Chris Coons

Last updated

Chris Coons
Chris Coons, official portrait, 112th Congress.jpg
United States Senator
from Delaware
Assumed office
November 15, 2010
Servingwith Tom Carper
Preceded by Ted Kaufman
Chair of the Senate Ethics Committee
Assumed office
January 20, 2021
Preceded by James Lankford
Vice Chair of the Senate Ethics Committee
In office
January 3, 2017 January 20, 2021
Preceded by Barbara Boxer
Succeeded by James Lankford
County Executive of New Castle County
In office
January 4, 2005 November 15, 2010
Preceded by Thomas Gordon
Succeeded byPaul Clark
President of the New Castle County Council
In office
January 2, 2001 January 4, 2005
Preceded by Stephanie Hansen
Succeeded byPaul Clark
Personal details
Christopher Andrew Coons

(1963-09-09) September 9, 1963 (age 57)
Greenwich, Connecticut, U.S.
Political party Democratic (1988–present)
Other political
Republican (before 1988)
Annie Lingenfelter
(m. 1996)
Education Amherst College (BA)
Yale University (MAR, JD)
Website Senate website

Christopher Andrew Coons (born September 9, 1963) is an American politician serving as the junior United States Senator from Delaware since 2010. A member of the Democratic Party, Coons served as the county executive of New Castle County from 2005 to 2010. He was the 1983 Truman Scholar from Delaware, and the first recipient of the award to serve in the United States Senate.


Raised in Hockessin, Delaware, Coons graduated from Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he joined Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity. He received graduate degrees from Yale Divinity School and Yale Law School. He went to work as a volunteer relief worker in Kenya, where he had taken classes in the University of Nairobi, later returning to the U.S. to work for the Coalition for the Homeless in New York. He spent some time as a legal clerk in New York before returning to Delaware in 1996, where he spent eight years as in-house counsel for a materials manufacturing company. In the interim he worked for several nonprofit organizations.

Coons served as president of the New Castle County Council from 2001 to 2005 and county executive of New Castle County from 2005 to 2010. He balanced the county budget with a surplus in fiscal year 2010 by cutting spending and raising taxes, and the county maintained a AAA bond rating. Coons contested the 2010 Senate special election for Delaware. He defeated the Republican nominee, Christine O'Donnell, to succeed Ted Kaufman, who had been appointed to the seat when Joe Biden resigned to become Vice President of the United States. He was elected to a full term in 2014. Coons is the vice chair of the Senate Ethics Committee. His other committee assignments include Appropriations, Foreign Relations, Judiciary, and Small Business and Entrepreneurship. He previously served as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs and the Judiciary Subcommittee on Bankruptcy and the Courts. [1]

Coons was the co-chair for the 2019 National Prayer Breakfast. He previously co-chaired the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast, and co-chairs the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast. [2] The New York Times called Coons an "effective" emissary of Joe Biden to former and current Republican lawmakers in Biden's 2020 campaign for president. [3]

Early life and education

Coons was born in Greenwich, Connecticut, the son of Sarah Louise "Sally" (née Ives) and Kenelm Winslow "Ken" Coons. His ancestry includes English and Irish. [4] Coons grew up in Hockessin, Delaware, where he attended the public Yorklyn Elementary School and later H.B. DuPont Middle School. His parents struggled financially and divorced in the mid 1970s. He and his two brothers lived with their mother for a few years until 1977, when his mother married Robert W. Gore, the President of W. L. Gore and Associates. [5]

He graduated from the private Tower Hill School and then Amherst College in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry and political science. While in college, he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (Sigma chapter) and a U.S. Senate intern. In 1983, Coons was awarded the Truman Scholarship. During his junior year of college, he studied abroad at the University of Nairobi in Kenya through St. Lawrence University's Kenya Semester Program. [6] In 1992, he earned a master's degree in ethics from Yale Divinity School and a J.D. degree from Yale Law School. [7] In 2018, Delaware State University named Coons as an Honorary Doctor in Humane Letters.

