Recently, New Jersey senator Cory Booker has dedicated tremendous amounts of energy and effort speaking out against policies of President Donald Trump, from his separation of immigrant children from their parents to his relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin. His very public condemnation of Trump’s policies has increased the frequency in which Booker has been rumored to be preparing for a run for president in 2020. However, he contends that he is nowhere near as focused on a rumored presidential run as he is on showing support for a select number of politicians involved in key races throughout the country.
One of those candidates is gubernatorial Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams. On July 20, Booker held an event at The Gathering Spot to garner support for Abrams, in anticipation of a difficult fight with Republican representative Brian Kemp. Prior to the event, we sat down with Booker to discuss Trump, the president’s affiliation with Putin and why he believes in Abrams so fervently.
Atlanta Voice: Senator, thank you for taking time to speak with the Atlanta Voice. In your opinion, what makes Stacey Abrams such a great choice for Georgia’s next governor?
Cory Booker: Well, it’s a blessing when you have a friend who is also an inspiration. I think her leadership is great because she gets the politics, she gets the service, she gets the spirit. She is like a bringing together of the energies necessary to lead people. And she definitely lives this life. She knows that you can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. And so, this is a woman with the capacity, with the intellect, with the experience, with the drive, but also with the heart and with the spirit.
And so – I say this without exaggeration – I’ve traveled all over this country in this election cycle: nobody running for any office – United States Senate, House members, there are so many elections going on this November, but no one is more exciting to me personally, and inspiring, than Stacey Abrams.
AV: President Trump recently expressed that despite reports from the country’s own intelligence agencies, that he did not hold Vladimir Putin responsible for attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. In what ways should our government and/or citizens hold him responsible?
CB: Well, I’m happy that the president’s behavior recently has been roundly condemned by Republicans and Democrats. Some of the harshest criticism he’s faced in his presidency now has been from people who feel like he’s betrayed his country, that he has violated his oath of office to protect and defend the United States of America. And for him to stand on the international stage in Helsinki next to someone who has attacked our nation, who is still involved in ongoing cyber-attacks, who’s downed a commercial airliner over Ukraine, who’s attacked Ukraine, who’s annexed Crimea, who’s killed people on the soil of Britain.
You can take it from Olympic state-sponsored doping scandals all the way to someone who kills his own political opposition in his country. President Trump not only elevated him in international status but seemed to be submissive to the will of this person, denying attacks, making us less safe. So, this is a very, very troubling moment – almost shocking moment – in American history. The first time in modern American history that a president on the United States stage took the side of an authoritarian, dictatorial leader over his own nation, his own nation’s intelligence agencies, his own nation’s law enforcement officers.
AV: You recently traveled to South Texas, to personally witness the results of Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Can you talk a little bit about what you saw, and your thoughts after completing the trip?
CB: It was one of the more hurtful things I’ve witnessed since I’ve been in the United States Senate: to see what we’re doing to families on the border. And more than that, there’s sort of a moral vandalism that’s going on against some of our most important values. I went down after midnight, crossed into Mexico, and then tried to come back into our own country. I’m a United States Senator. And, they had stationed Customs and Border [Protection] agents way out on the bridge to try to intercept people that are trying to present themselves for asylum.
Now, that’s actually legal immigration. If you are trying to escape famine or violence or political oppression, you are allowed to come to this country and present yourself for asylum. There’s a process for evaluating your asylum; that’s legal integration. I was just shocked that our country was not even allowing people to do that. Violating our values, violating our rules.
AV: What have been some of your more significant challenges as a senator in New Jersey, and what accomplishments are you most proud of?
CB: Wow. I think the challenges in New Jersey are the challenges we’re seeing all over this country, which is people having affordable pathways to their American dream. We’re at the point now where everybody’s feeling the pain of everything going up. They’re working harder and harder, and finding it harder to make ends meet. To do the things that are a part of the American dream, which is to have a good home, to have access to affordable healthcare, to be able to retire with dignity. Everything from childcare to prescription drugs, cost of college; everything’s going up. Wages are not keeping up with that. In fact, we’re at an all-time high for corporate profits in America, 85-year high, I should say. And we’re at a 60-year low for wages.
