Watch Or Listen: 2020 Candidate Forum With Sen. Cory Booker

Jan 2, 2020

The Exchange sits down with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker before a live audience at NHPR's Concord studio.

The Democratic presidential candidate and former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, has been calling for national unity, criminal justice reform, and closing the racial wealth gap. We'll talk with the senator about these issues and more, including foreign policy.

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Transcript

This is a computer-generated transcript and may contain errors. 

 

Laura Knoy:
I'm Laura Knoy. and this is the Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
Today, we continue our series of presidential primary 2020 candidate forums and for this show on Friday, January 3rd, we're talking with Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker. He's with us before a live audience in NHPR's Studio D.

Laura Knoy:
We've been hearing from listeners throughout this campaign season we'll be incorporating their questions and concerns into our conversation today, too. So thank you to everybody who took the time to write in. Also, I'm joined by NHPR's senior political reporter Josh Rogers. Josh, thank you. And Senator Booker, welcome. And let's begin.

Senator Cory Booker:
It's great to be here. Thank you for having me.

Laura Knoy:
Late yesterday, a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad killed Iranian Commander Qassim Suleimani, a top Iranian figure associated with a large network of Iran backed arms armed groups across the Middle East. The Pentagon has called this a defensive action, claiming the general was actively developing plans to attack Americans throughout the region. You said on MSNBC that Suleimani had American blood on his hands. I'm quoting you there. But you also criticized President Trump for lacking a strategic plan when it comes to Iran, when it comes to making this region safe. Here's my question for you, Senator Booker. What would your strategy be as president? Never mind what you might have done differently leading up to this day from President Trump. You're in the Oval Office. You inherited this. What does a President Booker do?

Senator Cory Booker:
Well, again, understand that this is going to be unfolding. The next president's not going to take over until one year and about 18 days from now. And we are in a crisis and we have been for some time. Iran's influence in that region has grown significantly under this president. Army Houthis and proxy war in Yemen, a highway, an influence in Syria, arming Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hamas now growing in their influence with China and Russia. They just did naval operations together. Under this president. this region has become less safe. And unfortunately, tremendously more of a threat to our nation and our allies.

Laura Knoy:
So what does a President Booker do differently?

Senator Cory Booker:
Well, the first and foremost is you end this, what President Trump calls America first is really America isolated in America alone. Remember this action we just took, there's a lot of strategic implications. He's put our allies at greater potential risk. And so, number one is when he pulls out of the Iran deal, he isolates this country against our own allies. So any of the complicated problems in that region, we need to have strong alliances and a larger strategic plan that has to involve diplomacy. We have our own generals saying, for example, in Afghanistan, these conflicts are not going to be solved by the military. We must have diplomacy. But yet this president time and time again has chosen to shun diplomacy with this kind of impulse driven bravado that he can somehow solve these hot spots on the globe from North Korea to Iran and beyond.

Laura Knoy:
I'm trying to get a sense, Senator Booker, of what you would do differently. So you say diplomacy. So can you be a little bit clearer about that?

Senator Cory Booker:
No, I want to say it is a larger strategic approach. When you first talk about the importance of our alliances and relationships. The Obama administration built, part of their strategy was having diplomatic relations. So when the Iranians seized a ship and our sailors, John Kerry was able to end that crisis within 24 hours because of our growing diplomatic relations with the Iranians. We sat at the negotiating table, built out an anti-nuclear deal. This is all coming from working with alliances over time and building the kind of relationships that reduce tensions. That will be a very important part of my overall strategic plan. And so this is not just what he seems to be doing, which is a series of tactics woven together and interwoven with that is impulses. Middle East policy done by tweet, surprising your own generals. This is a larger strategic reliance on alliances, on diplomacy, on deconfliction in that region.

Laura Knoy:
Still, the president's job is to protect Americans from foreign threats. And the Pentagon does say that this general was actively developing plans to attack Americans in the region. You said American blood is on his hands. You said he was responsible for killing and wounding Americans. So could this have been something that a President Booker might have done if he knew that this person was indeed planning further attacks?

Senator Cory Booker:
We should be careful about hypotheticals. There'll be a lot of intelligence information coming out. And obviously, as my colleagues in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, our staffs are already engaged, we're going to evaluate the intelligence reports as it comes out. But these are things that we know are clear. Not only have we had opportunities to to have strikes on Suleimani in the past. So have the Israelis. But no one's chosen to do it because clearly he's been responsible for Quds forces. 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. He has not shown an ability to have strategic thinking about how to deconflict that region, how to support our allies, how to keep Americans safe.

Laura Knoy:
Since you mentioned you said on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, what, if anything, do you think Senator Booker, Congress should be doing right now to address this escalation of tension, to address the possible repercussions from this attack? I'm asking it you to put on your U.S. senator hat now.

Senator Cory Booker:
In a conflict like this. you don't take it off, frankly.

Laura Knoy:
Sure.

Senator Cory Booker:

You know, this is the reason why I joked with you about why I was so tired. I was up till late last night, woke up early this morning, to work on this conflict already. Look, the great thing I have to say about working in the Senate, this is a theme of, frankly, my campaign, without my Senate hat on, is the ability to work across the aisle on critical issues in foreign policy, the foreign relations committee. We actually have a long record now of rebuking President Trump in critical areas. And so whether it was another Iran involved crisis, which was Yemen, where most Americans don't know this. And again this isn't just a partisan thing -- the growth of the presidency in terms of its erosion of separation of powers. Remember, war powers belong to Congress, not the president.

Laura Knoy:
Many say Congress has sort of handed this over to the president, not just this president, but other presidents. This is a long, steady trend.