Professional career

After college, Coons worked in Washington, D.C., for the Investor Responsibility Research Center, where he wrote a book on South Africa and the U.S. divestment movement. He then worked as a volunteer for the South African Council of Churches and as a relief worker in Kenya, before returning to the U.S. to work for the National Coalition for the Homeless in New York. In 1992, he earned a J.D. degree from Yale Law School, and a master's degree in ethics from Yale Divinity School. [8]

Coons clerked for Judge Jane Richards Roth on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and then worked for the National "I Have a Dream" Foundation in New York. [9] After returning to Delaware in 1996, Coons began his eight-year career as in-house counsel for W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc., Newark, Delaware-based makers of Gore-Tex fabrics and other high-tech materials. There he was responsible for the ethics training program, federal government relations, e-commerce legal work, and for general commercial contracting. [10]

He has also worked for several nonprofits, including the Coalition for the Homeless, the education-oriented "I Have a Dream" Foundation, and the South African Council of Churches. Coons has served on several boards including First State Innovation, the Bear/Glasgow Boys & Girls Club, and the Delaware College of Art & Design.

Coons is on the Board of Selectors of Jefferson Awards for Public Service. [11]

Early political career

Coons first became involved in politics working on behalf of Republican politicians. As a 17-year-old, in 1980, he independently campaigned for Ronald Reagan's presidential run. He also worked on Bill Roth's U.S. Senate campaign in 1982. [12] During college, he switched from being a Republican to a Democrat and in 1988, Coons became the issues director for the U.S. Senate campaign of Democratic Delaware Lt. Gov. Shien Biau Woo. [9] [12] He was a delegate from Wilmington to the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

His first elected office was president of the New Castle County Council, elected in 2000 and serving four years before being elected county executive in 2004. He was the endorsed candidate of the New Castle County Democratic Party in 2008, and was re-nominated by the party on September 9, 2008. Coons was re-elected on November 4, 2008, unopposed in the general election. In his six years in office as county executive, Coons balanced the budget with a surplus in fiscal year 2010 by cutting spending and raising taxes. [13] As New Castle county executive, Coons raised taxes despite having campaigned on a promise not to increase them. [14] New Castle County maintained a AAA bond rating throughout his tenure. [15]

U.S. Senate


Coons on the campaign trail Chris Coons.jpg
Coons on the campaign trail

Coons ran in the 2010 special election for the U.S. Senate seat then held by Democrat Ted Kaufman, who was appointed after Joe Biden resigned to take office as vice president. Kaufman had been appointed as a placeholder, and did not run in the special election. [16] Coons was unopposed in the Democratic primary, and expected to face Republican Congressman and former Governor Mike Castle in the general election. He was considered a decided underdog in due to Castle's moderate profile and longstanding popularity in the state, but the dynamics of the race were significantly altered when Christine O'Donnell, a considerably more conservative Republican who had been Biden's opponent in 2008, upset Castle in the Republican primary.

In the first post-primary polls, Rasmussen Reports showed Coons with a double-digit lead over O'Donnell, describing this as a "remarkable turnaround" given that the race had leaned Republican before O'Donnell's primary victory. [17] In the first week of October, Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind Poll showed Coons with a 17-point lead, 53%-36%, over O'Donnell, and that 85% of self-identified Democratic voters had united behind Coons, while only 68% of Republican voters endorsed O'Donnell. [18] Days before the election, a second Fairleigh Dickinson poll showed Coons leading 57% to 36% among likely voters, and 72% to 20% among voters who described themselves as moderates. [19] As polls closed at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, multiple news sources announced that Coons had defeated O'Donnell based on exit poll data. Final results gave Coons close to a 17-point margin over O'Donnell, with 56.6% of the vote to her 40%. [20]

During the campaign, a controversy arose about an article Coons wrote in 1985 for his college newspaper titled "Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist". [21] In it, he described his transformation from a Republican to what Fox News described as a "Democrat suspicious of America's power and ideals." [22] Dave Hoffman, a Coons campaign spokesman, said the title of the article was designed as a humorous take-off on a joke Coons's college friends had made about how his time outside the country had affected his outlook. "After witnessing crushing poverty and the consequences of the Reagan Administration's 'constructive engagement' with the South African apartheid regime, he rethought his political views, returned to the America he loved and proudly registered as a Democrat," Hoffman said in a statement to Politico . [23]

According to Fox News, Coons was "targeted by Republicans" over the 25-year-old piece. Coons downplayed the article, as well as controversial past statements by O'Donnell, saying that voters were interested in current issues such as job creation and the national debt and not "particularly interested in statements that either of us made 20 or 30 years ago." [22] David Weigel wrote in Slate , "If the Tea Party Express slings the 'bearded Marxist' nonsense, I doubt it will work." [24]


