The 2020 Candidates: Senator Cory Booker

MR. RYAN: Good morning. Welcome to The Washington Post. I'm Fred Ryan, publisher. Thank you for joining us this morning.

Today's event is the latest installment in our Washington Post Live: 2020 Candidates series. We're pleased to present these in-depth, one-on-one interviews, which explore the qualifications and priorities of the men and women seeking to become the next President of the United States.

Our guest this morning is Senator Cory Booker. Although Senator Booker was born here in Washington, D.C., he's built his career serving the people of New Jersey. He was elected twice as Mayor of Newark and then in 2013 became the first African American Senator from the Garden State.

Along the way, he has managed to place his policy priorities in the national spotlight, most recently with the successful passage of the First Step Act, a bipartisan measure to reform our criminal justice system.

This morning we'll hear more from Senator Booker about his criminal justice proposals and discuss his views on health care and comprehensive immigration reform. We'll also learn more about his strategy for setting himself apart in a crowded field of Democratic candidates.

Before we begin, I'd like to thank our presenting sponsor, Bank of America.

Now please join me in welcoming Senator Cory Booker an The Washington Post, Robert Costa.


MR. RYAN: Thanks, Bob.

MR. COSTA: Appreciate it.

MR. RYAN: Thanks again, Senator.

MR. COSTA: Good morning.

SEN. BOOKER: Good morning, everybody.

MR. COSTA: I'm Bob Costa, national political reporter here at The Washington Post, so glad to be joined this morning by Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, former tight end at Stanford--

SEN. BOOKER: Thank you.

MR. COSTA: --former Mayor of Newark--


MR. COSTA: --now a Senator from the great State of New Jersey.

SEN. BOOKER: Thank you. Did you say that with real sincerity, "great State of New Jersey"?

MR. COSTA: I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, so I'm trying to be kind.


[Overlapping speakers]

SEN. BOOKER: You went to the Jersey Shore. I know it.

MR. COSTA: I did. Long Beach Island.

SEN. BOOKER: All right.

MR. COSTA: That's for a different discussion.

So we really appreciate you coming here. Running for President of the United States, facing tough issues like race.

Last night President Trump held a major rally. His crowd was chanting "Send her back" about Representative Omar of Minnesota. What's your reaction?

SEN. BOOKER: Well, you know, I felt like I was watching what my parents watched in black and white. I mean, literally the same language of Governor Wallace, of people who believe that they could use race and bigotry as a sword to try to not only cut down their political enemies but also as a sword to advance their political agenda. It's horrific. It's vile. It's vile. It's offensive, and it's not new in our country.

Every generation in our nation has had bigots and demagogues and fearmongers. The gardens of our democracy are never free of those weeds, and the test of every generation is how you respond.

And so I'm really proud that my parents came from a generation that in moral moments with demagogues in high offices like that, we created a new American majority, not a Democrat or Republican majority, but a majority of Americans that rose up and basically said this is not who we are as a country and sent those demagogues to the ash heaps of our history and elevated the heroism of people who spoke to our common values, our common ideals and our sense of love.

MR. COSTA: You mentioned George Wallace who ran for president in the 1960s. Do you see President Trump as this generation's George Wallace?

SEN. BOOKER: I see President Trump as a bigot, as a demagogue, as a fearmonger, of somebody who's trying to rip our country apart at a time that other nations are showing the sense of common purpose, that are doing things that we should be having a conversation that we're not doing, even basic things that are bipartisan.

I mean, we're in D.C. The Northeast Corridor that runs between Boston and D.C. runs half an hour slower than it did in the 1960s, while China has built 18,000 miles of high-speed rail.

We are celebrating right now the ability of our country to go to the Moon. We led humanity because we had a larger sense of common purpose, people on the left, people on the right, an American majority, and now we are a nation that can't even keep up on education, infrastructure.

We've lost our top spot on R&D. We're no longer the most research and development-intensive economy on the planet.

And so as that vile bigotry and racism tears at our fabric, we are losing. It's an assault on what makes us special, this diverse nation, different backgrounds, uniting for a larger purpose, showing humanity what we can do. And so the test of our country--again, I can go through the demagogues in every generation--Father Coughlin, then Know Nothings, George Wallace, Bull Connor. That's not the test.

The referendum in this election is not on one guy in one office. The referendum in this election is a referendum on who we are and who we are going to be to each other, and if we can get back to seeing each other with a more courageous empathy, if we can have a revival of civic grace and create a new American majority, this generation will yet again defy gravity and do the big things we need to do that will not only help African Americans and Sikh and Muslim families, but it will help all of America thrive at a time that humanity really needs a culture that can come together and lead on crises from climate change to the urgencies of innovation.

MR. COSTA: But you want that type of campaign. But if you're the Democratic nominee and President Trump is using these racist tweets day in, day out, how would you respond? Would you just try to turn the subject, or would you actually respond to those attacks in some way?

SEN. BOOKER: God, I would bring it. I'd pray I have that--and that's why I'm working hard every single day.

Look, I have a little homework for folks. Go back and watch a movie called "Street Fight," Oscar-nominated documentary about my rise to beat a machine in Newark. I have faced demagoguery before and beaten it. I have faced bullies before and beat them. You rise in Newark, New Jersey; it is a very hard scrapping, tough fight. And I know how to beat them.

But, as I was saying to you earlier, we as a Democratic Party can't get mixed up here. I was running onto a stage in Iowa, and as I'm about to leap onto the stage--and we were so psyched because there was a much bigger crowd than they had told us, and a big guy sees me. I'm a big guy, as he just said, former tight end from Stanford, former All American football player. The older I get, the better I was.


