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Sen. Cory Booker on Unrest in the Middle East and Impasse Over Impeachment Trial

Dan Tuohy for NHPR



As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker says he will demand to see intelligence reports that may have led President Trump to authorize the airstrike that killed Iran's top security and intelligence commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.

I'll be asking, did this meet the standards of using military force?” Booker said during an Exchange 2020 Primary Forum.

The Democratic presidential candidate also addressed domestic issues such as gun control, affordable housing, impeachment, the role of the New Hampshire primary,and the declining number of non-white candidates in the field.  Booker appeared confident, however, about his support in the nearly all-white early states of Iowa and New Hampshire and about his prospects for emerging as a front-runner despite DNC policies that he says have created a primary dominated by money and other "artificial boundaries."


(To watch or listen to the full conversation visit here. Interview excerpts here have been edited slightly for clarity.)


On rising tensions in Iraq and Iran:

Booker faulted President Trump's “America First” approach for contributing to growing unrest in the Middle East. “This action we just took has a lot of strategic implications. He's put our allies at greater potential risk,” he said. “When he pulls out of the Iran nuclear deal, he isolates this country against our own allies. For that region's complicated problems, we need strong alliances and a larger strategic plan that involves diplomacy.”

Booker also acknowledged that Suleimani had been responsible for killing many Americans.

"I can go through a long litany of things that this person is responsible for. But we also have to look at in the larger strategic context. And that's what I worry about. This president has not shown an ability to have strategic thinking about how to de-conflict that region, how to support our allies, how to keep Americans safe.”

President Trump and Pentagon officials have claimed Suleimani was developing plans to attack Americans throughout the region, but the general's killing has also escalated hostilities. Iraqi militias allied with Iran had been harassing U.S. Forces in Iraq recently. American airstrikes this week in reprisal for the killing of a U.S. contractor there led to protests and attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Iran has threatened vengeance since the death of Suleimani.

There are legal standards that should be met before a president makes a decision like that,” Booker said. “That’s why we talk about 'authorization of the use of military force.' That’s why there’s a tremendous amount of law and judicial decisions around this issue.”

Booker said he hopes the Senate Foreign Relations committee will put aside partisan politics and work in the interest of national security to deal with the situation.

I've been to Baghdad. I've met with our military leaders there. This is a delicate situation going on. There's a lot more information we must know,” he said. “What does this mean for our relationship with Iraq right now? We've invested tremendous amounts of blood and treasure in Iraq. If I was president, I'd be working to bring our troops home.”

On serving as juror in Senate impeachment trial, now in limbo: 

Booker said he takes no partisan pleasure in the impeachment of President Trump. He is among several senators whose presidential campaigns could be sidelined in the coming month by an impeachment trial in the senate.

It is a sad, sobering moment. But we must do our duty. History will look back on this moment to say, what did we do? Did we just turn our heads and say let's wait until the next election? No. There are important checks and balances. A president of the United States should not be allowed to use his position for his own personal benefit to compromise what both parties have said is in the national security of the United States of America.”

Though he said the president has violated his oath of office, Booker denied that he has already made up his mind about the president's actions and insisted he can be impartial. “I can be a juror now to listen to the evidence presented and objectively make a decision about what is right and what is wrong.”

He called upon President Trump to allow key witnesses to testify. “If you're so innocent Mr. President, then have the people who were in the room, like your acting chief of staff, testify, swear under oath, testify to what he saw, what he heard, and what happened.”

Meanwhle, Senate leaders this week have said they are no closer to setting rules for an impeachment trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell chided the House for a delay in transmitting articles of impeachment and Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would not do so until the Senate agreed to a fair process. 











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