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Thomas Allen "Tom" Coburn, M.D. (born March 14, 1948), is an Americanmarker politician, medical doctor, and ordained deacon. A member of the Republican Party, he currently serves as the junior U.S. Senator from Oklahomamarker.

Coburn was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994 as part of the "Republican Revolution." He upheld his pledge to serve no more than three consecutive terms and did not run for re-election in 2000, returning to political office in 2004 with a successful run for Senate. Coburn is a fiscal and social conservative, known for his opposition to pork barrel projects, "the homosexual agenda," and abortion rights. He supports term limits, gun rights, and the death penalty, including "for abortionists and other people who take life." Coburn has said, however, that he thinks the Iraq War was "probably a mistake." When in Washington, D.C.marker, Sen. Coburn shares a dorm room with Sen. John Ensign (R-NVmarker) at the C Street House, the residence of a religious and political organization known as "The Family" or "The Fellowship."

Personal life and medical career

Coburn was born in Casper, Wyomingmarker, to Anita Joy Allen and Orin Wesley Coburn, and graduated with a B.S. in accounting from Oklahoma State Universitymarker, where he was also a member of Sigma Nu fraternity. In 1968, he married Carolyn Denton, the 1967 Miss Oklahoma; their three daughters are Callie, Katie, and Sarah. After recovering from a case of malignant melanoma, Coburn pursued a medical degree and graduated from the University of Oklahoma Medical School in 1983. He then opened a medical practice in Muskogee, Oklahomamarker, and served as a deacon in a Southern Baptist Church. Coburn is one of only two licensed doctors currently serving in the US Senate. During his career in obstetrics, he has treated over 15,000 patients and delivered 4,000 babies, and was subject to one malpractice lawsuit. Coburn and his wife are members of Muskogee'smarker New Community Church.

Political career

House career

Breach of Trust

In 1994, Coburn ran for the House of Representatives in Oklahoma's Democratic 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 book Breach of Trust, Coburn and Cooper got along very well and both had a dislike for the liberal Mike Synar. The general election was very cordial since both men knew Synar would not be returning to Washington regardless of the outcome. Coburn won by a 52%–48% margin, becoming the first Republican to represent the district since 1921.

Coburn was one of the most conservative members of the House. He supported "reducing the size of the federal budget" and opposed abortion, and supported the proposed V-chip legislation.

Despite representing a heavily Democratic district, Coburn was reelected in 1996 (even as Bill Clinton easily carried the district) and 1998 without difficulty.

While he served in the House, he earned a reputation as a "maverick" due to his frequent battles with House Speaker Newt Gingrich. 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 placed the Republicans into power in Congress in 1994 for the first time in 40 years. Specifically, Coburn was concerned that the Contract's term limits had not been implemented, and that the Republicans were continuing the excessive federal spending that they had so vigorously opposed when the Democrats were in the majority.

Coburn endorsed conservative activist and former diplomat Alan Keyes in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, although he supported George W. Bush after the nomination was sewn up. Coburn's congressional district returned to the Democratic fold, as attorney Brad Carson easily defeated a Republican endorsed by Coburn. After leaving the House and returning to private medical practice, Coburn wrote a book in 2003, with ghostwriter John Hart, about his experiences in Congress called Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders. 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 publishing, but others (such as former House Speaker Dennis Hastert) remained very influential in Congress, which resulted in speculation that some congressional Republicans wanted no part of Coburn's return to politics.

Senate career

In 2004, Coburn chose to challenge the establishment Republican candidate for the open Senate seat being vacated by Don Nickles. Former Oklahoma Citymarker Mayor Kirk Humphreys (the favorite of the state and national Republican establishment) and Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony joined the field before Coburn. However, Coburn easily won the primary with 61% of the vote to Humphreys's 25%. In the general election, he faced Brad Carson, a Democrat who had succeeded him in the 2nd District and was giving up his seat after only two terms. During the Senate campaign, Coburn said that the "homosexual agenda" was the biggest threat to American freedom.

Coburn emphasized fighting "pork" and "corruption" in Washington. His focus on "cutting spending" and his reputation for fighting the practice of awarding federal dollars to "special interest causes" won him many supporters who disagreed with him on other issues.

He also promised to maintain his medical practice in Muskogee and return there during the weekend as he had while serving in the House.

In the election, Coburn won by a margin of 53% to Carson's 42%. While Carson routed Coburn in the heavily Democratic 2nd District, Coburn swamped Carson in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area and the closer-in Tulsamarker 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.

Coburn's Senate voting record is as conservative as his House record. Coburn has a reputation for stalling measures in the Senate, to the chagrin of members of both major parties.

Committee assignments

After taking office in January 2005, Coburn, along with fellow conservative Sam Brownback, was selected to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Coburn is a rare non-attorney on the Judiciary Committee.