SEN. BOOKER: And I'm about to leap onto the stage, and he puts his arm around me. And he goes, "Dude, I want you to punch Donald Trump in the face," and I look at him and I go, "Dude, that's a felony."


SEN. BOOKER: We are not going to beat Donald Trump by using his tactics, by fighting him on his turf and his terms. That's never how we beat demagogues.

MR. COSTA: What do you say to a voter who says, "I want a warrior against Trump"?

SEN. BOOKER: And I'm going to say I am a warrior, and my heroes have always been warriors. James Bevel, Dorothy Cotton, Martin Luther King in Birmingham, they were warriors against Bull Connor, and they took him down but not by bringing bigger fire hoses and stronger dogs.

You do not drive out darkness, as King said, by bringing more darkness. In fact, you may win a presidential election, but then you lose a nation.

I am sorry. I know that the biggest polling issue for Democrats is just someone who can just beat Donald Trump, but beating Donald Trump is the floor. It is not the ceiling. It gets us out of the valley, but it doesn't get us to the mountaintop. And why Donald Trump is there is because we didn't address so many issues that were really tearing at the fabric of our country that really were the cancers on the soul of our nation.

3,000 jurisdictions in America--3,000--where the children have more than twice the blood-lead levels of Flint, Michigan, and we are a nation now that can't even reauthorize what Reagan voted for and Mitch McConnell--reauthorized and Mitch McConnell voted, just a simple, commonsense, small tax on polluting industries to deal with Superfund sites in America, which now are directly correlated--they're going up in our country now. Toxic areas. Every state has them. They now are correlated with 20 percent higher rates for kids born around them of autism, 20 percent higher rates of birth defects. Not a sexy issue, probably not been written about in The Washington Post pages for a long time, but it is a direct threat to our kids,

I can go through issues like that. We stand up and we sing. We're the "home of the brave," but our veterans come home, our bravest women and men, and they are way overrepresented in not having homes, being homeless. They're 10 percent of our homeless population. I can continue to go through things like this that are morally outrageous, that speak to a nation that desperately needs a more courageous empathy for each other, a revival of civic grace, to strengthen the bonds of the fabric of our nation.

So, look, Donald Trump wants to distract us. He will try to bait us. He will, but the way we're going to beat him is by getting this country to further understand that "democracy" is a verb, and that we have to be far more active to secure the liberties and the uniqueness that is us. And that's why I'm running, not to--

MR. COSTA: Why are you so confident love and civic grace are enough to win?

SEN. BOOKER: Because it is how I united a city against the most unimaginable odds in the middle of a recession. We transformed the outcomes and the trajectory of a city.

It's how in Washington, where people told me cynically, in my own party, that we would never pass legislation because of Willie Horton and all these other reasons that liberates people from prison. Now the First Step Act that I led on the Democratic side in the Senate, the thousands of people being released just on the crack cocaine/powder cocaine disparity alone, 90 percent of them are black. They're being liberated from prison.

And I'm not in this to try to contort myself to what pollsters tell me we need. I think we need authentic warriors who talk about the best of who we are. We are a party from Jimmy Carter, when he ran and talked openly about grace at a time of Nixon, a Bill Clinton, who talked openly about what the common ground and that unites us, Barack Obama. Since I was born, the people our party usually elevates are people who talk to our highest aspirations, talk to what unites us, not what divides us, who don't talk about beating Republicans only, talk about the larger cause of our country, which is to unite Americans.

And so, look, if people want somebody--look, the 2020 elections stand for not the Year of the Race but how many people are running--2020.


SEN. BOOKER: And there's great flavors, and a lot of my good friends are in this race. If you want a fight-fire-with-fire person--I was a mayor of a city, by the way, not a good strategy for putting out fires. I ran a fire department, but if that's what--then people will choose somebody else.

But I believe that this is an election that is really a test of the soul of our country, and that triangulating ourselves into office is not enough, because just beating Donald Trump will not solve the problems on my block where people work longer hours than my parents. But at my local bodega, they still need food stamps to feed their family.

It won't solve the problem that Shahad Smith, a kid I watched grow up, was killed with an assault rifle just last year. Those are problems that we are going to need, like generations past, to create a new American majority driven by a sense of common conviction that this is unacceptable in a nation this great, that we should have people who are doing everything right but are still felled by poverty or violence or a criminal justice system that sucks in the vulnerable and the weak.

MR. COSTA: Is it time to impeach President Trump? Does this week give it more urgency, that whole movement?

SEN. BOOKER: Listen, he should be impeached for what's in the Mueller Report. I mean, look, I recently went down to read the redacted versions of that report, and it had me rereading Mueller's very systematic documentation of the things he did that speak to misconduct, that speak to obstruction. And I was one of those folks that said not right away; let's continue the investigation in Congress. But then he stonewalls Congress.

He's supposed to be the leader of the free world, but he's acting more like an authoritarian leader by not subjecting himself to the checks and balances clearly articulated in the conversation. He's saying, "You cannot investigate me. You have no power of oversight over me. I will not cooperate with subpoenas. I will not cooperate with"--that is somebody who is now challenging our very constitution.

MR. COSTA: Would you tell this to Speaker Pelosi?

SEN. BOOKER: I have told it to Speaker Pelosi.

MR. COSTA: To move now?

SEN. BOOKER: To begin impeachment proceedings, which give us further legal leverage to do our job.

MR. COSTA: But not an impeachment vote?

SEN. BOOKER: Because I think that we should go through--I'm a big believer, as we should be, in due process. We should go through the process because if in this moment in American history, we do not hold the President accountable for this behavior, we're inviting future generations to have to endure the same. We have to do our job, and if this is a president that wants to try to subvert the very mandates of the constitution and we do not act, I think we are failing in our duty to the constitution.