Coons was elected to his first full term by defeating Republican challenger Kevin Wade and Green Party candidate Andrew Gross on November 4, 2014. [25] Wade, an engineer and businessman, also ran against U.S. Senator Tom Carper in 2012. [26] Coons won 55.8% of the popular vote (130,655 to Wade's 98,823 and to Groff's 4,560). [27]


In the 2020 Democratic primary election, Coons easily defeated technology executive Jessica Scarane, a progressive challenger endorsed by groups like Brand New Congress. [28] In the general election, Coons faced Republican nominee Lauren Witzke, a controversial conservative activist calling for a ten-year immigration moratorium. [29] Coons and Witzke took part in a digital debate hosted by the Jewish Federation of Delaware, in which they debated the merits of late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as Witzke's comments about the Qanon conspiracy theory. [30] In the November general election, Coons defeated Witzke, 59-38%. [31]


Senator Coons holding a press conference Chris Coons press conference.jpg
Senator Coons holding a press conference


On November 15, 2010, Coons was sworn in as Delaware's newest senator by Vice President Joe Biden, the former occupant of Coons's Senate seat. Joe Manchin of West Virginia was sworn in on the same day, though he took an advantage in seniority over Coons, as the former governor of West Virginia.

The Affordable Care Act (commonly called Obamacare) had already been passed when Coons took office, but he has voted against repealing it, emphasizing that seniors in Delaware would have to pay higher prescription drug prices if it was repealed. [32] In a May 8, 2017, appearance on Morning Joe , Coons predicted the final product of the Republican health care bill would not be produced until after the 2018 midterm elections. [33] In September 2017, Coons said the Graham-Cassidy bill, meant to replace the Affordable Care Act, would be playing "Russian roulette with the American health care system." [34]

On abortion, Coons has received a 100% rating from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and a 0% rating from the National Right to Life Committee. [35] [36]

In June 2013, after the death of Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Coons was appointed to his seat on the influential Appropriations Committee, becoming the first senator from Delaware to serve on the committee in 40 years. As a result, he gave up his seat on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. [37] [38] [39]

In October 2013, Coons announced the formation of the inaugural Senate Chicken Caucus in the United States Senate. He stated, "I hope that the Senate Chicken Caucus will give America's chicken producers a platform to better inform legislators about the industry's vital contributions to our economy, and promote policy solutions that help their businesses grow and thrive." [40]

On December 11, 2013, Coons introduced the Victims of Child Abuse Act Reauthorization Act of 2013 (S. 1799; 113th Congress), a bill that would reauthorize the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990 and would authorize funding through 2018 to help child abuse victims. [41] Coons said that "we have a responsibility to protect our children from violence and abuse." [41]

In March 2014, Coons voted against President Obama's nomination of civil rights lawyer Debo Adegbile for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, even though he believed that Adegbile would have been "an asset to the Justice Department." He stated that voting for a nominee "who would face such visceral opposition from law enforcement on his first day on the job" was troubling and the vote was "one of the most difficult I have taken since joining the Senate". [42] Obama described the Senate's vote against Adegbile as "a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant." [43] An open letter to Coons from students, faculty and alumni of the Yale Law and Divinity Schools, of which Coons is an alumnus, criticized his vote as "alarm[ing]" and "signal[ing] a lack of respect for the fundamental American legal principle that all parties have a right to zealous representation." [44]

Coons was mentioned as a possible replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016. [45]

In April 2017, after President Trump tweeted that North Korea had "disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President" with a recent missile launch, Coons said Trump understood China was his sole "constructive path forward on North Korea" but that diplomacy would not work through tweeting. [46] In September, Coons said, "Congress and the administration need to prepare for what would happen if we were required by increased threats that were increasingly credible from North Korea, to prepare for escalation of conflict." [47]

In July 2017, Coons voted in favor of the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act that placed sanctions on Iran together with Russia and North Korea. [48]

In April 2018, following the FBI raid on the hotel room and offices of Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, Coons, Cory Booker, Lindsey Graham, and Thom Tillis introduced new legislation to "limit President Trump's ability to fire special counsel Robert Mueller". Termed the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, the legislation would allow any special counsel, in this case Mueller, receive an "expedited judicial review" in the 10 days following being dismissed to determine whether the dismissal was appropriate. If not, the special counsel would be reinstated. At the same time, according to The Hill , the bill would "codify regulations" that a special counsel could be fired only by a senior Justice Department official, while having to provide reasons in writing. [49]