Senator Cory Booker:
And that's exactly why I'm saying this is not a partisan issue. This is a dangerous slide which has led to presidents like President Trump. Did we declare war? Did Congress clear war on the Assad regime? No. But yet we had missile strikes on the Assad regime. Have we declared war in Yemen? No. But yet our military planes were refueling Saudi bombers to drop American bombs on Yemen, which has led to a crisis there of monumental humanitarian proportions. And so this Congress has worked in a bipartisan way, our Foreign Relations Committee, to rebuke the president a number of times. And so, yeah, we will be working together, I hope, to look at this, not in a political context, but in what is in the true national security interest of this nation. And understand this. 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. what are our communications with Iraqis. What does this mean for our relationships with Iraq right now? There are consequences in this that need to be thought through strategically to look at this in a larger context. Again, we've invested tremendous amounts of blood and treasure in Iraq. And this is a situation where I want to see if I was president, I'd be working to bring our troops home. What is this action now going to do? We've already seen protests there at our embassy from rise in tensions over the last number of days. This is a very serious situation. A lot of questions need to be asked to this administration and we will be doing this in the United States Senate.

Josh Rogers:
But do you consider the act itself, a strike, an act of war?

Senator Cory Booker:
Again, there are important facts to come out, but I'm a big believer that we are not at war with Iraq. And therefore, there are legal standards that should be met before a president makes a decision like that. That's why we talk about an authorization of the use of military force. That's why there is a tremendous amount of law and and frankly, judicial decisions around this issue. And so I want to find out, part of things I'll be demanding as a United States senator, is what are the intelligence reports that led you to take this action? Did this meet the standards of using military force? And this is a president, in my opinion, who has violated the separation of powers. He's relying, like other presidents have, on a 2001 authorization of military force to do military actions now that is spreading across the globe from Africa to the Middle East. We are seeing an expansion of presidential power in a way that is very troublesome to me.

Laura Knoy:
One more question for you on this, Senator Booker, and then I turn it over to Josh. You mentioned repercussions around the region on our allies. As you know, Israel is on high alert after this attack. What is the American responsibility if Israel is harmed as a result of this killing?

Senator Cory Booker:
Israel's a critical and indispensable ally. We work in very close partnership with them. And again, these are important questions. Did we even notify the Israelis that we were taking this action? And so, I believe Israel's before this attack even happened in a far more vulnerable position. Israel's been doing strikes in Syria. Why? Because of Iranian activities in Syria. Hezbollah? My last trip in that region was to Lebanon to talk to Lebanese leaders and their military about the sophisticated weapons that that Hezbollah now has and has been being armed under this administration. So our ally, Israel, is in a more dangerous position. We have an obligation to stand with our ally in their in their defense. And this is going to raise a lot more unfortunate challenges to Israel as a result of this action.

Laura Knoy:
Well, it's an evolving situation. And I want to turned to Josh Rogers now to cover some of the other issues you've been talking about in this campaign, Senator Booker.

Josh Rogers:
So, we're going to turn to domestic policy issues and guns, among other things. Senator, you've called for a gun licensing program and mandatory buyback programs for certain weapons that goes beyond what Democrats have traditionally referred to as common sense gun reforms. You know, given the reality that the country has had mass shooting events going on regularly for years now and that gun policies haven't changed. How would you get those policies which go beyond what have been proposed and never gained traction in Congress, how would you get those through?

Senator Cory Booker:
So, first of all, I just want to contextualize this because you say mass shootings, but me and millions of Americans live in neighborhoods where every day, every week, we are seeing constant shootings going on. I came out of Des Moines before I came here. Another minority boy, 14 year old, was killed. On my block where live in Newark Shihad Smith was killed with an assault rifle. We have an awful reality where we see young men, often minority me, the majority of homicides in America are black men, black boys. This is not before I even get to it, a policy, a tab on my Web site, this is an issue for me that in my community when we have Fourth of July, where we should be celebrating America, I get parents telling me about the trauma of their children hiding under beds, showing signs of post-traumatic stress. So there is nobody that's been in that White House that will have more of a sense of urgency on this issue, of lived experience, of literally watching a child bleed to death, than me. And my whole career has been about finding ways to get things done by raising the moral imagination of a nation. How do we get civil rights legislation passed? The longest filibuster in Senate history was Strom Thurmond. And we didn't pass that because of some kind of great legislative tactics. We passed it because we got the whole country involved by artists of activism that raised the conscience of this country that fought and actually got over those filibusters. And so my career let's just be clear, when I was a city council person, I did a hunger strike in an area that nobody paid attention to, highway cut right over those projects into the wealthiest areas of our country. Did a hunger strike to attract attention? Thousands of people came, police officers from suburban towns, came down to help protect people. When I was mayor of the city of Newark, I found creative ways to bring attention to problems because I couldn't even get foundations or developers to come to my city.

Josh Rogers:
So what would you envision as president on this issue?

Senator Cory Booker:
I'm not going to tell you all my tactics, but I tell you this: I'm not going to play by the rules that past presidents who failed to pass gun legislation have played. President Trump breaks our norms. He does it to demean, degrade, divide. He uses social media platforms in creative ways that pits Americans against each other. I'm the person in this race has a record of getting things done that people say can't get done, like criminal justice reform that Democrats told me because of the specter of Willie Horton that you can't pass legislation that's going to take thousands of people out of prison. And so, look, I think my gun policy plans are the best. I think that things like gun licensing are supported by 70 to 80 percent of Americans. I can show you the data that in states like Connecticut that did gun licensing, not only did overall gun violence drop 40 percent, but suicides, which is another type of gun violence we don't talk about enough in America, suicides dropped 15 percent. My job, we just talked about this in a foreign policy context, same in a domestic policy. My job is to protect as president of the United states American lives. If I'm in that Web site, as a person who's literally been to too many damn funerals of too many children, I'm going to take real measures to make sure that we as a country raise the consciousness to pass the legislation to protect people, because this is what I know. Talk about how hard it was to pass legislation. Well, I told you, when four girls died in a bombing in Birmingham, raised consciousness, we rallied, we passed legislation. When women..we couldn't pass workers rights legislation, powerful corporate interests. Well, when women were throwing themselves out windows at the Shirtwaist Factory fire, we've responded. But now this country, when our children are being slaughtered in schools, as you mentioned, mass shootings from Parkland to Newtown, the strongest nation on the planet Earth, where we agree on most of these issues, instead of changing laws, we now send our children to schools with the implicit message that we can't protect you, so we're gonna teach you how to hide. There are more shelter in place drills in the United States of America in our public schools than fire drills. This is morally unconscionable in our nation. We are better than this and we know it because 86 percent of gun owners support some commonsense things.