I swore an oath to that document to defend it, and it's being--it's under assault right now. I think we should begin impeachment proceedings in the House.

MR. COSTA: But why have any patience on the process? Why not just move now?

SEN. BOOKER: Again--

MR. COSTA: What are you waiting to see?

SEN. BOOKER: I think that we should have Mueller--I think we should Mueller come and testify.

MR. COSTA: So you're waiting for Mueller.

SEN. BOOKER: I'm not--it's a process, and, you know, again, this again might not be the fighting words that often people want to understand, but, you know--this question was the first question I got in the last debate. I am one of those people that is outraged about the corporate consolidation in our country. It's perverting our free market.

I've sat with Republican farmers who are telling me that the share of the consumer dollar has gone down 50 percent, as one company, like Monsanto, has gobbled up all the others, raised the cost of their seed product, and now they have one company to sell it to.

One of the people--he invited his neighbors there--was afraid to talk to me because he was worried that that company might cut him off.

I have a very aggressive bill to deal with corporate consolidation, but I also believe that there should be a process with which we get to antitrust law and possibly breaking up big companies.

We have to have in this country the ideals of due process, the ideals of sober examination of our electoral systems, and not what Donald Trump has made this, which is the politics of the personal.

I literally see the behavior of companies, whether their mergers are going to get approved, often has less to do with the evaluation of the fact. It has more to do with your relationship with the President. God, if you're a media company and trying to merge right now, you're going to get different treatment than if you are that ag company gobbling up yet another person and causing real harm in the industry for workers for small business people and more.

MR. COSTA: Representative Tlaib, Representative Pressley, Representative Ocasio-Cortez, and Representative Omar, the four minority members of Congress, women who have been attacked by President Trump, what's your relationship like with them?

SEN. BOOKER: You know, I consider many of them friends. I was texting with one of them this morning.

Angela Davis said when racism exists, it's not enough to say that you're not a racist. You need to be an anti-racist.

If you sit by and watch bigotry, attacks on gay and lesbian kids, 30 percent in America who report not going to school because of fear, rise in attacks on Muslims in our country, I mean, if you just sit by and just content yourself with just not being what Donald Trump is, I think in many ways--as King wrote eloquently, the entire letters from Birmingham Jail, that's not a letter to racists. That's a letter to white moderates who were content to sit down and not find an urgency to meet that hatred with a more activist, radical love.

And so I just am somebody that believes it's not enough to not stand up there and be an ally that's willing to stand like Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner did to Jewish Americans, white Americans, who were willing to die side by side with a black American, fighting for the rights of African Americans to vote. That's the kind of courage and heroism we need now, and that's why Republicans, many of whom in this town, will tell me in private how upset they are, but I'm not realizing why the book "Profiles in Courage" is such a thin volume.


MR. COSTA: That's a good book.

What do you make of Representative Ocasio-Cortez's comments that detention centers are the border are concentration camps?

SEN. BOOKER: Again, it's--

MR. COSTA: Do you agree with that?

SEN. BOOKER: It's language I would not use, but I have been to these facilities.

MR. COSTA: You went to Juarez.

SEN. BOOKER: I've been to--look, I've already gone off on this, but we are a country that sweeps more humanity into incarceration than has ever been seen before. One out of every three incarcerated women on the planet Earth is in the United States of America. One out of every four human beings incarcerated on the planet Earth are in the United States of America. We've got 4, 5 percent of the world's population. This is such an American shame, what we do.

So I visit prisons as often as I can. The dictates of my faith, my Christianity say, "Visit me in prison." I've gone to the private prisons that incarcerate mostly, where they get a profit motive, incentives, and they lobby Congress to raise quotas on incarcerating mostly people that are being in immigrant detentions. So I've been doing that before this was a national issue.

MR. COSTA: Why wouldn't you use that language?

SEN. BOOKER: Why wouldn't I use "concentration camps"? Because it invokes a horrific reality. I would not choose that because you start to begin to create historical comparisons that I do not think are constructive to pointing out the outrageous assault on humanity that is going on within our own borders that's not just an assault on the humanity of undocumented immigrants. It's an assault on the humanity of all of us.

King said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. You can't scar the dignity of another, things being done in our name by our government, without your dignity being scarred.

And the lie that's being told that somehow we have to sacrifice our values in order for security--you know, one of our Founders said that: If you sacrifice your values for your security, you lose both.

In fact, I know this. The better way to deal with urgent problems in this country is not by moral vandalism. The better way to deal with addiction is not through incarceration. It's by helping those who are addicted. Mental health, not by incarcerating them, but by helping those people.

Folks who are coming here, we can do this through the civil process. I can show you the data.

Again, I was a mayor during a serious crisis. We were losing revenue. There's nobody in the Senate that had to govern something, and I hope The Washington Post fact-checkers check this and they'll give me no Pinocchios, because--

MR. COSTA: We'll see.

SEN. BOOKER: We'll see. Come on. Bring it.

--who was a governor or county executive like Chris Coons or a mayor, nobody cut government as much as I had to. I cut the size of Newark's government 25 percent.

So I had this saying with my team, which was like in God we trust. I'm a man of faith, but everybody else, bring me data.

And so when I hear the emotionalism and the strong feelings, I give validation to that, but I look at the data. And I know factually that we can get better compliance for less taxpayer dollars through things like the family case management systems that were piloted under the Obama administration that had virtually 100 percent compliance with court proceedings and the like.

So, in other words, you can save money on detention because dealing with this is a criminal problem. It costs a lot of money and a lot of resources that I, as somebody that is concerned about safety, would rather use those law enforcement resources to go someplace else.