In November 2020, Coons was named a candidate for Secretary of State in the Biden Administration. [50] Biden ultimately chose Antony Blinken to lead the State Department, telling Coons, "I need you in the Senate." [51] Coons is seen as among President Biden's closest allies in the Senate and is poised to broker political power during Biden's presidency. [52]

During the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol, Coons was evacuated from the senate chambers, along with other senators and staff. He said there were "some scary and chaotic moments" during the attack. When the Senate reconvened to certify the 2021 United States Electoral College count, Coons called for Trump's removal, saying he "poses a real and present threat to the future of our democracy". He called for the invocation of the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution the day after the event on Good Morning America . [53] That same day, January 7, he called for Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz to resign from the senate. [54]

Committee assignments

Previous (2010–2015)

Source: United States Senate [55]

Caucus memberships

Source: United States Senate [57]

Political positions


Coons supports Roe v. Wade and believes abortion should remain legal throughout the country. In 2015, Coons signed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt that urged the Court to step in to prevent states from enacting laws that restrict access to abortion. [58]


In June 2019, Coons and 18 other Democratic senators sent USDA Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong a letter requesting that she investigate USDA instances of retaliation and political decision-making and asserting that not to conduct an investigation would mean these "actions could be perceived as a part of this administration’s broader pattern of not only discounting the value of federal employees, but suppressing, undermining, discounting, and wholesale ignoring scientific data produced by their own qualified scientists." [59]

Child care

In 2019, Coons and 34 other senators introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act. The bill would create 770,000 new child-care jobs and ensure families with less than 75% of the state median income do not pay for child care, with higher-earning families having to pay "their fair share for care on a sliding scale, regardless of the number of children they have." The legislation also supports universal access to high-quality preschool programs for all 3- and 4-year-olds and changes the child care workforce's compensation and training to aid both teachers and caregivers. The bill has not made it out of committee as of August 2020. [60]


In April 2019, Coons was one of 12 senators to sign a bipartisan letter to top senators on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development advocating that the Energy Department be granted maximum funding for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), arguing that investment in viable options to capture carbon emissions could stimulate American job growth and expressing disagreement with Trump's 2020 budget request to combine the two federal programs that include carbon capture research. [61]

Gun law

As of 2010, Coons had a "F" rating from the National Rifle Association due to his stance on gun control. [62] In 2015, he and 23 other Democratic senators signed a letter to Obama asking him to take executive action on gun control in the wake of the Umpqua Community College shooting. Coons supported the Feinstein Amendment, which sought to ban known and suspected terrorists from buying firearms. [63] The next year, he participated in the Chris Murphy gun control filibuster. [64]

Foreign policy

In December 2010, Coons voted for the ratification of New START, [65] a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russian Federation obliging both countries to have no more than 1,550 strategic warheads as well as 700 launchers deployed during the next seven years along with providing a continuation of on-site inspections that halted when START I expired the previous year. It was the first arms treaty with Russia in eight years. [66]

Coons is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee and is a staunch supporter of Israel. He has also been a guest speaker at AIPAC events. Coons is also a co-sponsor of a Senate resolution expressing objection to the UN Security Council Resolution 2334 because it undermines direct talks between the parties. [67]

In June 2017, Coons co-sponsored the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, Senate Bill 720, which made it a federal crime, punishable by a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment, [68] for Americans to encourage or participate in boycotts against Israel and Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories if protesting actions by the Israeli government. [69] The bill would make it legal for U.S. states to refuse to do business with contractors that engage in boycotts against Israel. [70] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has vocally opposed the bill. [71]

Coons condemned the genocide of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar and called for a stronger response to the crisis. [72]

In October 2018, Coons was one of seven senators to sign a letter to United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing that they found it "difficult to reconcile known facts with at least two" of the Trump administration's certifications that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were attempting to protect Yemen i civilians and were in compliance with US laws on arms sales, citing their lack of understanding for "a certification that the Saudi and Emirati governments are complying with applicable agreements and laws regulating defense articles when the [memo] explicitly states that, in certain instances, they have not done so." [73]

In November 2018, Coons joined Senator Marco Rubio and a bipartisan group of lawmakers in sending the Trump administration a letter raising concerns about China's undue influence over media outlets and academic institutions in the United States. They wrote, "In American news outlets, Beijing has used financial ties to suppress negative information about the CCP. In the past four years, multiple media outlets with direct or indirect financial ties to China allegedly decided not to publish stories on wealth and corruption in the CCP...Beijing has also sought to use relationships with American academic institutions and student groups to shape public discourse." [74]

