Sen. Cory Booker

Iowa Press | Episode
Nov 1, 2019 | 27 min

Fewer than 100 days until the Iowa Caucuses and it's a potential turning point for many presidential campaigns. We sit down with New Jersey Senator and presidential candidate Cory Booker on this edition of Iowa Press.


Fewer than 100 days until the Iowa Caucuses and it's a potential turning point for many presidential campaigns. We sit down with New Jersey Senator and presidential candidate Cory Booker on this edition of Iowa Press.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.


For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating nearly 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, November 1 edition of Iowa Press. Here is Kay Henderson.


Henderson: New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is one of 14 presidential candidates who are in Iowa this weekend. He's a former Stanford football player, a former Rhodes Scholar, he is a Yale Law School graduate. He won on his second try to become Mayor of the city of Newark, New Jersey. He has been in the United States Senate since 2013 and he is joining us here today. Welcome, Senator.

Booker: Thank you for having me. It's so good to be here.

Henderson: Across the table, Erin Murphy of Lee Enterprises Newspapers and James Q. Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Lynch: Senator Booker, your colleagues in the U.S. House earlier this week voted rules for the impeachment investigation of President Trump and it appears probable that they're going to send articles of impeachment over to the Senate. You sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. What are your expectations if the articles come over?

Booker: Well, I'll be looking to see exactly what those articles are. As we saw with Nixon there were many including obstructing justice, refusing to give response to subpoenas, let witnesses testify, which we see this President doing. This is to me not even about politics. This is about a very sacred oath I swore on the floor of the United States Senate. In fact, Joe Biden swore me in on Halloween, my anniversary was yesterday. And it was amazing when I took that oath, those words about protecting and defending the Constitution. This has got to be done with a gravity and a sober nature. We're talking about removing a sitting President from office. This shouldn't be tainted by partisanship. We should look at the facts and evaluate them as we see them. I'm a juror ultimately in that trial and I'll take that role very seriously.

Lynch: Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has talked about disposing of this quickly. Do you expect it to get the attention that it deserves if articles of impeachment come over to the Senate?

Booker: I don't know. We saw with the Nixon impeachment efforts that immediately everybody fell into partisan ranks. But as more evidence came out you eventually saw some real profiles in courage of republicans saying no I'm sorry this is wrong, I'm putting country before party. There's still a lot of time for that. We see, with each witness we see republicans coming before Congress and testifying to some very serious things. So I'm not sure when this comes to us what the environment will be but I know as one of the 100 Senators I'm very determined to do my job, not in a left or right way, but in an American way.

Lynch: We don't know the timing, but if you're tied up with committee work, impeachment investigation, does that hurt your chances here in Iowa? You can't be out on the campaign trail. If you're not here or elsewhere does that hurt the campaign?

Booker: My state director here tells me very simply. He goes, Cory, when people come to hear you, come to your town halls, you convert at a rate that is pretty incredible. My presence here to win is a guy who has run every election I've had as an insurgent underdog but won it by going door to door, person to person, town halls, this is how I've won most of my elections. It's urgent for our mission here in Iowa to be on the ground. But I tell you, that is all small compared to the larger call of this moment of history. And when I swear an oath I mean it and I'm going to do my job. When the impeachment hearings come I will be in my seat and let the politics take care of themselves because I think that, again, with such a powerful moment in history we all have to approach this with that seriousness that it deserves. So politics will happen but I will be in there in the Senate doing my job.

Lynch: If, or maybe I should say when, you're the party's nominee, do you prefer to face Donald Trump or Mike Pence?

Booker: Look, I think this is an election that is not a referendum on one guy and one office. I've been saying this, this whole campaign, this is about us and who we are going to be as a country, what the character of this nation is going to be, how we're going to be towards each other. Our country has been torn apart with partisan divisions, tribalism that have been growing, in many ways I think Donald Trump is a symptom of those problems. I want to beat him, but beating him is the floor, it's not the ceiling. I'm in this election to beat Donald Trump yes, or Pence or whomever, but I'm really in this election to bring this country together, to begin to heal, because every time we've done big things we have mobilized new American majorities and if we win this election us democrats, beware, if we win this election just by what we're against and not what we're for we can inherit a seat which is just as partisan, just as divided, where we can't get big things done. I think we need a nominee from our party who can't just beat republicans but rises up to unite Americans in common cause.

Murphy: So let's talk a little bit about that primary and the state of the race here, especially in Iowa. If you look at the polling on the race so far there has been some tiers and you've been pretty consistently in that second tier, group of candidates behind the leaders. Your latest polling average and real clear politics is between 1% and 2%. But there's still a lot of undecided people in this race. When you talk to democrats at these events very few people have made up their mind finally. So how do you improve upon that standing? How do you convince more people to support you as the nominee and get yourself in a spot where you're in a position to win one of those three tickets out of Iowa?