So we can actually not have these detention facilities, get better compliance with our immigration laws, still return the people from outside of our country who do not belong here, are not here because of a legitimate asylum claim or some other legitimate reason. We can do this so much better and not sacrifice our values, save taxpayer dollars, and get a better result.

MR. COSTA: Speaking of incarceration, you've proposed sweeping clemency reforms, using an executive order to help 17,000 nonviolent drug offenders have clemency. Why use executive power and not work with Congress if you're elected president?

SEN. BOOKER: Well, if you were somebody that was sitting in jail right now for unjust reasons, which happens every day--we had more marijuana arrests in 2017 than all violent crime arrest combined, and so if you're one of those kids, usually from low-income communities, sitting in jail for doing things that two of the last three Presidents admitted to doing and you heard this, you were watching on TV, this intellectual conversation between two very handsome men, and you heard somebody say, "Well, wait till Congress fixes this. Just wait in prison until that happens"--

MR. COSTA: But you've worked on bipartisan criminal justice--

SEN. BOOKER: I did, and I'm proud of getting it done. But the most sacrosanct principle of our Founders was liberty, and we have taken it away from people unjustly. And there are thousands of people in jail who do not belong there. Read our founding documents. There is so much in there about the value of liberty.

And so I can point to at least 17,000 people, 17,000 Americans, which we agree in a bipartisan fashion, actually, that are unjustly incarcerated.

We just did a--I led the bill. Eighty-seven members of the United States Senate from both parties said our sentences were too long and we brought them down. The absurdity of being convicted and sentenced the week before that and having an incredibly long sentence and the week after that and had incredibly short, that is unjust.

MR. COSTA: What was your impression of Jared Kushner working with him on that?

SEN. BOOKER: I've known Jared for--I knew Jared back when he was a Democrat, okay?


SEN. BOOKER: He's from Jersey.

And I tell people all the time, patriotism is love of country, and you cannot love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and -women. And love is not a sentiment. It is not a feeling. Love doesn't mean you have to agree or always get along. Love simply says that we have common cause, common purpose, common destiny, and that if your kids don't have a great public school to go to, then my kids are lesser off.

And so I was arguing and yelling and pushing--actually not much yelling, but pushing with Jared until the very last second. I was trying to get this last piece of the bill done, which was to ban juvenile solitary confinement on the federal level, which is--our psychological professionals have a near consensus on it. Other countries, they call that practice "torture" because the permanent damage it does.

So working with him to get this bill done was to me a necessary to effectuate the moral change and legal change, and I will do that with anybody. I am not one of these people that believes that perfect has to be the enemy of the good because there are communities all around America that just need a lot more good, and for us to create a culture where we have right now, where we so demonize each other--

You know, Chris Christie, I can write a dissertation on my disagreements with the guy, but he was the governor of my state, I was the mayor of the largest city, and we found a friendship by acknowledging that we disagree on most things. but doing the hard work--and it was hard work finding common ground, and I watched in dismay as Chris Christie lost 10 points in New Hampshire because of Super PAC ads being run by two other people in that race, that the ads just showed one thing, him hugging Barack Obama. That was the ad, and as a hugger, it wasn't even a good hug.


SEN. BOOKER: When I hugged John McCain on the Senate floor, when he came back after what became a terminal cancer diagnosis, I was getting torched on Twitter by people on my side of the aisle for hugging a so-called "baby killer."

If we are demonizing each other--again, we have more animus for each other than we do for the Russians right now who are actively trying to undermine our democracy. We have a crisis.

When I was playing football and we were driving on a team--let's say Notre Dame--


MR. COSTA: I'm not going to ingratiate that.

SEN. BOOKER: --and I heard arguments in the huddle on the other side--


SEN. BOOKER: --people tearing each other down, I would tell my team, "We are going to score a touchdown."

MR. COSTA: Stanford usually did score against Notre Dame.

SEN. BOOKER: Yes. My best career game, did I tell you about the five catches I had against them?

MR. COSTA: That's for our extra discussion.


SEN. BOOKER: Don't fact-check that, please, actually.

MR. COSTA: Stanford was good in 1990. I'll give them that. I believe you beat Notre Dame in 1990.

SEN. BOOKER: Yes, we did.

MR. COSTA: So when you think back, though, to Jared Kushner, he's also someone who's embraced, to use your phrase, the Saudis, and they're responsible for killing Jamal Khashoggi.

SEN. BOOKER: I love how journalists talk about the other journalists, which is right and important to mention. I think that we as a nation have been participants in the horror that's going on of tens of thousands of children dying, cholera epidemics.

I mean, literally, we were refueling the planes, the Saudi planes. Our military refueling the Saudi planes, as we were at targeting centers, that then dropped American bombs on civilians. It never came before Congress to do that. Under the pretext of a 2001 authorization for the use of military force, it's now helped to create this reality of forever wars, and it's being used as a justification, I think, to violate the constitution time and time again.

Even the bombs we shot at Syria, were those directly targeting a terrorist organization, or were those targeting the Assad regime?

We are at this perilous point where we see a slippage of power going from the Article I branch of the constitution, the Congress, to the Article II branch of the constitution, the President of the United States, and that is a crisis. And that is the resulting in things that are wrong, and I think Jared's policies--I think this administration's policies, I should say, more largely, are abjectly wrong. And I have spoken out against them, not just when this administration was doing it. I was speaking out against these kind of arms sales when the Obama administration was doing it.

MR. COSTA: Talking about crime, the '94 crime bill, should Vice President Biden be held accountable for his support for that?

SEN. BOOKER: Look, why did it take him so long to apologize? I'm stunned. Bernie Sanders voted for that bill. Members of the Black Caucus did. They, years ago, came out and said it was one--some of them have said it's some of their worst votes or they regret that vote.