On April 19, 2007, Coburn became the first Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee to call for the firing of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as a result of the controversy concerning the dismissal of eight United States Attorneys.

Coburn is a member of the following committees:

Since April 2007, Coburn has been holding the Federal Employee Protection of Disclosures Act (S.274) from becoming law. This bill relates to so-called "whistleblowing," and would effectively reverse the Supreme Court's decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos, 04-473/ (Coburn has also placed a hold on final Senate consideration of a measure passed by the House in the wake of the Virginia Techmarker shootings to improve state performance in checking the federal watch list of gun buyers.)

Political positions

Iraq War appropriations

On May 24, 2007, the US Senate voted 80-14 to fund the war in Iraq. Coburn voted nay. On October 1, 2007, the Senate voted 92-3 to fund the war in Iraq. Coburn voted nay. In February 2008, Coburn said, "I will tell you personally that I think it was probably a mistake going to Iraq."


Coburn opposes abortion. In 2000 he sponsored a bill to prevent the Food and Drug Administration from developing, testing, or approving the abortifacient RU-486. On July 13, the bill failed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 182 to 187. On the issue, Coburn sparked controversy with his remark, "I favor the death penalty for abortionists and other people who take life." He noted that his great-grandmother was raped by a sheriff, and in the Senate confirmation hearings concerning Samuel Alito, said his grandmother was a product of that rape.

On September 14, 2005, during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, Coburn began his opening statement with a critique of Beltway partisan politics while, according to news reports, "choking back a sob." Coburn had earlier been completing a crossword puzzle during the hearings, and this fact was used by The Daily Show to ridicule Coburn's pathos. Coburn then began his questioning by discussing the various legal terms mentioned during the previous day's hearings. Proceeding to questions regarding both abortion and end-of-life issues, Coburn, who noted that during his tenure as an obstetrician he had delivered some 4,000 babies, asked Roberts whether the judge agreed with the proposition that "the opposite of being dead is being alive."

Fiscal conservatism

Coburn made several attempts in 2005 to combat pork barrel spending in the federal budget. The best-known of these was an amendment to the fiscal 2006 appropriations bill that funds transportation projects. Coburn's amendment would have transferred funding from the infamous Bridge to Nowheremarker in Alaskamarker to rebuild Louisiana's "Twin Spans" bridge, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The amendment was defeated in the Senate, 82-14, after Ted Stevens, the senior senator from Alaska, threatened to resign his office if the amendment were passed. Coburn's actions did result in getting the funds made into a more politically feasible block grant to the State of Alaska, which can use the funds for the bridge or other projects.

Coburn is also a member of the Fiscal Watch Team, a group of seven senators led by John McCain, whose stated goal is to combat "wasteful government spending".

On April 6, 2006, Coburn and Senators Barack Obama, Thomas Carper, and John McCain introduced the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006. The bill requires the full disclosure of all entities and organizations receiving federal funds beginning in fiscal year (FY) 2007 on a website maintained by the Office of Management and Budget. The bill was signed into law on September 26, 2006.

Coburn and McCain noted that the practice of members of Congress adding earmarks (and thus, increasing government spending) has risen dramatically over the years, from 121 "earmarks" in 1987 to 15,268 earmarks in 2005, according to the Congressional Research Service.

In July 2007, Coburn criticized pork barrel spending fellow Senator Ben Nelson had inserted into the 2007 defense spending bill. Coburn said that the earmarks would benefit Nelson's son Patrick's employer with millions in federal dollars, and that the situation violated terms of the Transparency Act, which was passed by the Senate but had not yet been voted on in the House. Nelson's spokesperson said the Senator did nothing wrong. At that time, newspapers in Nebraska and Oklahoma noted that Coburn failed to blast very similar earmarks that benefited Oklahoma.

In 1997, Coburn introduced a bill called the HIV Prevention Act of 1997, which would have amended the Social Security Act. The bill would have required confidential notification of HIV exposure to the sexual partners of those diagnosed with HIV, along with counseling and testing. The bill was endorsed by the American Medical Association and had over 100 co-sponsors. Coburn also offered an amendment that would have prohibited insurance companies from discriminating against someone who was tested for HIV, regardless of the result, and introduced a bill to expand AIDS coverage for those enrolled in Medicare. He was the primary House sponsor of the 2000 Ryan White CARE Act reauthorization that was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

Presidential nominations

During the administration of George W. Bush, Coburn spoke out against the threat by some Democrats to filibuster nominations to judgeships and executive-branch positions. He took the position that no presidential nomination should ever be filibustered, in light of the wording of the Constitution. Coburn said: "There is a defined charge to the president and the Senate on advice and consent."

In May 2009 Coburn was the only Senator to vote against confirmation of Gil Kerlikowske as the Director of the National Drug Control Policy.