Josh Rogers:
So I guess what I'm asking is how can you prove we're better than this if policies have not changed given all the shootings you referred to?

Senator Cory Booker:
Because it's a test of leadership. Look for Parkland students were very effective at calling to the conscience of this country and getting things done. Laws even passed in Florida. I started in Newark with people lining up to tell me all the things we couldn't do that you can't turn around an urban school system that Newark has had 60 years of losing population. You can't make the city grow again. My whole career has been running at the toughest of problems. I'm a kid from the suburbs, came out Yale Law School. I moved into the toughest neighborhood. One of the toughest, most violent neighborhoods in New Jersey.

Josh Rogers:
Are their executive actions you could take as president?

Senator Cory Booker:
Yeah, of course. Of course there are executive actions, but that that... could move the bar. But I'm talking about ending the crisis we have in our country, the carnage that in my lifetime, I'm 50 years old. We've had more people die.

Josh Rogers:
Why do you think it's so intractable?

Senator Cory Booker:
Again, I pointed out to you that at many points in history, we thought things were intractable. The number of times civil rights legislation failed. The number of times suffrage, social folks failed. Heck, meet me and Kamala Harris, finally, after hundreds of attempts passed legislation around lynching. I mean, We were almost in tears on the Senate floor finally getting it done. Just because it hasn't been done in the past doesn't mean it can't be done now. We need creative leaders who are going to take new approaches. I broke a lot of norms when I was mayor of the city of Newark, brought national attention to issues. Heck, I lived on food stamps. It became a national story. To demonstrate the crisis that I have in my community, where people work full time jobs, longer hours than my parents worked, and they were hardworking people and still needed to use food stamps at a local grocery store. There are ways leaders can bring attention to issues and motivate change and action that hasn't been done before. And that's what we need in the White House now.

Laura Knoy:
You have called for mandatory gun buybacks. A lot of your fellow president candidates have called for a voluntary gun buybacks. Why mandatory? Senator Booker had even go about doing that?

Senator Cory Booker:
Well, this is the thing. And these are the things that often end up drawing us into moments where I've seen in this presidential campaign that are not constructive to mobilizing that change, because this is a trope on the votes of that small minority of the people that still want assault rifles on our streets. And they say, oh, well, people are gonna come for my guns. Well, let's get that image out of our mind. We had machine guns in the United States of America. We banned them. We found a way to get them off of their streets. As a guy that knows urban violence a lot, we don't see machine guns anymore. Australia in 2003 were able to get guns off. There are proven evidence based ways that we can get these guns off our streets. I'm going to do that when I'm president.

Laura Knoy:
Coming up, more of our conversation with New Jersey U.S. senator and Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker. This is the exchange on Hampshire Public Radio.

Laura Knoy:
This is the exchange. I'm Laura Knoy. Today in exchange, it's the latest in our presidential primary 2020 candidate forums and we're talking with Democrat Cory Booker and NHPR's Josh Rogers is also with me and Senator Booker I want to turn to what may be the sort of national theme of your campaign, and that's unity, civic grace, saying there's a need for what you call radical love in this country. It's the nice campaign. This message often gets audiences applauding, as you know. But President Trump also gets enthusiastic and applause when he makes fun of people, when he says certain groups of Americans are dangerous, that they're enemies of the people. What does this suggest to you, Senator Booker, about the national appetite for your message of civic grace and radical love?

Senator Cory Booker:
Well, that's what campaigns are testing. And I'm really excited to be in this campaign. We haven't poll tested our messaging, whatever. This is the reason I'm running is because I do think we need that revival of civic grace in our country. I do think that we are best in our nation when we love each other and recognize that we need each other, that we belong to each other. I love concepts of rugged individualism and self-reliance, but that didn't get us to the moon. It didn't beat the Nazis. We did those things together. In fact, when the Russians put up Sputnik, imagine if that happened now, would we fall into partisan ranks. No, we joined together. We took hidden figures, put them at the same tables with white male astronauts and we went to the moon. And so this is I think this election is a referendum not on one guy in one office. I think this a referendum on who we are as a people and who we are going to be to each other. And he is clearly showed us who he is. He's the guy that wants to pit Americans against Americans.

Laura Knoy:
And plenty of people are applauding those lines so how do you reach out to those people who are saying, yeah, enemies of the people? How do you reach out to those people.

