THE UNITARIAN: A Q&A With Senator Cory Booker


Artwork by DonkeyHotey

BY CHARLIE TAYLOR This past week, Phawker was privileged to speak to Senator Cory Booker, the junior United States Senator (Dem.) from New Jersey and former Mayor of Newark. A former Rhodes scholar and graduate of Yale Law School, Senator Booker is a young, telegenic and charismatic politician, known for his dedication to community service and mastery of social media. He will be at the Philadelphia Free Library tonight (Tuesday March 1st) discussing his new book, United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good, in which he describes his history, both personal and political, alongside his aspirations for America and its people. He gave up a couple minutes on an extremely busy day to discuss the ongoing political season along with some personal hopes for the country’s next election. In addition, we were able to talk to Senator Booker about Newark, his sports career at Stanford University, and his relationships with some of his fellow Republican senators, Namely Mark Rubio and Ted Cruz. We are very grateful to Senator Cory Booker.

PHAWKER: Hi Senator Booker, thank you for giving up some time to talk with me!51-P1XXw7AL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

CORY BOOKER: Hello, thank you as well.

PHAWKER: So I have a couple of questions about your book as well as the current political season, but we can get started with a warm up question: You were an impressive athlete throughout your time in high school and college at Stanford. How does your competitiveness help or hinder you as a Senator?

CORY BOOKER: You know, I was just listening to Kirsten Gillibrand’s book, where she says how often women who are successful Senators have been athletes in their day. But, look, you learn so many lessons from sports. It was one of the great involvements of my life. It even helped me get into Stanford, which I always joke about, because I didn’t get in there because of a 4.0 GPA or a 1600 SAT score, but I had 4.0 yards per carry and 1,600 receiving yards. So I rely on a lot of lessons learned from sports every single day, especially the idea of team building and finding ways to work well with other people.

PHAWKER: Sure, that sounds great. So now we can delve into the more political questions: Before you ran for the Senate, there was speculation that you would run against Chris Christie for the governorship of New Jersey in 2013. Presumably you have taken stock of Christie’s strengths and weaknesses as a political entity. Why do you think his presidential candidacy never got traction?

CORY BOOKER: You know, I can’t speculate because I’ve seemed to have gotten everything wrong about this Republican primary from the get-go. I thought Donald Trump would have been out of the campaign after he assaulted a war hero and former prisoner of war. I really don’t know what to make of this Republican primary, it’s worked against conventional wisdom. So I’m not sure what happened with his candidacy. I don’t really have much to add beyond that.

PHAWKER: In your new book, which I read this past weekend — you did a terrific job with that by the way. But you wrote about fulfilling a promise you made to meet personally with each of your Senate colleagues, you had dinner with Ted Cruz. I’m curious as to what common ground, if any, you found with the man in the course of that meal? How do you gauge his chances of getting the nomination?

CORY BOOKER: He and I found a lot of common ground, on issues of criminal justice reform. We passed a piece of legislation about public radio stations and helping them recover after storms. I’ve had a strong working relationship with Marco Rubio. Marco Rubio and I have introduced legislation together. So I feel very lucky to have been able to find a lot of common ground with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. Now again, as far his affair in a Republican primary that has really been surprising to me, I can’t predict. If I did predict, the exact opposite would probably happen.

PHAWKER: You are backing Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. How do you answer to the charge that you are too beholden to moneyed interests?

CORY BOOKER: Well, I’m a guy that, out of law school, moved the Central Ward of Newark, New Jersey. I spent years living in housing projects. After I left there, I have lived and worked in Newark’s South Ward. My entire life has been working with folks who are fighting or are at the margins of the economics of our nation. I think anybody who takes a fair look at my 20-year professional life, would conclude very quickly that my priorities are fighting for people who are struggling to get the American Dream or be part of the middle class.51-P1XXw7AL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

PHAWKER: Okay, that’s impressive. Can you explain your objection to Senator Sanders’ $79 billion plan to fund free higher education for everyone with a “fraction of a percentage” transactional tax on Wall Street stock trades?

CORY BOOKER: Well, you are assuming that I’m against or for the plan. Look, what I support is finding a way to make college education in this country affordable. We’ve debated and discussed a lot of plans on the Democratic side of the aisle in the Senate. I’ve endorsed a number of bills or pieces of legislation. I have not seen any legislation coming from Bernie Sanders on what you just said. I have seen Hillary Clinton’s plan for college affordability. I really believe it’s solid and something we can get done.

PHAWKER: You have long championed the cause for greater transparency in government. Do you support the call for Hillary Clinton to release the transcripts of the many lucrative speeches she made to big Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs?