I was a law student, a young black guy at Yale Law School, watching the movement of mass incarceration. Remember, since 1980, 14 years before that until now, the federal prison population has gone up 800 percent, and that bill put mass incarceration on steroids. It is a horrific bill that has led to the reality right now that is indefensible, where we have more African Americans under criminal supervision in America than all the slaves in 1850.

And if this is something that someone cannot see how punishingly bad this bill was, not just for black folks but for our society--remember it made this country. With our crumbling infrastructure, we were, from the time I was in law school, time of that bill until now, until the time I was mayor of the City of Newark--we were building a new jail or prison in America every 10 days to warehouse humanity.

We know now--I think it's Vanderbilt that did the study--that we have we'd have 20 percent less poverty in America if our incarceration rates were the same as our industrial peers.

Talk about separating families, to see parents torn away from their kids, again, for doing things that presidents, Congress people, and senators have done, to see them torn away from their families, to lose their jobs and their employability, their ability to get a loan from the bank, their ability to have access to public housing or food stamps, from nonviolent drug offenses fueled by this law, this was one of the worst laws I've seen in my lifetime. And if you can't come forward and say not only was it wrong--but I challenge every one of my colleagues who are running to step up and do like I'm doing and say I will liberate people from prison who do not belong there, who are sitting in incarceration right now because of these bad pieces of legislation.

That's why my clemency bill is not just about what I want to do as president. I'm challenging every single presidential candidate not to talk about criminal justice reform, but pledge to be the agent of liberty and say that "I will enact this kind of clemency plan to try to undo what was done." Apologies are not enough. Commitments to action is what we need right now to deal with what is a cancer on the soul of our country, a system of mass incarceration.

MR. COSTA: You say apologies are not enough. You had a personal conversation with Vice President Biden about his segregationist remarks, about the segregation of senators. Does he have gaps on race?

SEN. BOOKER: Look, the call of the country right now is for reconciliation for healing, for truth telling, and we need a nominee from our party that, number one, has the courage to show vulnerability, because none of us get these issues right. And when you make a mistake, to not fall into a defensive crouch and try to shift the blame--remember one of Biden's reactions to a reporter was "Cory should apologize," which sure had me sitting there eating my vegan Ben & Jerry's like, "What?" I mean, you got to be kidding me.

This is a time when we need a leader, whoever it ends up being, who can be an agent of healing, an agent of helping, an agent that shows that they are as imperfect as our society is, but that together, we can reconcile. We can address systematic racism and bigotry. We can have the difficult conversations, and we can advance to a more common cause, that we can weave the fabric tighter of this nation to deal with our common challenges. That's what we need from a leader.

MR. COSTA: Do you feel disrespected?

SEN. BOOKER: Of course, I did. How many times have we all in our lives who are some kind of "other" dealt with mansplaining or dealt with condemning remarks. I mean, yeah, I did.

But come on. You know, when I first got to the Senate, Angus King, who's this incredible guy, heard a bunch of complaining amongst senators about a legitimate reason to complain, but he whispers to me, "There should be a sign in the cloakroom." I go, "What should it say, Angus?" He goes, "It should say 'No complaining on the yacht.'"


SEN. BOOKER: I am a United States Senator. When a president says something like that, boohoo my feelings, but you know what it says to the young black kid?

MR. COSTA: What does it say?

SEN. BOOKER: I heard my father tell stories about making sales calls as one of IBM's first black--he was the first black salesman for IBM in this region, Virginia region, and what it was like to make a sales call and have somebody rip up his card and say, "You tell IBM, boy, not to send any more niggers out here." That word "boy" for a lot of people that Vice President Biden said, you know, that the segregationists didn't call me "boy," they called me "son," well, they called him "son" because they saw themselves in him. And they saved that word, the demeaning, degrading word, that power dynamic, and there's a lot of people in America that have felt the harshness of that power dynamic.

And I'm not holding it against Vice President Biden for saying something boneheaded. We all have. But come forward. Why have we created this culture where you can't say you made a mistake or you could have done better?

In fact, I think that vulnerability makes us all stronger. I think that's courage in that, and I want a leader that understands that.

And so I'm happy that he came forward and apologized, but a presidential nominee shouldn't need that kind of lesson or 18 days to recognize that an apology is necessary.

And we are in perilous times where people are feeling like the forces tearing this country apart are stronger than the ones binding us together. There are people now believing that the lines that divide us are stronger than the ties that bind us. This is not just about Donald Trump. This is going to be a quarter century in America where it's the test of our democracy. Will we continue to fray and tear and people seeing that they can exploit divisions for their own good, where Russians literally have their strategy to try throw matches to make us further ignite the flames of hatred in our country, or can we find leaders that can say "Enough already"? Whatever the line is--Republican, Democrat, Muslim, Christian--that we are a nation with common cause and common purpose and that can heal and reconcile and get back to the important work of advancing this democracy because the world needs us to lead, and we are falling behind.

Let's not point fingers at people. Let's all take responsibility for that, and I want a president that sees that as one of the causes of the next presidency, especially after this President, and can rise to the occasion of being a great healer, a helper, a uniter, an igniter of that civic grace.

MR. COSTA: What does it say to that young black man or black woman in America when the Attorney General decides not to bring federal Civil Rights charges against the police officer who choked Eric Garner?

SEN. BOOKER: Look, I know we know Eric Garner, Tamir Rice--I can go through the names, but for every name we know, there are thousands that we don't.

Remember Eric Garner, if that video didn't surface about 24 hours later--we saw what the police report was before the videotape. We saw how it was just going to be another death swept under the rug, and so this is the horrific tragedy of his death. And there should be accountability, and the Justice Department should take responsibility for that.