And so, New Jerseyans are hurting, and we have to figure out a way to deal with this in our country. And that means affordable healthcare, affordable prescription drugs, making college affordable again in this country, so we don’t have young people graduating with incredible, incredible debt. It means retirement security. Millions of Americans, people in New jersey, who are living below the poverty line there, because their social security checks aren’t enough to go forward. We have people who are suffering from opioid crises, and don’t have access to treatment, because they can’t afford it. And so, these are the things that we’ve got to address.
Now, I feel blessed that I’ve been able to get a lot done for my state since I’ve been a United States senator. Whether it’s bringing key resources back for infrastructure investment, creating jobs and economic opportunity, or a bill I just passed with Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), which says that if you invest in certain low-income areas in our country, and every state has them, from Georgia to New Jersey, investors can get better tax treatment. They don’t have to pay capital gains tax, essentially, for investing in low-income areas. And that’s already going to move billions of dollars into some of our poor areas in our country, creating jobs and economic opportunity for more people, more equitable distribution of investment dollars. So, I’m going to keep working hard, keep advocating for criminal justice reform, expanding access to healthcare, lowering the cost of prescription drugs. These are all things that are critically important to me, and why I’m proud to be in the fight.
AV: There have been a number of incidents where white people have called the police on African-Americans, for what often appears to be unwarranted reasons. How do you remain as optimistic as you do about the country’s ability to improve in terms of racial relations?
CB: We have seen dark periods in American history, where it was the law of the land: Jim Crow, where you saw lynching in our communities, where you saw a whole bunch of people who had every reason not to be hopeful still press forward with activism and engagement. They created that change. And they really are living testimonies that hope doesn’t exist in the abstract. Hope is never letting despair have the last word. And so, I’m very, very proud to try to inherit that vision of hope. There are tough things going on that are unacceptable.
But I’m going to continue to be an agent of hope, and I hope we all do. We ALL should be agents of hope right now, and reconciliation, and truth-telling about the legacies that we still are dealing with, of bigotry and hatred. This is an important time in American history, because we have a President who almost is giving license to people to hate, who started his very campaign trying to make it all about Muslims and Mexicans and using demagogic language. The only way to respond to that darkness is not by giving up, but by being a force of light yourself.
And so, we need to all take responsibility for saying, “This is not a nation of hate. This is not a nation of divisiveness. We are going to be uniters in this country. We’re going to confront the evils of bigotry and racism, but we’re going to do it in the way our ancestors did: by bringing people together. We have advanced voting rights, civil rights, fair housing. All of those things advanced because of multi-racial, multi-ethnic coalitions, that came together that understood we all share a common destiny. I want to be a voice of that. I want to be a lightworker in this country, and I want to join with others who are committed to doing the same: never giving up, never curling up, never shutting up; but standing up, rising up, speaking up for the ideals of our nation, for the ideals of creating a beloved community here in America.
AV: There is a lot of talk of you being a candidate for President in 2020. An article in the Houston Chronicle stated that you will consider a presidential run sometime next year. Is this report true? Does this talk assure you that your place might be in the White House in two years, or does it serve as a distraction?
CB: It’s definitely a distraction. We should not be talking about 2020. We should be focused on November. November. November. This is why I’m down here for Stacey Abrams right now. Because, if we take care of important elections like the governor’s race in Georgia, state legislative seats in Georgia, and then do that all across this country, the momentum for change in 2020 will be even greater.
And so, this has got to be about the now, the work we have to do, not looking too far ahead and losing focus on the critical races that we have before us. I am here right now not for any future ambition. I’m here because I believe one of the most compelling leaders of my lifetime – I’m not exaggerating that – this is one of the most compelling leaders of my lifetime. And historically – I was just talking to my mom about this – you know, we’ve had two elected African-American governors, never had an African-American female.
And by the way, you shouldn’t vote for her because she’s Black, or because she’s a woman. You should vote for her because she is unassailably the most qualified person running for this office, and will do the most for Georgians, for everyday Georgians. But, it’s still a history-making moment we can’t lose sight of, in the same way that Barack Obama becoming President of the United States was such a history-making moment. And so, I’m not thinking about 2020; I’m thinking about Stacey Abrams.
I’m not thinking about 2020; I’m thinking about taking the House of Representatives back. I’m not thinking about 2020; I’m thinking about state legislative seats, from the state of Georgia to the state of New Jersey and beyond. So, that’s where my focus is, and I believe, I believe, I believe that this will be one of the most consequential elections of my lifetime in November. And if we do the right thing now, 2020 will take care of itself.