Senator Cory Booker:
Well, again, first of all, I'm in a primary that is going to run in a general election. And the reason why I believe I'm the best candidate to beat Donald Trump. Remember, in many swing states, he got less votes than Mitt Romney got. In fact, if Hillary Clinton in just Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, we lost those three states as Democrats by 77000 votes combined, in the in the metropolitan area of Milwaukee, there were less than 70000, 70000 less African-Americans came out to vote than in than in 2012. What we first thing to do is energize the folks. Remember King's letter from the Birmingham jail were not to the people that where preaching hate division and divisiveness. It was actually challenging good people. His letter was to good folks were doing nothing, he said so eloquently what we have to repent for this day and age is not the vitriolic words and vile actions of bad people it's the appalling silence and inaction of good people. I'm running because I think that when we excite and energize the best of who we are, we'll see record voter turnout. We will not just beat Donald Trump. Well, we'll beat Mitch McConnell because North Carolina, which we lost in 2016, we won it in 2008 and had record turnouts. We had a Democratic senator come from there. Well, I want to pick up that Senate seat in this election. So for me, first and foremost, it's turning to each other. If this is the most important election of our lifetime, we've got to act like it. And if this is a test of the spirit of this country, you can't campaign wrong and then govern right. Let's manifest the energy we want right now. Darkness can't drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate can't drive out hate. Only love can do that. As King so eloquently said.

Laura Knoy:
So are you saying don't saying energize the people who may agree with your message and just set aside those Trump voters who are cheering for that more divisive message?

Senator Cory Booker:
Well, there's an analog to this. I'm the only person that can say this in this election. I fought against a powerful machine. I had death threats. A Federal Judge warned me about my safety. I had my phones tapped. My campaign office is broken into, police being used, bullying, powerful people going against me. There is an Oscar nominated movie called Street Fight. You wanna talk about a fighter and how to fight? Please watch that movie. It lost in the Oscars to March of the dagnab Penguins.

Laura Knoy:
Penguins are cute.

Senator Cory Booker:
You're saying I'm not? Oh, my God. I've never been insulted by someone on NPR before. (laughter) Look, you can win with grace and dignity. That's what civil rights activists showed. You could win with grace and dignity. That's what suffragettes showed. In fact, that's the only way to beat. We didn't beat Bull Connor because we brought bigger dogs and bigger fire hoses. So I think Americans are yearning for that kind of message and how I know here in New Hampshire they? The head of the Democrat Party took me out and said at the very beginning, don't change your message. Let me give you a little advice, don't change your message.

Laura Knoy:
Be the nice guy.

Senator Cory Booker:
And he said, you know why? The last time there was a big competitive field, there was this underdog guy polling at 1 percent a few days. It was after a horrible president named Nixon and the country was yearning for decency and goodness. And Jimmy Carter came in here to New Hampshire, real underdog, talked about the decency we need in our society, talked about our values coming from his deep seated faith. And he upset here in New Hampshire, went on to the presidency.

Laura Knoy:
I know Josh has a couple questions for you about that, but one last question on this. So Democratic voters, as you know, Senator Booker, want more than anything a nominee who can win. So what's your message to those who might think you're too nice, you're too loving, too too much saving grace to beat Donald Trump? You know, Trevor Noah said, what does that mean? Like Donald Trump, you know, punches you and you hug him? I mean, what does that mean? Are you strong enough, tough enough to go against the president?

Senator Cory Booker:
Watch street fight. I beat the most powerful machine in Newark with these kind of ideals. I've taken on the toughest battles and won because that's how you win. The people my parents told me to look up to, who took on the strongest empire on the planet Earth at that time, a bald guy, love his haircut, but he's a giant, and in fact, his picture was on Martin Luther King's wall, a guy named Gandhi. We are best in America. We are a good, decent nation. And let me just give you this clear point. In New Jersey, for example, there was an election that should have coincided with Chris Christie's re-election. Chris Christie had the flexibility to set my election because it was a special action. So he moved it three weeks earlier on a Wednesday. Now, what happened to turnout? That's how you win elections. And especially, again, we cannot win this election unless the black and brown communities turn out at record levels. We learned that hard the hard way in last election. I was the only person in a race on a Wednesday election three weeks later, people up and down the ballot, the African-American turnout, in my state, when I was on the ballot, spiked up between 13 and 14 percent. Three weeks later, on a regular election, it dropped between nine and 10 percent. If I'm on the ballot, I'm the best person to revive the Obama coalition to beat Donald Trump, but not just there, to beat Mitch McConnell. And remember, beating Donald Trump is the floor. I'm looking for get to the ceiling. I'm looking to get the mountain top. The way we do that is by healing this country, bringing people together, uncommon coalitions to produce the uncommon results we need.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Go ahead. Back to you, Josh..

Josh Rogers:
All right. I want to turn to you know what, for Democrats, this kind of an uncommon coalition, your historic backing for school choice policies when it comes to education. I know that charter schools are big in Newark due to your backing in large part. But through the years, you've favored tax - funded credit scholarship programs, at times, straight up voucher programs. You at one time served on the board of an educational choice organization with Betsy de Vos, which is certainly a rare credential for a Democratic presidential candidate these days. How important do you believe school choice should be in America's educational philosophy?