Coburn thinks tobacco should not have additional regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in addition to the current Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) oversight. "Tom Coburn is consistent in his free market philosophy and in his strict reading of what Congress can and can't do," according to the Tulsa World and other sources.

Additional quote:"Beyond the fact that a federal ban on tobacco would go against Coburn's basic philosophy, is the fact, that he was debating against the bill (to allow the FDA to regulate tobacco) in the first place."

Gun rights

Regarding the Second Amendment, Coburn believes that it "recognizes the right of individual, law-abiding citizens to own and use firearms", and he opposes "any and all efforts to mandate gun control on law-abiding citizens". On the Credit CARD Act of 2009, which aimed "to establish fair and transparent practices relating to the extension of credit under an open end consumer credit plan, and for other purposes." Coburn sponsored an amendment that would allow concealed carry of weapons in national parks. The Senate passed the amendment 67-29.


Coburn was involved in the Bush Administration's struggle with Congress over whistleblower rights. The Supreme Court dealt a major blow to government whistleblowers when, in the case of Garcetti v. Ceballos, 04-473, it ruled that government employees did not have protection from retaliation by their employers under the First Amendment of the Constitution. The free speech protections of the First Amendment have long been used to shield whistleblowers from retaliation by whistleblower attorneys.

In response to the Supreme Court decision, the House passed H.R. 985, the Whistleblower Protection Act of 2007. President George W. 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, it has yet to reach a vote by the Senate as a hold has been placed on the bill by Coburn. Coburn's hold effectively prevents passage of the bill, which has broad bipartisan support in the Senate. According to the National Whistleblower Center, Coburn's hold is an example of a right-wing Senator enacting President Bush's agenda while frustrating a majority.

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.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 is the ranking minority member. Coburn's website also features a tip line for potential whistleblowers on government waste and fraud.

Allegations of non-consensual sterilization and Medicaid fraud

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. Coburn performed the sterilization on the woman during an emergency surgery to treat a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, removing her 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.

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 not withheld 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.

Schindler's List TV broadcast

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. 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." 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."

Since the film deals mainly with the Holocaust, many people showed disgust with this statement, including a number of fellow Republican Congressmen who criticized Coburn in their speeches. Coburn apologized after heavy criticisms "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."

He later wrote in his book Breach of Trust that he considered this one of the biggest mistakes in his life and that, while he still feels the material was unsuitable for an 8 p.m. television broadcast, he handled the situation poorly.

Use of Senatorial 'hold' privilege

Coburn has used the special hold privilege to prevent several bills from coming to the Senate floor. The hold privilege is allowed by Rule VII of the Senate Standing Rules. The practice is generally used to form consensus on questionable legislation and has come under fire for its procedural secrecy. Coburn has actively exercised the privilege, and has earned a reputation for his liberal use of the procedural mechanism. For example, in November 2009 Coburn drew considerable attention for placing a hold on a veterans' benefits bill known as the "Veterans’ Caregiver and Omnibus Health Benefits Act".

Rachel Carson commemoration

On May 23, 2007, Coburn threatened to block two bills honoring the 100th birthday of Rachel Carson. Coburn called Carson's work "junk science", proclaiming that Silent Spring "was the catalyst in the deadly worldwide stigmatization against insecticides, especially DDT."

Advancing America's Priorities Act

In response to Coburn's repeated holds on legislation, Senator Harry Reid introduced the Advancing America's Priorities Act, , in July 2008. S. 3297 combined several bills which Coburn had blocked into what became known as a "Tomnibus" bill, a reference to omnibus bills used to combine several individual bills into one piece of legislation. The bill included health care provisions, new penalties for child pornography, and several natural resources bills. However, it failed to achieve cloture.

Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness Act

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

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

According to The Boston Globe Coburn had 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. Recently, the embryo loophole was closed, and Coburn reevaluated his opposition to the bill. Boston Globe: Tom Coburn's position on the Genetic Discrimination Bill Coburn had holds on 90 other bills in the 110th Congress. However, he voted in favor of an earlier version of GINA which passed unanimously in the Senate in 2005. By April 2008, Coburn lifted his hold on the bill after some provisions of GINA were changed.

Affiliation with The Family and John Ensign

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

Coburn, together with senior members of the Family, attempted to intervene to end Ensign's affair in February 2008, prior to the affair becoming 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. Ensign was driven to Federal Express from C Street Center to post the letter, shortly after which Ensign called to tell his mistress to ignore it.

Coburn refuses to speak about his involvement in Ensign's affair or his knowledge of the affair well before it became public on the grounds of alleged "privilege" due to his separate status as a licensed physician in the State of Oklahoma and an ordained deacon. However, bioethicist Jacob Appel recenty challenged this assertion of physician-patient privilege on the grounds that Coburn is not licensed in the District of Columbiamarker, and had acquired his knowledge outside of his work as a physician.

