Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign seems primed for a breakout.
He was the most-googled candidate during night one of the first debates, after which he saw a big jump in fundraising. He’s also secured a ton of endorsements from Iowa legislators and activists across the state. And most Iowa politics watchers praise his campaign’s ground game as one of the best.
Yet, as August approaches, he’s still hanging out below the top tier of candidates in the polls.
On Friday, Booker and his team made a swing through Iowa, starting the day with a stop in Council Bluffs and ending with a wild event that involved shaving supporters’ heads for charity at Platinum Signature Barbershop in West Des Moines.
Between two of the events, Sen. Booker sat down with Starting Line to talk about the upcoming debate, some policy issues he’s focusing on and the recent war of words between him and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Last month, Joe Biden discussed his ability to work with people across the aisle. In attempting to provide evidence that he could achieve legislative goals, he discussed his relationships with two longtime racist and segregationist lawmakers. In doing so, he talked about the civil dynamic of said relationships, noting that they called him ‘son’ and not ‘boy.’
Booker called Biden out for the language he used and the joking tone he took, saying, “You don’t joke about calling black men ‘boys,'” and asked Biden to apologize. But Biden quickly fired back, telling Booker that he should apologize to the former Vice President, and stating that he “doesn’t have a racist bone” in his own body. Booker gave his thoughts on reflexive rhetoric like this.
“It’s just not constructive for creating an environment where we can heal and come together,” Booker said. “I’ve been very disappointed in the way he’s handled substantive discussion with the ways he falls into a defensive crouch and tries to shift responsibility.”
While preparing for the upcoming debate, Biden has made it clear that he will come after Booker for his tenure as the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, including on race relations.
“This is sort of an astonishing thing that the Vice President has been consistently attacking me over these last few weeks. When I called him out for words that were hurtful and insulting, he said that I should apologize to him,” Booker explained. “When I talked about his long record on criminal justice reform, his response was, instead of talking about substantive policy, he attacks back on me in a fashion that was just ridiculous.”
But Booker also spoke on where he hopes the discussion will be focused during the debates, rather than focusing on this disagreement.
“We’ll be ready for anything, and I hope that the Vice President will speak to his record and the future, and not just attack his fellow Democratic primary opponents,” Booker said.
Sen. Booker added that he hopes they see some similar benefits to the last debate performance, and that he is excited to “lay bare” his ideas and ideals for viewers.
“I think this is an amazing opportunity, for the second time, to be in front of millions, if not tens of millions of Americans, where they’re going to get to see me and hear my ideas and feel my heart and values,” Booker said. “Every time we’ve had that kind of opportunity, not just in the last debate, but some of the other moments when all the candidates were together, we’ve always come out of those better.”
Starting Line also asked Sen. Booker about holding leaders accountable for illegal activity and decisions that put the public in danger, including corporate officials for things like the opioid epidemic.
“Aggressive prosecution of corporate malfeasance. Aggressive prosecution. You know, people with money should not be able to shield themselves from being held accountable to the crimes they commit,” Booker explained. “This is a White House that has pulled back on holding corporate polluters accountable and going after large corporate malfeasance, and I think we should be holding people accountable. And, when appropriate, we should break the corporate shields and go after the people who are responsible.”
Booker also said that in order to achieve this goal, America needs to make sure that regulatory agencies like the FDA and EPA are getting adequate funding so they can properly manage necessary regulations.
“Unnecessary regulation is bad, and we need to talk about how to honor our environment but still stop how long it takes just to build a bridge or a road in this country. But that said, there is a need for agencies to hold corporations accountable,” Booker explained. “The power of corporations is on the rise and it’s hurting our environment, it’s hurting individuals, it’s hurting our country. I want to make sure we do everything we can to put a stop to that kind of bad behavior.”
The 2020 Democratic candidates have made a very public mission of going after this growing power of large corporations, and their ability to influence politics, especially during the Trump administration.
“I could show you that settlements the EPA gets have gone dramatically down under this president, costing us not only tens of millions of dollars that we’re not getting to those agencies, but also the fines that should be going to these companies for doing bad things,” Booker said.
When asked about the role that Trump has played in this malfeasance, Booker said that Trump himself should be held accountable if he has violated the law while in office.
“This isn’t politics of the personal. This is my Department of Justice, which is independent, they’re not my lawyers. If there is cause to prosecute, I hope that they will pursue, that’s the job; no one is above the law,” Booker explained. “Former presidents, past presidents, current presidents – no one is above the law. We have a justice system that should be independent of our politics. And if this president has violated the laws, I hope that he is held accountable.”
Prescription Drug Costs
The Senate Finance Committee advanced The Prescription Drug Price Reduction Act (PDPRA) of 2019 a few days ago. The legislation holds provisions to increase reporting and transparency of drug prices and pricing methods.
One key thing the bill does not do, however, is allow the government to directly negotiate drug prices with companies.
“I haven’t seen the totality of it,” Booker said. “Look, I’m in favor of things that make up progress, but to not do the most obvious thing, like to use the power we have to negotiate down prescription drug costs – it’s absurd.”
Codifying an allowance for the negotiation of drug prices was a hot topic at the AARP candidate forums last week, and all of the candidates committed to get it done.
“I’m gonna do everything I can to make sure that that’s the law of our land, whether it happens now or after I’m the President of the United States,” Booker said. “We’re gonna drive down the cost of prescription drugs, doing the things that are obvious to most American people.”
The trend has certainly been set for 2020 to not accept PAC money, corporate dollars, or donations from federal lobbyists. Booker explained that refusing those dollars is a must in order to break political ties with pharmaceutical companies.
“One of the reasons I’m not taking pharma executive money, corporation PAC money, federal lobbyist money, is because I think these institutions and corporations have too much power over our politics,” Booker said. “And this is a situation that I think is just unfortunate … We have to change this reality and create a nation where prescription drugs are affordable.”
A Post-Debate Reward
Though Booker hadn’t watched the recently-released trailer for the new Picard series (Booker’s all-time favorite TV show is Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which Picard was the lead role), he has started to catch up on the other new series.
“I am so excited about this,” Booker said. “It was a long time before I watched the new permeation of Star Trek [Discovery]. It is so f’ing good. My post-debate reward is going to be to watch – I’ve watched the first six episodes – I’m going to watch the rest of that season.”
by Josh Cook
Photo by Julie Fleming