Senator Cory Booker:
Well, let's just put it this way first and foremost. If you were really driven on serving children, you should look at all options, explore whatever possibly works. You look at Elizabeth Warren's book during the same time that I was exploring all options. She was talking about vouchers as a potential option as well. She and I both are against them now. When I was living where I don't see any of the presidential candidates ever lived and where I've decided my entire professional life to live, to live in a community below the poverty line, we don't confuse wealth with worth. My children have the same worth and potential as wealthy neighborhoods. And I was living in high rise projects and saw the anguish of parents. This is back in the 90s desperate, desperate for their children to find a great school and the ones in our community were the lowest performing in our state. So heck yeah, I looked at every option possible. But I'll tell you what, my very experience with other Democrats who join with Republicans to look at solutions on that board where Betsy de Vos was there, as well as other urban Democrats, my experience on that board with her was one of the reasons why I was one of the biggest champions in fighting against her on the Senate floor. Because I knew when she got in, she'd go after the very communities that I first chose to represent, which is gutting the civil rights division of the Department of Education and stopping the predictions that Obama started to do about everything from the school to prison pipeline to LGBTQ kids. So let's talk about the education policy that I actually implemented when one of the few people in this race. I think Michael Bennett might be the only person that actually took responsibility for running a challenged school district, him in Denver, me in Newark. Well, the very first thing we did, the very first thing we did and I think this is one of the reasons why my state's largest teachers union endorsed me twice, is we said, the people, the professionals in our public schools should be paid well. So they're not like what we see America right now where so many teachers are making tough decisions about how to pay their rent and their student loans. And yet they're still these incredible people that reach in their pockets to pay for the things that their children need when they show up without. So one thing we did in Newark, which I'm going to do, is raise teacher salaries and not just teachers, all the school professionals that are essential from school therapist to speech pathologists and others. Number two, as we found out in Newark hat we had a disproportionate as often low income neighborhoods do high numbers of special needs kids. And and I just was in a community before I came out here in Iowa, where in a rural district where the guy told me 20, 25 percent of their budget is to take care of our beautiful children with special needs. And I told him, well, my plan is to fully fund special education. And he looked at me pretty excited because.. some people here are applauding, that would bring for individual schools millions of dollars to help them, not only to educate our beautiful special needs kids, but to do the kind of things, give it a school community environment where children have the resources they need. We found out in Newark practical things work. But let's talk about public charter schools. I was guy in my state that fought against charter schools opening in many communities because they would have hurt the public schools. In Newark, New Jersey, we closed bad charter schools because they weren't serving our children.

Josh Rogers:
But I guess my question is, has your thinking on this issue or how would you characterize the way in which it's changed? Because, you know, you can go and find video clips of you on YouTube sounding like an evangelist for school choice without reservation. And people can change their views based on their experience. What in your experience has convinced you that, you know, charter schools may not be what you once claimed that they could be for students?

Senator Cory Booker:
Well, please don't misunderstand what I'm saying. In Newark, we have thriving charter schools that I unequivocally, unapologetically support. They are they are educating black and brown kids. And frankly, we held them to public school standards. They have to take the numbers of special needs kids. They can't cream. They there's a one enrollment system in Newark. And this is why when I listen to the people on the debate stage say they're coming after charters, I say where you're going to have to come through me because I'm not taking away the schools that work for low income kids often in an urban context. But I watch what's going on in this state. And I've seen charter laws that Republicans are trying to do that are far more about hurting the public school system and that just make no sense. So so again, this is a much more complicated and nuanced issue than black and white. And we shouldn't have some kind of just rhetorical purity tests when it comes to what works for local communities.

Josh Rogers:
Is that frustrating for you as somebody who's been involved in this issue, that it's you know, this is obviously not something you talk about unbidden out there, because it's not a way to get votes in the Democratic primary.

Senator Cory Booker:
Look, I care about people. I care about my children. In Newark, our graduation rate now spiked up 30 percent. Our schools are now outperforming suburban wealthy districts. We're now the number one school system in all of America for beat the odds schools, kids going from poverty to college. And so my point to you is I didn't get into politics to play politics. I got into politics to find ways that serve people. When the big education bill was going through -- and thank God we were unwinding the No Child Left Behind, overtesting, everything like that -- the rush and the energy was going towards just pulling the federal government out. I had to fight with some Democrats or talk to some Democrats because I want vulnerable children to have success. So I ended up going to a Republican right-wing Republican, whose office I go to to do Bible study because Renee Brown's said it's hard to hate up-close, to pull people in. And I notice on this guy's shelf, I'm talking about Jim Inhofe, there was a black girl. It's curious to me a framed picture of a black girl on this guy who we might think of, right wing Republican, we might have stereotypes to think that that that wouldn't be a picture he would have prominently.. .I asked him about her, it's his granddaughter, adopted. And so when that big education bill was coming by, I said, this is the guy I want to work with on forcing states to disaggregate their data for minorities, for homeless kids, for foster kids, too, so we could actually hold people accountable for results. I know this is a complicated, nuanced policy, but he co-sponsored by amendment. It is now the law of our land. Fundamentally, I'm in this, the reason why I've stayed in a low income community below the poverty line, the reason why Miss Virginia Jones, my tenant president who pushed me into politics but told me stay in the community, so that every day I get up and whether it's a shooting on my block, whether it's the drug treatment center across my street, I live with the everyday urgency not to be loyal to partisan purity tests, but to be loyal to driving results for the people that the politics doesn't often serve.

Laura Knoy:
Senator Booker also won't ask you about housing. Clearly education, very important issue for you. You talk a lot about housing in your campaign. You often tell the story. And it's pretty amazing story about the legal battle your parents had to wage in order to buy a good home in a good neighborhood. They had help from the Fair Housing Council, others, your family won, but it was tough. And you often say, Senator Booker, that growing up in that home changed the course of your life. So housing very important to you. Let's talk a little bit about some of your policies. We could talk forever about all them, but I want to take a couple of questions. You've said that removing local roadblocks to creating affordable housing is critical.

Senator Cory Booker:
Can I just saying something. I mean, because race is really important, like Julian Castro dropping out. He and I have had long conversations.

Laura Knoy:
Former housing secretary.

Senator Cory Booker:
Former housing secretary. Before even New Hampshire, Iowa didn't get a chance to vote or caucus. I mean, these are the kind of things about losing the diversity, the only Latino in this race, his voice, is what makes us a weaker race. And these are the kind of things that frustrate me. But my experience as a housing activist from the time I started as a lawyer are reasons why, and my sophisticated nuances, I know we're not going to get in all my policy plans, but this is why it's so urgent that I feel like my voice is so important in this race, so important to be thankfully, hopefully in the White House, people with lived experiences about the housing struggles of so many Americans.

