ensign called to tell his mistress to ignore it.[73][74][75]

Coburn refused to speak about his involvement in Ensign's affair or his knowledge of the affair well before it became public, asserting legal privilege due to his separate statuses as a licensed physician in the State of Oklahoma and a deacon.[76]

In October 2009, Coburn did make a statement to The New York Times about Ensign's affair and cover-up: "John got trapped doing something really stupid and then made a lot of other mistakes afterward. Judgment gets impaired by arrogance and that's what's going on here."[77]

In May 2011, the Senate Ethics Committee identified Coburn in their report on the ethics violations of Senator John Ensign. The report stated that Coburn knew about Ensign's extramarital affair and was involved in trying to negotiate a financial settlement to cover it up.[78]

Coburn was involved in the Bush Administration's struggle with Congress over whistleblower rights. In the case of Garcetti v. Ceballos, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government employees who testify against their employers did not have protection from retaliation by their employers under the First Amendment of the Constitution.[79] The free speech protections of the First Amendment have long been used to shield whistleblowers from retaliation.[80]

In response to the Supreme Court decision, the House passed H.R. 985, the Whistleblower Protection Act of 2007. Bush, citing national security concerns, promised to veto the bill should it be enacted into law by Congress. The Senate

In response to the Supreme Court decision, the House passed H.R. 985, the Whistleblower Protection Act of 2007. Bush, citing national security concerns, promised to veto the bill should it be enacted into law by Congress. The Senate's version of the Whistleblower Protection Act (S. 274) was approved by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on June 13, 2007. However, that version failed to reach a vote by the Senate, as Coburn placed a hold on the bill; effectively preventing the passage of the bill, which had bipartisan support in the Senate.[81]

Coburn's website features a news item about United Nations whistleblower Mathieu Credo Koumoin, a former employee for the U.N. Development Program in West Africa, who has asked U.N. ethics chief Robert Benson for protection under the U.N.'s new whistleblower protection rules.[82] The site has a link to the "United Nations Watch" of the Republican Office of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information and International Security, of which he was the ranking minority member.[83] Coburn's website also features a tip line for potential whistleblowers on government waste and fraud.[84]

Coburn joined Congressmen Sue Myrick (R-NC), Trent Franks (R-AZ), John Shadegg (R-AZ), Paul Broun (R-GA) and Patrick McHenry (R-NC) in a letter to IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman on November 16, 2009, asking that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) be investigated for excessive lobbying and failing to register as a lobbying organization.[85] The request came in the wake of the publication of a book, Muslim Mafia, the foreword of which had been penned by Myrick, that portrayed CAIR as a subversive organization allied with international terrorists.[86]

Criticism of the National Science Foundation

On May 26, 2011 Coburn released his 73-page re

On May 26, 2011 Coburn released his 73-page report, "National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope",[87][88] receiving immediate attention from such media outlets as The New York Times, Fox News and MSNBC.[89][90][91]

STOCK Act

Coburn was one of three senators who voted against the Sto

Coburn was one of three senators who voted against the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK Act).[92] On February 3, 2012, Coburn released the following statement regarding the Act:

Committee assignments

On May 24, 2007

On May 24, 2007, the U.S. Senate voted 80–14 to fund the war in Iraq, which included U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007. Coburn voted nay.[134] On October 1, 2007, the Senate voted 92–3 to fund the war in Iraq. Coburn voted nay.[135] In February 2008, Coburn said, "I will tell you personally that I think it was probably a mistake going to Iraq."[136]

On December 15, 2014, Coburn stalled the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act aimed at stemming veteran suicides. The bill would require a report on successful veteran suicide prevention programs and allow the On December 15, 2014, Coburn stalled the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act aimed at stemming veteran suicides. The bill would require a report on successful veteran suicide prevention programs and allow the United States Veterans Administration to pay incentives to hire psychiatrists. Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said that despite his reputation as a budget hawk, Coburn should have recognized that the $22 million cost of the bill is worth the lives it would have saved. "It's a shame that after two decades of service in Washington, Sen. Coburn will always be remembered for this final, misguided attack on veterans nationwide," he said. "If it takes 90 days for the new Congress to re-pass this bill, the statistics tell us another 1,980 vets will have died by suicide. That should be a heavy burden on the conscience of Sen. Coburn and this Congress." Speaking out against the legislation, Coburn said "I object, not because I don't want to save suicides, but because I don't think this bill will do the first thing to change what's happening," arguing that the bill" "throws money and doesn't solve the real problem"[137]

After resigning from the U.S. Senate, Coburn joined Citizens for Self-Governance as a senior advisor to the group's Convention of States project, which seeks to convene a convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution.[138][139] In 2017, he authored a book on the subject titled Smashing the DC Monopoly: Using Article V to Restore Freedom and Stop Runaway Government.[140]

Coburn was affiliated with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, consulting on the institute's Project FDA, an effort to promote faster drug approval processes.<

Coburn was affiliated with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, consulting on the institute's Project FDA, an effort to promote faster drug approval processes.[13] In 2016, he became a Manhattan Institute senior fellow.[14]

In 2013, Coburn received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by the Jefferson Awards.[141]

Personal life