CORY BOOKER: Again, I’m a big advocate for not only transparency in government but doing even more. Looking at our financial rules, we need to change the ways we are drawing our district lines, all things that Hillary Clinton supports. In fact, she goes even further when it comes to holding Wall Street accountable for a lot of the past ills and that they do not happen again. When it comes to Hillary Clinton and Wall Street, I am very happy that she has an aggressive plan to hold Wall Street accountable for the future.

PHAWKER: Following the passing of Justice Scalia, The New York Times listed you as a potential replacement on the Supreme Court. Would you be interested in such a position and what do you think you could bring to the Court that sets you apart from the other potential candidates?

CORY BOOKER: I’m a United States Senator and I’m going to remain a United States Senator. I will not be seeking the nomination for the Supreme Court.

PHAWKER: Okay, so a follow up question to that: what will you personally do to ensure that president Obama gets an up or down vote on a Supreme Court justice candidate to fill Scalia’s seat on the court?

CORY BOOKER: I’m going to be a person, and I already have, that advocates for the Senate getting to fulfill its constitutional duty of aiding and offering consent. It’ll be interesting to see what will happen in the coming weeks and months. But I’m going to be doing everything I can to make sure that whoever the president nominates gets a fair hearing.51-P1XXw7AL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

PHAWKER: And what do you think the odds are that President Obama will fill that vacancy before his term ends?

CORY BOOKER: It’s not the kind of thing that I would want to put odds to. It’s urgently needed and I will do everything I can to help and up or down vote on the floor to come to pass.

PHAWKER: Okay, well I have a couple of questions about Newark and then I’ll let you go. Are there any policies of yours from when you were Mayor of Newark that you would like to see instituted at a level of national government?

CORY BOOKER: There are a lot of things from efforts in housing policy to educational efforts, even to criminal justice reform. A lot of what I did as mayor running a big city has influenced my efforts in Washington.

PHAWKER: If you would just like to speak a little bit about the criminal justice reform in particular, because you do have a chapter in your book where you describe visiting a prison in Newark.

CORY BOOKER: We’re a country that has a distraught present, where we have 5% of the globe’s population. But one out of every four imprisoned people on the planet Earth live in America. We spend trillions of dollars supporting the criminal justice system that’s increased, on the federal level, 800%, along with a 500% increase overall since 1980 alone. We tend to incarcerate the poor, the mentally ill, the addicted, and, disproportionately, minorities. In every way, our criminal justice system is not living up to our values as a society. We should be saving money, reducing crime, and empowering people to succeed more than we are. We urgently need a reform. I’m proud to be working with senators across the aisle and across the political spectrum to bring about change.

PHAWKER: That’s great to hear. Are you still able to spend any time in Newark? I know you are generally down in Washington. In addition, what are some of your hopes for the city in the next few years.

CORY BOOKER: Well, I live in Newark so I’m there when we’re not in Washington. I love my city and I love the momentum we have now. When I left Newark, it was going through its biggest economic development boom since the 1960’s. We had created the largest park extension there in a century. Our public schools are improving and opportunity is expanding. I’m happy that the momentum is continuing in the city and I’m encouraged, very encouraged, frankly, by the continued effort to make our city get better and better.

PHAWKER: What experience prepared you for being a Senator – was it your intensive education from Stanford, to being a Rhodes Scholar, through to Yale Law School or would you say that you learned more from your elders, such as Virginia Jones or Frank Hutchins?51-P1XXw7AL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

CORY BOOKER: Wow it’s hard to separate that more or less, but I definitely think that a lot of the heroes I’ve met have been the best mentors I’ve had. The teachers were a lot of the people that helped elevate me and prepare me for where I am now. But it really is the totality of my experience, from my childhood days in Harrington Park, all the way through being mayor of a big city, all of that really helped to empower me to do the job I’m doing now.

PHAWKER: Are there senators that helped you acclimate to the change of being in the Senate, in a similar manner to Virginia Jones or Frank Hutchins?

CORY BOOKER: I have a lot of great Senate mentors, from younger senators like Heidi Heitkamp to Kirsten Gillibrand, to elder statesmen in the Senate like Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, and Patrick Leahy. I really feel like I’ve got a great circle of friends in the Senate who have helped me adjust.

PHAWKER: All right well that’s terrific. Thank you so much for speaking with me and giving up a couple minutes in your day. Good luck with the coming elections and hopefully getting some of your legislation passed.

CORY BOOKER: Thank you, I really appreciate it.