Laura Knoy:
I know Josh a little bit later has some questions about the declining diversity of the Democratic field. So for sure, we'll cover that. One interesting aspect of your affordable housing plan, Senator Booker, that I want to ask you about. You said that you would tie federal infrastructure dollars to what you called demonstrated progress on housing. Removing those local roadblocks. And we've certainly seen a lot of discussion about this in New Hampshire. How far are you willing to go with this Senator Booker denying cities or towns federal money because they don't show enough progress on housing? How would that work.

I would explain it very bluntly. But just the larger theory behind this case -- it was federal dollars that incentivized a whole bunch of practices that not only worked against Low-Income people, that drove a lot of the racial disparities we see in America right now. Remember, FHA, overtly racist policies, redlining, mortgage loaning, all of these things done in our past that were funded by federal streams of dollars to create what I consider the distraught present we around housing issues in America.

Laura Knoy:
So the federal government has already played this game on one end. And you're saying you'd like to play it on the other end?

Senator Cory Booker:
Exactly. Now to incentivize the better practices. Same thing with criminal justice. Federal money going into incentivize building prisons and all this stuff. So it's commonsense. Let's start having the federal government incentivize local communities to change discriminatory zoning practices, to use local dollars to change patterns and practices that are against building affordable housing. We have a housing crisis. It may not be talked about enough in this presidential primary, but this is one of the greatest pain points for America.

Laura Knoy:
Well, we certainly talk a lot about it in New Hampshire. I'm just wondering, Senator Booker, can you give me a for example? Concord, New Hampshire, feels like it's doing some progress on affordable housing. You, President Booker, feel like it's not enough. So what do you do?

Senator Cory Booker:
Well, no, I'm not pointing fingers at Concord.

Laura Knoy:
No, and I'm just using that as an example.

Senator Cory Booker:
I wanted to just talk specifically about how I'm going to help. New Hampshirites, excuse me, Granite Staters to actually have more affordable housing. The biggest pillar of my plan is to put housing folks in the same position we put homeowners, which is to say simply for homeowners, we are going to use our tax dollars to help homeowners by giving them mortgage interest deduction. Most of that, by the way, is used by Americans in the top three or four percent of American earners. That's where we mostly use the mortgage deduction. So why don't renters get the same investment from our tax code? So my plan simply says if you are a renter in New Hampshire that is paying more than a third of your income in in rent, then you should get a tax credit. Eighty two thousand families in this state would get about $4000 more in their pocket to help them afford their rent. It's a very powerful way to make a difference. And we can pay for it just by reversing these toxic Trump tax cuts.

Laura Knoy:
We will talk a lot more with New Jersey senator and Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker in just a moment. This is the exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.

Laura Knoy:
This is the exchange, I'm Laura Knoy.. Today, our series of primary 2020 candidate forums continues with Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. senator from New Jersey, Cory Booker NHPR's Josh Rogers is also with me for the hour. And Josh, I'll turn it back to you.

Josh Rogers:
Ok. Senator, a moment ago you mentioned your disappointment that Secretary Castro was out of the race and your concern that what has been the most diverse Democratic field ever is, you know, getting smaller and whiter. You know, Andrew Yang wrote to the DNC chairman Perez, asking that, you know, commissions more polls so he makes sure that, in his words, a diverse set of candidates might be absent from the stage in Des Moines for reasons out of anyone's control. It's a troubling prospect. Do you think the interests of the country are well-served by the combination of having New Hampshire and Iowa go first? Two very white states and the DNC rules? I mean, what's your what's your sense? You obviously have concerns that without without a lot of as you put it black and brown voters, Democrats will lose. Do you think the way the system has been set up is a problem?

Senator Cory Booker:
You know, I was here in the Granite state with NAACP leaders, African-Americans, Latinos, met with them the other night and people expressed distress that, you know, you see someone like Kamala Harris, who was twice elected, the second black woman ever in the United States Senate, twice elected by a state of 40 million people who was running a good campaign, is not in this race anymore simply because she didn't have money. While there's people on that still on the stage or in this race who are billionaires who can just pay their way. Are we creating a system, the Democratic Party, where our party decries the influence of billionaires and millionaires on our political system, dark money and all that, but yet we've created a primary system that before voters even have a say, money is determining who gets to the primaries. Andrew Yang is right. Look, we haven't had an early state poll, qualifying poll, since early November. There's been two debates. Candidates have dropped out. This race has shifted, but we haven't had an early state qualifying poll. If you did one right now in these multiple states, I'm confident that Andrew and I would be on the stage. And that's the frustrating thing for us, is that these are artificial barriers that were never before in our process, and the thing that's made me insane about this -- I used to have this big afro at the beginning of this campaign, and I've pulled it all out -- the thing that's made this difficult for me is the fact that, you know, that what we've seen in the past is people who've been polling very low throughout the campaign, in the national polls, who come in the end, surge, and become our presidents. Carter in the single digits. Bill Clinton at 4 percent. Barack Obama in the national polls going into Iowa, he was still 15, 20 points behind Hillary Clinton. Yet we're basing the debate stage on these national polls. Let me go even further than that. One month before the Iowa caucuses, John Kerry and and John Edwards were polling at 4 percent and 2 percent. It was going to be the Howard Dean show. My campaign manager sent me the articles. It's hilarious reading this now. Sharpton was ahead of those two guys. I can go through all the people. They were polling sixth and 7th. One month later in the Iowa caucuses, they finished first and second. This state loves the upset. You guys love people who are polling behind but come here as Bill Clinton called himself the comeback kid. So why are we creating in Washington, D.C.,the DNC leadership is creating new barriers that are preventing people. In Iowa right now, I'm the number third person in net favorability. Third most popular candidate in the state. We in Iowa and New Hampshire are in the top three in endorsements from the people that you've elected your leaders.