But one of the great things that Obama did was pull together a task force on 21st century policing that had Black Lives Matters, people sitting at the same table as big-city chiefs. And they came up with a whole lot of commonsense recommendations.

As a guy who used to run a police department, who understood the urgency of stopping violent crime but also the urgency of--and understanding that in order to do that, transparency, accountability, these kind of things, I learned this lesson. Am I a mayor who is so critical for making that happen? There's a whole bunch of recommendations, and for this administration to just sweep them under the table, to stop even the consent decrees with cities like mine, to address issues of accountability and transparency, we need to come up and have a conversation about what makes us safer and stronger. And right now this administration is doing so many things to aggrieve that.

I mean, I sat in Las Vegas, where my mom lives, with a 14-year-old American citizen who was telling stories that are familiar to me in New Jersey about how her friend was the survivor of an assault but kept silent about her assault because she knew if she reported it at her school, her parents would have to come in. Her parent was undocumented.

MR. COSTA: So what's the DOJ's role here? Congress has already held Attorney General Barr in contempt for his work on the census, House Democrats. Should he be impeached?

SEN. BOOKER: I want to answer the first part of that question before even the impeachment part of the question, which is, the DOJ for generations, in my mom's generation, their activism in the cause of justice, the federal government's role from Civil Rights to Anti-lynching work to voters' rights, all of these things, to having an activist Department of Justice that really is about justice, that is essential for us as a country right now.

And for this, I've seen it in the Department of Justice. I see it in the Department of Education. Most people--I don't know if you know that we have a Civil Rights Division in the Department of Education that now has halted their work to protect children, LGBTQ children, that deal with urgent issues like the school-to-prison pipeline.

And so this administration is pulling back from protecting people's rights and liberties and safety at a time that we urgently need it, and to me, there needs to be an account for that.

And so, again, anybody who does not comply with the dictates of the constitution, yeah, impeachment should be on the table, but I'm talking about--

MR. COSTA: Should be impeached or not?

SEN. BOOKER: I'm talking about a larger issue than this.

MR. COSTA: Should it be impeached?

SEN. BOOKER: It should be on the table, and that again is a consideration for the House. And, again, I think that they should take these questions seriously.

MR. COSTA: Senator Sanders made a major speech this week saying all candidates should reject money from the health care industry. Would you do so?

SEN. BOOKER: Well, we immediately heard him and looked at his standards. We saw that he took money from people we wouldn't take money from.

So the question--and we're happy to talk more about that, but I know where Senator Sanders' heart is, and he's absolutely right that we should--it's hard to campaign wrong and then govern right.

So before I was even running for president, as a senator, I took an audit and said, okay, what are the kind of resources we're taking that we should--that's when we gave up--we took the Citizens United pledge, anti-Citizens United pledge, and said my campaign would not take corporate PAC money, C-Suite pharma executives.

MR. COSTA: Would you still take some health care money?

SEN. BOOKER: Again, we are not taking corporate PAC money. We're not taking pharma exec. We have our standards; he has his. We see him taking money that we wouldn't take. I have a feeling he'll return that money, but I'm glad to see all of us now setting standards for how campaigns should be run.

I wish we saw the same thing happening on the Republican side. I wish we actually had a bipartisan commitment like John McCain had in his early days to deal with the corrupting force of money in politics.

MR. COSTA: Pharmaceutical is a major industry in New Jersey. Should the federal government regulate pharmaceutical drug prices?

SEN. BOOKER: I cannot say as emphatically as this, but absolutely yes. Other nations have commonsense rules that you cannot charge in our country the same drug, 5X, 2X, 100X, what is being charged in other nations. We should do the same thing here, and for those companies that violate that, we should take away their patent and allow other generics to come in.

And what's more insulting about our nation is that our common taxpayers, we pay for so much of the research that often goes into these drugs. So we're paying doubly when these pharmaceutical companies do this, and you see--

MR. COSTA: Would setting the prices affect that research?

SEN. BOOKER: No. No. And a lot of these people that are the worst abusers of jacking up the prices of drugs, 100X--I'm not exaggerating these numbers--are often the companies that didn't originate the drug. They buy it for these innovative biotech companies that design the drug. Then it gets bought up from the big guys.

Look, the business model works. You do not need to profiteer off of people's pain. We have a nation right now that seems to be content on allowing this kind of corporate malfeasance to go on, and then we pay for it multiple times, because I know folks who ration their insulin, for example. And you know what happens? They end up in emergency rooms, and then we pay again for health care costs. That to me is an immoral system, and it's not an economically necessary system. We should do something about it. It just goes to the larger thing--

MR. COSTA: Should they be prosecuted? If you were President, would you have your Justice Department go after the pharmaceutical companies?

If you look at today's front page of The Washington Post, a deep dive into the opioid crisis and how certain drug companies profited.

MR. COSTA: My Department of Justice will go after these folks, these pharmaceutical companies that have been fueling this opioid crisis, where there was an intentional strategy to juice the addiction of Americans to this drug, causing our life expectancy as a nation to go down. This is criminal behavior, immoral behavior, and my DOJ will go after it.

But I want to go deeper than that because you glanced on something that makes my larger point. We have become comfortable as a society paying an egregious amount of money on the back end of problems, when if we understand that the fiscally responsible thing to do is also the morally right thing to do. And I can pick a thousand examples, but I'll just give you one.

I'm a data-driven person. I can go from dual care for low-income folks about driving down health care costs and elevating life well-being, but Seattle did this study of what was more expensive, keeping mentally ill homeless people on the street or having them go to supportive housing, which anybody who's dealt with housing as much as I do, that's expensive housing. What was more expensive? Well, they found that actually keeping mentally ill homeless people on the streets was more expensive. Homelessness was more expensive. Why? Because those folks ended up in jails and hospital emergency rooms.