In April 2019, Coons was one of 34 senators to sign a letter to Trump encouraging him "to listen to members of your own Administration and reverse a decision that will damage our national security and aggravate conditions inside Central America", asserting that Trump had "consistently expressed a flawed understanding of U.S. foreign assistance" since becoming president and that he was "personally undermining efforts to promote U.S. national security and economic prosperity" by preventing the use of Fiscal Year 2018 national security funding. The senators argued that foreign assistance to Central American countries created less migration to the U.S., arguing that the funding improved conditions in those countries. [75]

Fiscal position

Coons supports free-trade agreements. [76] He opposed the Obama-era government bailouts. [77] He is against right-to-work laws, and supports internet sales tax. [78]


In April 2019, Coons was one of 41 senators to sign a bipartisan letter to the housing subcommittee praising the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's Section 4 Capacity Building program for authorizing "HUD to partner with national nonprofit community development organizations to provide education, training, and financial support to local community development corporations (CDCs) across the country" and expressing disappointment that Trump's budget "has slated this program for elimination after decades of successful economic and community development." The senators wrote of their hope that the subcommittee would support continued funding for Section 4 in Fiscal Year 2020. [79]


In May 2018, Coons was one of 12 senators to sign a letter to Chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority Colleen Kiko urging the FLRA to end efforts to close its Boston regional office until Congress debated the matter, adding that closing the FLRA's seven regional offices would cause staff to be placed farther away from the federal employees whose rights they protect. [80]

LGBT rights

In October 2018, Coons was one of 20 senators to sign a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to reverse the rollback of a policy that granted visas to same-sex partners of LGBTQ diplomats who had unions that are not recognized by their home countries, writing that too many places around the world have seen LGBTQ individuals "subjected to discrimination and unspeakable violence, and receive little or no protection from the law or local authorities" and that refusing to let LGBTQ diplomats bring their partners to the US would be equivalent to upholding "the discriminatory policies of many countries around the world." [81]


Coons proposed the Stronger Patents Act, which would make it more expensive to challenge patents and thus easier to enforce them. [82]

Electoral history

2000County Council Primary Christopher A. Coons Democratic 7,52048%Vincent D'Anna
Martha Denison
Dwight L. Davis
Democratic 3,220
2000County CouncilGeneralChristopher A. Coons Democratic 113,05056%Michael Ramone Republican 87,46244%
2004County Executive Primary Christopher A. Coons Democratic 17,58467%Sherry Freebery
Richard Korn
Democratic 4,702
2004County ExecutiveGeneralChristopher A. Coons Democratic 131,39758%Christopher Castagno Republican 93,42442%
2008County ExecutiveGeneralChristopher A. Coons Democratic 194,005100%
2010United States SenateGeneralChristopher A. Coons Democratic 173,90056.6% Christine O'Donnell Republican 123,02540%
2014United States SenateGeneralChristopher A. Coons Democratic 130,64555.8%Kevin Wade Republican 98,81942.2%
2020United States SenateGeneralChristopher A. Coons Democratic 291,80459.4%Lauren Witzke Republican 186,05437.9%

Personal life

Annie and Chris Coons at the inauguration of Joe Biden in 2021. Annie and Chris Coons at inauguration of Joe Biden.jpg
Annie and Chris Coons at the inauguration of Joe Biden in 2021.

Coons is married to the former Annie Lingenfelter. [83] They have three children, twins Mike and Jack, and daughter Maggie, and they live in Wilmington, Delaware. Coons is Presbyterian, his wife is Catholic, and they attend St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church in the city. Coons describes himself as "someone who is, privately, fairly religious," though he has never thought "that needs to be a big part of [campaigning]." [84]

In 1999, he was awarded the Governor's Outstanding Volunteer Award for his work with the "I Have a Dream" Foundation, the Governor's Mentoring Council, and the United Way of Delaware. [10]

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Political offices
Preceded by
Stephanie Hansen
President of the New Castle County Council
Succeeded by
Paul Clark
Preceded by
Thomas Gordon
County Executive of New Castle County
Party political offices
Preceded by
Joe Biden
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Delaware
(Class 2)

2010, 2014, 2020
Most recent
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Ted Kaufman
United States Senator (Class 2) from Delaware
Served alongside: Tom Carper
Preceded by
Barbara Boxer
Ranking Member of the Senate Ethics Committee
Succeeded by
James Lankford
Preceded by
James Lankford
Chair of the Senate Ethics Committee
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Joe Manchin
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
Roy Blunt