Josh Rogers:
Sure, you've rightly point to the precedent, you cite. But it's also true that you, more than many of your rivals have done what you're allegedly supposed to do to do well in New Hampshire. You used to campaign up here for other Democrats. You help the Democratic Party with money. You, you know, have come early and often, you've been crashing at people's houses, and now you've got a lot of endorsements. But there's still a perception, you know, and I guess we'll see if that perception is accurate when people vote, that your campaign is foundering a bit. And I guess my question is, is like, what does that say about the models that that we have in terms of what works here and what is allegedly important.

Senator Cory Booker:
The models of national polls have never predicted who would become president.

Josh Rogers:
but in state polls, you're not exactly tearing it up.

Senator Cory Booker:
No. But again,local press came last night. They couldn't believe the crowd. We had hundreds of people. And by the way, there hasn't been a qualifying state poll since early November. A lot has changed in this race. Kamela dropping out. Bullock dropping out. Now Castro dropping out. So this race has shifted. And by every measure of what it takes to win in the Granite State, as you've just gone through, we are showing that kind of success. And why are your state senators and state reps endorsing us at higher levels than most every other campaign? It's because they know our message and our capabilities to win and beat Donald Trump is great. So I just don't want the Granite State like they did last time, last debate, not to have a set of options of the most competitive races that are going on in the Granite State. There are people saying I'm pulling out. I'm not campaigning here.It's

Josh Rogers:
It's been a while since you were here before this week. I know you were sick once.

Senator Cory Booker:
Yeah, I missed my last one because I was lying prostrate on my bathroom floor. There are times in your life that the cold tile of your bathroom floor is the greatest place on earth. Look, any measures you just said we are doing well here. I'm in it to win it. We hope that more people will go to Cory Booker.com. The surge in online donations that we've had has been incredible. They've helped us to do what the billionaires in the race are doing, which is start to go up on TV. And so we are in this to win it. We are following a pet a well-worn pathway of other people who were considered long shots who came here to this state and upset.

Josh Rogers:
But just directly on the question of diversity in Iowa, New Hampshire. Do you think that's a problem?

Senator Cory Booker:
I think that Iowa was the first state to make Obama a winner and send the first black president to the White House. I think as long as you have South Carolina in February as well and Nevada in February as well, that combination is really good. And I'm going to say something else tactically for us. And it's just as a black guy, I know this. You know, like so many other communities in the Democratic Party coalition, black folks were worried and and know that this president for a lot of these issues, it's life or death for communities of color. And so you know what for Obama, they didn't believe.. they loved him, but he was well behind in South Carolina until he showed he could win in a majority white state. And as soon as that caucus was over, he shot up like a lightning bolt. We know that when the first caucus happens that's our proving ground. And when we upset there and we're going to upset there, that's going to be when really the gun goes off to this race, because we're going to see the candidates that have the kind of muster, the same way I beat a political machine in New York on the ground, grassroots campaigning, the same way I did in the state last night, hundreds of people showing up, that's how we're going upset. And by the way, the polls in Newark would have never predicted my rise in that city. They would've said I had no shot in my elections.

Laura Knoy:
Senator Booker, I want to ask about criminal justice reform. You say you've had the best record on this issue than anyone in the race. A lot of plans. So in interesting time, I'll just ask about one of them. Regarding marijuana offenses, Senator Booker, you say as president you'd expunge the records of those convicted of marijuana crimes. Would you also support legalizing marijuana at the federal level?

Senator Cory Booker:
I mean, that's part of my major bill and I came out early on for this.

Laura Knoy:
For the whole country?

Senator Cory Booker:
No, no, no. I don't have the power to do as president. Let's be clear. So I introduce something that shook a lot of people. Even Democrats said things to me. Now everybody's coming along, called the Marijuana Justice Act.

Laura Knoy:
Expunging their records.

Senator Cory Booker:
Well, it's that's important because we should not talk about legalization of marijuana without expunging records and just important data point. Remember 2017, more marijuana arrests in this country than violent crime arrests combined. So we have kids that are having their lives destroyed, can't get jobs, can't get loans from banks, can't get housing for doing things that the last three presidents admitted to doing. This is enough and is enough. I'm going to deschedule marijuana on the federal level. It's a technical thing that the federal government can do, making it legal on the federal level, allowing states to do what they want. But I'm not stopping there. In the same way that we incentivized the drug war from the federal level. If you are a state that hasn't legalized marijuana, but your drug enforcement is on the face biased. Remember, there's no difference between blacks and whites for using marijuana or selling marijuana. But blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for it. This has driven an unconscionable reality in our country in recent decades, where there are now more African-Americans under criminal supervision than all the slaves in 1850. If you're a state that your drug enforcement policies, like this state, are overtly having a racial impact, then we at the federal level are going to do things with our flexible streams of dollars to incentivize you to change practices, to bring racial justice to your criminal justice system.

Laura Knoy:
So can you explain to me how that works? Senator Booker, so you would say any state can legalize marijuana if it wants, but you're not legalizing it nationally? I'm not quite clear on what you're saying.

Senator Cory Booker:
So the federal government cannot tell you in your state, can't tell you in New Hampshire -- we couldn't tell you what year, I just learned this from somebody at the ACLU forum, couldn't tell you what your drinking age could be. But you know why the drinking age in the state went up?

Laura Knoy:
Federal highway dollars.