There is a far better way to do health care in this country that creates the right kind of incentives, and our system is so broken right now because it's designed around illness and disease and not prevention and early intervention and doing things that elevate human well-being, elevate economic potential, and minimize the need for hospitals and doctors.

And this isn't just within the health care system. I've already talked about environmental injustice. Why do we allow such toxicity to exist in our system that's poisoning us? We literally have a system. Other countries have banned pesticides and chemicals, but we have such anemic laws because of the lobbies of these corporations. That there could be fire retardants on this chair that we're breathing in that are innocent until proven guilty. You have to bring a case and win.

We still technically haven't even banned asbestos from our country. The only reason why--we're one of the two countries that has it. The only reason why it's being stopped is because they can actually point to a specific cancer that's caused by it.

We have a food system that is so broken that we use our taxpayer dollars to incentivize things within our food system that make it so that when my kids walk into bodegas, a Twinkie product is cheaper than a tomato, and then we're paying again the medical cost of kids and the societal cost of having obesity at epidemic rates.

If you're a free market person, you would just say that this is stupid. We're actually creating economic incentives for behaviors that are doubly costing us money.

And so we need to be back to a society that is about health and well-being and start focusing our systems to do that. That's what the urgency of climate change is about as well is we are allowing--again, this is a perversion of the free market, and there's actually a difference in this amongst us Democratic candidates.

I'm stunned that some of my Democratic candidates don't want to put a price on carbon. It's the same reason why the Passaic River is so polluted. You're allowing corporations producing a problem to externalize it into the commons, which is virtually stealing from future generations who are going to have to deal with the cost of that. The Passaic River, we as taxpayers right now are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to clean it up because the corporations were not willing to do the much smaller expense of stopping Agent Orange from going into the Passaic River, and now we're allowing corporations to pollute our atmosphere causing us hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars--fires, floods, storms--causing a problem. Without putting a price on carbon, we're not going to solve these problems.

MR. COSTA: We only have a few minutes left. Speaking of corporations, I remember reading the Newark Star-Ledger, your relationship, your friendship with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, when you were mayor of Newark.

You worked with the tech companies. Looking back, any regrets?

SEN. BOOKER: Do I have any regrets for being--

MR. COSTA: Working with the tech company.

SEN. BOOKER: --one of the lowest-income cities in America during a recession and doing everything I could to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in philanthropy, especially for Newark schools which are now--since I was mayor have seen over a 30 percent increase in graduation? We're now the number one school system in America for Beat the Odds schools, high poverty, high performance.

The majority of my kids are black. If you're a black kid in Newark, your chance of going to a school that beats the suburbs went up 3-, 400 percent; for raising teacher's salary, which was the biggest thing we did, public school teacher's salary with that money, I have no regrets whatsoever in doing everything I could to fight for my city in crisis and deliver real measurable results.

MR. COSTA: Should Facebook, Amazon, Google be broken up?

SEN. BOOKER: Facebook, Amazon, and Google need some serious federal regulation because what they're doing with our data on privacy issues--I think the fine that Facebook just had, do you want to know what the impotency of that fine was? Their stock went up. Their stock value went up. Literally, Mark Zuckerberg and other owners, their net worth goes up, the result of a fine. It just shows that we are not doing what we need to do to change behavior and to deal with a culture right now where most of us don't even understand how our data is being collected and then used against us.

MR. COSTA: What do you think of that face app that's out there? You're a user of the cell phone, as we know.

SEN. BOOKER: One of the things we need to do as a society is recognize our threats. I am still having a difficult time knowing that every day, Russia is trying to undermine our democracy and use insidious means. These tech apps should be held accountable for how foreign nations are using those platforms for insidious purposes, but our government, our President should be held accountable, that at a moment of the greatest threat from the Russians since it was the Soviet Union, he is not doing what is necessary to defend this nation and defend our democracy.

MR. COSTA: Does that face app give you pause? Would you do it?

SEN. BOOKER: My campaign, well before this was a national story. We now--any campaign, it's malpractice if you're not doing things to protect. So a campaign alert went out in my campaign before it was even a national story saying do not use this app.

MR. COSTA: If these issues are so important, why not make them utilities, the social media companies?

SEN. BOOKER: I think that all of the options should be on the table. We don't know what these devices are doing to our brains. We don't know what they're doing to our kids. We should be doing a lot more research about what--having that cortisol, in my high school years, tough day at high school, you go home. You're getting a reprieve from bullying or a reprieve from the kind of shallow aspects of our culture that confuse wealth with worth, that confuse celebrity with significance, popularity with purpose. These are all cultural streams that have been supercharged by social media, and for many children, there's no escape.

We need to have a much better conversation about these, what this is doing to our culture, what it's doing to our brains, what it's doing when this information is being gathered by corporations to be used against us, how it's freezing racial disparities in our country, because now these algorithms are saying, hey, this person in this place is not loan-worthy or this person in this place shouldn't be shown educational information. Assumptions are being made.

So I just think that there needs to be a whole lot of regulation, and a lot of the solutions to this should be put on the table because we are entering a new era of humanity where these platforms are having outsized power and influence, and we need to have a conversation about how to protect ourselves and to see the good of technology, because as a mayor, we use technology in innovative new ways to create efficiencies, to get more people engaging in society.

We didn't talk about e-government. We used these platforms to create "we government," to help us more efficiently get potholes fixed or traffic light outs. So there's positives as well as negatives, but we need to be doing what we can.

I think there's a role for serious government regulation to prevent from the negative.

