What were construed as a pair flirtatious tweets sent from Rep. Steve Cohen to a 24-year-old woman during the State of the Union address turned out to be messages intended for the Memphis congressman's daughter, whom Cohen learned he fathered three years ago and had kept their relationship secret ever since.
Cohen, who has represented Tennessee's 9th Congressional District since 2007, posted and quickly deleted at least two messages sent to the woman, who is also a Texas State University student and model.
"Nice to know you were watching SOTU[.] Happy Valentine[']s[,] beautiful girl. Ilu," one of Cohen's posts read.
"Ilu" is commonly interpreted as "I like you" or "I love you" online. "SOTU" is short for "State of the Union."
On Thursday, the Democratic congressman informed reporters for NBC and CBS news that the tweets were intended to be direct messages for his daughter, whom he "loved." On Wednesday, staff for Cohen told reporters that the woman was the "daughter of a longtime friend."
Not long after reports began to circulate, the Tennessee Republican Party pounced on the news, releasing a statement that suggested Cohen, a 63-year-old bachelor, had been caught in a scandal similar to former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, who resigned after a sexting scandal.
The statement, from TNGOP Executive Director Brent Leatherwood, called Cohen "the Weiner of the South."
"It is very disappointing that Rep. Cohen would use his official congressional Twitter account, which taxpaying constituents rely on for news and updates from their congressman, to send personal and unnecessarily revealing messages to college co-eds," Leatherwood said.
After Cohen revealed the woman was indeed his daughter, adding that he was "proud to be her dad," Leatherwood released an additional statement, offering no apologies and suggesting it was time to "move on."
"Yesterday, news outlets raised legitimate concerns about how Rep. Steve Cohen was using his official congressional Twitter account," he said. "While it's unfortunate Congressman Cohen used a public vehicle for a private matter, whether intentional or not, it is good that he addressed the issue and we can all move on."