Senator Cory Booker:
Federal highway dollars. So I can't tell you to legalize marijuana, but if you're arresting blacks in this state at four times the rate of whites for crime that has no difference in the racial disparities. Just like John F. Kennedy, just like Lyndon B Johnson, Lyndon Johnson, who went into many southern states, they were having racial impacts in their legislation, they use the federal government to leverage change on the state level. We have a terrible system in America where we incarcerate vulnerable people. As Brian Stevenson says, we have a nation that treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor in Tennessee. Here in New Hampshire, around the country, we over incarcerate the mentally ill, we over incarcerate the drug addicted people that need help and treatment. What we do to women in prison is unconscionable. There are practices that violate human rights, violate our economic well-being by taking a parent away from a child for a nonviolent drug crime and maybe even addiction instead of helping them. We now put them back on the streets where they now have a nonviolent conviction. It hurts our economic well-being and their children's. We need to get out of this punitive sort of a retribution criminal justice system and embrace the ideas of restorative justice. And so, yeah, I'm going to use federal authority to make sure that our justice system is doing what even some southern states have done, radically lower their prison populations. Guess what's also gone down there? Crime has gone down as well. Because I found in Newark when we started the state's first ever office of reentry, that if you help people coming out of prison, get jobs, get housing, get back on their feet, they don't go back into prison.

Laura Knoy:
It's often an issue. They get out. They can't find housing, job, they reoffend.

Senator Cory Booker:
Yes, so we have this system where you would much rather spend more money on the back end of problems than make the critical strategic investment on the front end to make us feel safer, to empower human potential human dignity.

Laura Knoy:
Well, lots more we could talk about in criminal justice, for sure. Big issue for you, but I want to throw it back to you, Josh.

Josh Rogers:
I want to turn to impeachment, Senator. You know, you and your Senate colleagues who are running for the Oval Office are in kind of an odd position. You're running for president as you prepare to be a juror.

Senator Cory Booker:
I've been called odd before but continue.

Josh Rogers:
Well, I mean, we can we can enumerate more ways, but back in October, you you told NPR that, quote, History will look back and say, what did the United States Senate, what did Congress do when a president of the United States was acting more like a dictator or totalitarian authoritarian leader and someone who's subject to the checks and balances that's designed by our founders? That was back in October. Last month on Meet the Press, you said that this meaning, the impeachment trial, is just not a good thing for America. What I don't understand is how should the public understand your thinking and on the impeachment and has it changed?

Senator Cory Booker:
Not at all. Those two, that's a little out of context, I want to explain, because they're both the same statement. It is not good for America that a president has violated his oath of office. We shouldn't be having partisan glee about him being impeached. This is sad. It is a sad day for America that we've seen the third president in our history impeached is just not a good thing. I don't take partisan glee out of this. I wish he didn't do what he did. I wish that we were focused on beating him, which I am, beating him in November. So let's understand what that statement was, which is just simply I'm sorry, I'm not taking glee on this moment. 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 say let's just wait till 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 interest of the United States of America. I've been to the Ukraine. I've been to the Donbass region. I've met with with our soldiers and their soldiers. I saw the difference that American help was making to save lives. And this president was withholding that in order to leverage help for his own political campaign. That's ridiculous. And it's wrong. And we must make sure that we don't send a message to future presidents that that behavior is OK.

Josh Rogers:
So given what you just said, do you need to know more? Do you think the evidence is out there?

Senator Cory Booker:
Please. This is, again, one of those moments where I don't understand. You literally are about to have a trial where the key witnesses are not going to be there. We could exonerate -- if you're so innocent, Mr. President, then have the people that were in the room, like you're your acting chief of staff, testify, swear under oath, testify to what he saw, what he heard, and what happened. This is so unfair to the American people who deserve the truth to have the key people not testifying as witnesses in this trial. Again, another example of how this president and Mitch McConnell now who's openly saying that when I swear that oath, that's in the Constitution, there's another oath, all of us are going to swear that basically says we're going to be impartial. He's basically saying, I'm going to lie, because I'm going to work in lockstep with this president to get this thing in and out of the Senate as quickly as possible and just sweep it under the rug. That's that's unfortunate. Mitch McConnell should be standing up and saying, I'm a United States senator in a body that's supposed to hold the president accountable. And Mr. President, if you say you're innocent, bring those people into this office and into this body and let them swear under oath and say what happened. We all should have an interest in the truth.

Laura Knoy:
Given what you just said, Senator Booker, Can we expect you to be that impartial juror as a U.S. senator? Because you're basically using language that makes it sound like you've already decided?

Senator Cory Booker:
Well, again, I've seen a lot. We've seen a lot of the American public and more comes out. I woke up this morning early, listened to news about obviously was happening in Iraq and what happened with this Suleimani assassination. And I start seeing more evidence coming out. These confidential papers the New York Times has, these redacted documents that show even more evidence that officials all around Donald Trump were saying this is wrong, what you're saying are lies. These are people in his administration. So the evidence is pretty damning. But I can 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.

Laura Knoy:
So could you potentially vote the other way? Sounds like you've already decided.

Senator Cory Booker:
No, no, no, definitely not. Let Mick Mulvaney come in, the secretary of state come in, let Barr come in. Sincerely. They were there. Let them provide. Because if anybody, anybody can tell you about miscarriages of justice, as an African-American man in America, I have firsthand experience where all the evidence once seemed but you have exonerating witnesses come in. The Innocence Project is another great testimony that we make mistakes. I'm sorry. I'm going to go in there with an open mind, but I'm going to weigh all the evidence, all the evidence, a lot of which has already come out in the House of Representatives. So I can be objective. And let me tell you, just as a guy and forgive me if this sounds like a little bit of testosterone and it probably is too much testosterone, so forgive me for saying that early in the morning, but I'm tired and this is just going to come out. I am so looking forward to the moment on the debate stage where Donald Trump tries to invade my personal space. I want to be able look down on that person and let him know that I stand for truth. I stand for justice. I stand for love. And that we are going to beat you in an election. I would love to do that. But right now, he has brought us to an impeachment and we have to do our duty.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Senator Booker, we could've talked a lot more. Really appreciate your time today. We could have discussed many more issues. Thank you for being with us. Josh, thank you also for being here. Thanks to our wonderful audience. You're listening to the Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.

Senator Cory Booker:
Thank you very much. Thank you.