MR. COSTA: Final question. Later this morning, we're going to hear more from the judge about the Michael Cohen case, materials being released. It appears the investigation is over. How should Democrats move forward on Michael Cohen, the hush payments, the investigation of President Trump?

SEN. BOOKER: And I know I'm in Washington. I know this is a political town, but I wish we could stop framing these things as what are Democrats going to do. First of all, that's ascribing to Democrats, some kind of common group-think, and dear God. Herding cats, let me tell you that right now.

MR. COSTA: Well, what matters now? What matters?

SEN. BOOKER: What matters is our societal values.

MR. COSTA: But specifically with the Cohen case?

SEN. BOOKER: Look, I could go through Cohen, the President's lawyers, the President's campaign managers, the President's closest advisors. We've seen indictment after indictment. We have seen guilty plea after guilty plea. We have seen everyone around--a level of corruption around this administration. There should be a larger calling to account.

At the same time this corruption is happening, you've got a President using jingoism, hatred, bigotry as almost a distraction against the kind of things that are really going on and the things we're just not talking about.

Here, we had a conversation, you and I, and so many of the pressing issues that are making a difference, like the fact that Americans work full-time jobs, have no retirement security, barely can live, I mean, there are real societal trends, deeper trends that need our attention.

So we need to start having a larger conversation, trying to divorce it from the daily up-down partisanship, and that's why I think that this is a moral moment in this election for us as Democrats. It's not about beating Republicans. The real test for my party is can we unite Americans into a new American majority. Can we affect our culture? That right now our political culture is sclerotic, is broken, is showing an inability to do the things that even we know we agree on.

MR. COSTA: What about Mueller next week? What do you want to see from him here?

SEN. BOOKER: I want to see the truth. I want to see clarity of speech, him talking directly to what dozens and dozens of other federal prosecutors came out and said, if this is the fact pattern in the report, these are indictable offenses. And somehow that's not getting through. So I hope this person with great national respect on both sides of the aisle speaks directly to the fact that what he outlined in that report, if somebody was not the President of the United States, they would have been indicted.

But I do not want to let the daily news cycle, the news of the day, undermine all of us from accepting responsibility for where we are.

A story I tell to every stop I make on the campaign right now is the story that 50 years ago this summer, my parents in D.C. were trying to move to New Jersey, denied housing because of the color of their skin, and they found a whole bunch of folks, mostly white folks, who actually set up a sting operation. I call it the "conspiracy of love," where they would send my parents out to look at a home. They'd be told it was sold. The white couple would go and, surprise, surprise, find out the house was still for sale. They put a bid on the house. The bid was accepted.

At the closing, a lawyer goes in with my dad as opposed to the white couple, and a fight breaks out. The real estate agent punches my dad's lawyer in the face and sics a dog on my dad. And as I'm growing up, every time my dad would tell the story, the dog would get bigger.


SEN. BOOKER: But this is the point. I go back because a lot of Senators do this. You know, us Senators who have a high sense of self-regard, when we get to the Senate, we decide to write books. And if your name is Booker, it's a lot of pressure on you.

And so I go back to find the lawyer who organized this whole thing, this 84-year-old retired judge, Arthur Lessman, and this is the point that he made that blew me away. I'm like, "Why would you if the beginning of your career--you were barely supporting your family, trying to make a business work. Why would you go so far out of your way to help black families moving into your community at the time of fears of white flight and real estate prices going down?" And he said, "I remember the moment I made the decision. It was March 7th, 1965."

Now, I literally have degrees in history, but I didn't recognize that date. I go, "Well, what was going on?" He goes, "I was just sitting at home watching TV." Well, most of America that day, back when we had three channels, was watching a movie called "Judgment at Nuremberg," and what happened on that day is historic because they broke away from an ongoing movie to show a bridge in Alabama called the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And he watched in horror, what we now call "Bloody Sunday," where these marchers who started in Selma, trying to get to Montgomery, stopped on that bridge by Alabama state troopers who would not let them pass.

And then he says to me, sitting on his couch in New Jersey, he watches as they started getting viciously beaten and teargassed. This was a moral moment in America, and a guy who was struggling economically just to make it realized he couldn't just sit on that couch, and so he said he got up, knew he couldn't fly to Alabama, new he couldn't even close his business a day. But he knew he could do something.

So he did the calculation in his mind that he could spend one hour a week of pro bono work, calls around, finds this group of housing advocates, goes to work with them. '65 becomes '66, '67. He organizes others, '68, '69, and then he says, "Cory, I remember the day they handed me this case file of a couple desperate to try to find housing for their kids," and he goes, "Do you know what the names on the case file were?" And I go, "No, sir, I don't." He goes, "The names were Cary and Carolyn Booker, your parents."

I am literally sitting here with you right now as a United States Senator, as a candidate for President of the United States, because in a moral moment, a man on a couch, a white guy, a thousand miles away from moral vandalism, from Wallace, and hatred being spewed did not stay on a couch. He got up and did something for the cause of this country. That's the America I know and believe in. My whole life has been shaped by that spirit, that love.

This is that same moral moment, and it's not going to turn on the candidates or the person in this office. It's not a referendum on one guy. It's a referendum on us and what we will do. This call is not for our Democratedness or Republican-ness. This call is for us being patriots, patriotism, love of country, love of one another, and if we rise up to this occasion and condemn hate with our actions of love, condemn despair by not letting it have the last word, by us speaking hope, by us speaking activism and engagement, then we will not tear this country apart. We will unite it, and we again, as we reflect on our ancestors--I promise you if we live like that and love like that and serve like that, we will again in this generation defy gravity.

Thank you.

MR. COSTA: Senator Cory Booker, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

SEN. BOOKER: Thank you. Thank you so much.

MR. COSTA: And thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.


[End of recorded session.]