Council on American-Islamic Relations

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. The request came in the wake of the publication of a book, Muslim Mafia, the foreward of which had been penned by Myrick, that portrayed CAIR as a subversive organization allied with international terrorists.


Even though President Barack Obama and Coburn are nearly polar opposites on most political matters, the two are personally friendly and have worked together on certain issues, such as political ethics reform legislation.

Prior to the 2009 BCS game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Florida Gators, Coburn made a bet over the outcome of the game with Florida Senator Bill Nelson; the loser had to serenade the winner with a song. The Gators defeated the Sooners, and Coburn will sing Elton John's "Rocket Man" to Nelson, a former astronaut.

Electoral history

: Results 1994–1998
Year Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
1994 75,943 48% 82,479 52%
1996 90,120 45% Tom A. Coburn 112,273 55%
1998 59,042 40% Tom A. Coburn 85,581 58% Albert Jones Independent 3,641 2%

Oklahoma Senator (Class III)]] results: 2004
Year Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
2004 Brad Carson 596,750 41% Tom A. Coburn 763,433 53% Sheila Bilyeu Independent 86,663 6%


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  2. Tulsa World: Coburn declines to elaborate on Iraq War statement
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  4. David Austin. "Delivering Babies and Legislation: The anatomy of Sen. Tom Coburn's maverick practice of politics". Urban Tulsa Weekly, January 17, 2007
  5. Clayton Bellamy, "Allegations of Medicaid fraud, sterilization haunt Senate candidate in Oklahoma", Associated Press, September 15, 2004
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  7. Current Election Results
  8. General Election Results 11/3/98
  9. Political Realities
  10. High Court Trims Whistleblower Rights
  11. U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records Home > Votes > Roll Call Vote
  12. U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records Home > Votes > Roll Call Vote
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  14. Democrats, Abortion and 'Alfie' (
  15. Search Results - THOMAS (Library of Congress)
  16. ^ Omaha World Herald editorial 8/16/2007, The Oklahoman 8/6/2007, Senator attacks ‘pork’; State avoids extra trims from Coburn
  17. Text of HIV Prevention Act, accessed 14 Sept 2006.
  29. Michael Barone with Richard E. Cohen, The Almanac of American Politics, 2006, page 1370
  30. Lois Romano. "Woman Who Sued Coburn Goes Public," Washington Post, Sept. 17, 2004
  31. Ron Jenkins, "Attorney general says Senate candidate committed fraud", Associated Press, October 14, 2004
  32. Lois Romano, "Woman Who Sued Coburn Goes Public; She Calls GOP Candidate's Remarks on Case 'Not True'", Washington Post, September 17, 2004
  33. Meet the Press, NBC, October 3, 2004
  34. Hannity & Colmes, Fox News, September 24, 2004
  35. Capital Gang, CNN, October 2, 2004
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  37. "Tom Coburn, the Republican Senate candidate from Oklahoma, is a strong conservative.", National Review, Oct 11, 2004 v56 i19 p8
  38. "Nose to nose, and glaring; Oklahoma's Senate race", The Economist, Oct 9, 2004 v373 i8396 p29
  42. Jim Myers, "Coburn still blocking bill: The Oklahoma senator says the cost of the veterans bill should be offset by cuts elsewhere", Tulsa World, November 10, 2009.
  43. Rick Maze, "Sen. blocking bill: Objection is cost, not vets", Army Times, November 5, 2009.
  47. Hennessey, Kathleen (July 9, 2009). "Husband of Ensign's ex-mistress says Nevada senator paid more than $96,000 severance." Star Tribune and AP. Retrieved on July 12, 2009.
  48. Maddow, Rachel (July 10, 2009). Excerpt on the Family. Rachel Maddow Show. Retrieved on July 12, 2009.
  49. Condon, Stephanie (July 10, 2009). "Ensign's Future Remains Unclear". CBS News. Retrieved on July 19, 2009.
  50. Dr. Coburn's Peculiar Privilege, Oct 2, 2009
  51. "Letter to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, from Senator Tom Coburn and Representatives Sue Myrick, Trent Franks, John Shadegg, Paul Broun, and Patrick McHenry," November 16, 2009, accessed November 17, 2009
  52. Elliot, Justin, "Tom Coburn Joins Campaign Against Muslim Group," TPMMuckraker, November 18, 2009, accessed November 18, 2009
  53. Doyle, Michael, "Judge: Controversial 'Muslim Mafia' used stolen papers", Charlotte Observer, November 10, 2009, accessed November 17, 2009
  54. The President has a friend on right flank,
  55. Ben Evans, "Senator Tom Coburn to Sing 'Rocket Man'", AP at ABC News, January 14, 2009.

External links

Official sites

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