Booker: Well, from the beginning of this campaign the Des Moines Register,, have been singling out my campaign and Elizabeth Warren's as two of the best teams on the ground. And that is how you win Iowa. That is how Kerry who was polling at 4% went on to win. We are a party that has never elected frontrunners. Every person who has ever gone onto the White House from our party has been polling way behind from Jimmy Carter I think around 1% at this time, Bill Clinton 4% or 5% at this time, even this guy who really married up, he married this amazing woman named Michelle, a guy named Barack Obama, he was polling 15, 20 points behind Hillary. So the polls is not what we're looking at, we're looking at organizing here on the ground and that is where I feel confident. In fact, right now Elizabeth Warren and I lead in all endorsements by elected officials, she and I lead the whole pack. I've got mayors and county elected leaders but more importantly even State Senators and State Representatives. So I'm excited about that. But I'll tell you this, I will be very clear, this next month or so is going to be determinative because we've got to, as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders start hiring up here and putting staff on the ground our competitive advantage of organization is going to start to decline unless we raise more money. And our online donations, that is going to be the determinative. Now, we've seen a lift of recent, more people coming to our website, more people giving us resources to get more of a team on the ground here. So I've won every election, as I was saying earlier, as a grassroots underdog insurgent. That is how we're going to win here and we're going to win it by going directly to the people if we can build the organization to sustain it.

Murphy: And some of those earlier examples you mentioned of candidates that got hot on the end and went on to either win or do well enough here in Iowa to vault their momentum, maybe one difference between those instances and this --

Booker: Hair? Is it hair?


Murphy: In addition to the hair is the size of the field that you're competing in, this is a historically sized field and not just in number but a lot of candidates that a lot of democrats like. Their lists have been long with five, six candidates they're thinking about. How do you make yourself, especially in this late push, stand out amongst such a crowded and competitive field? How do you make yourself stand out to those undecided voters?

Booker: I think that is the most interesting dynamic. Carter did have a very big field, about 10 or so people and he was, again, an insurgent underdog, talking about grace and decency and civility at a time after Nixon. So there are a lot of parallels to that time to now. But we know we have to make our case. And the good news is we're getting looks here in Iowa. Iowans take this very seriously. They're not distracted by polling numbers. In fact, some of the people that are polling the highest are the ones that my organizers see the least enthusiasm for. And so what we're going to do is to continue to do what we do well. I think there has been a lot of major Iowa events. We've come out of them by local press saying he had the best reaction from the crowd, created the most energy out there. The person we have to nominate is a person that can both energize our base and energize moderates and even republicans who are disaffected by Donald Trump. I'm the best person in this race for energizing and exciting a momentous turnout to make sure we don't just win the Senate seat, excuse me, don't just win the presidency, we've got to win a Senate seat here in Iowa, up and down the ticket, I know I'm the candidate that can do that and will make that case.

Murphy: You talk about winning those Iowa voters. Do you need to spend more time in Iowa? According to the Des Moines Register's tracker your number of visits here and days spent here isn't as high as some other candidates in this race.

Booker: It's tough to be one of those people here that has a full time job in the Senate. But you're going to see me here increasingly more. And, again, our whole strategy has been from the very beginning, this didn't change for us, this has been from the very beginning, our strategy was Iowa because, look, this is where my grandmother was born and raised right here in Des Moines and I've got lots of family here and I always wanted to make my case in Iowa and that is still our plan and I'm going to pour my heart and spirit and I hope that people choose the politics of unity, the politics of grace and decency and frankly this understanding that we can't, there's an old African saying that says, if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together. I hope that's the spirit that wins. I see some people that want to fight fire with fire. As a guy who ran a fire department, not a good strategy. But I'm bringing a message that is really about rekindling the spirit and the heart of our nation which is goodness, decency, coming together to achieve big things.

Lynch: Senator, you mentioned the fundraising aspect of the campaign and a month ago you issued an ultimatum, said I have to raise $1.7 million or else and it worked, you raised more than that, I think almost $2.5 million. How long will that last? Are you going to have to do that again to make it through February 3rd?

Booker: We really see this as a six week fundraising push, we really do, because putting organizers on the ground in January is not good enough in Iowa. You've got to get folks there that are connected to the community and spending time. So we're going to see on these next six weeks. We've seen an uptick, it has been really good, and I'm just encouraging every show I go onto, so here's the perfunctory statement, please go to and help us out. If you want my voice in this race, somebody who is talking very different than a lot of the other candidates, if you want my voice in this race please understand, I always tell people, if this is the most important election of our lifetime you've got to act like it and be engaged, be involved, support a candidate that you believe in.

Henderson: Senator, you've talked about collegiate athletics. The NCAA Board of Governors made a statement this week that they're looking at paying athletes in the collegiate ranks. What are your thoughts about what the NCAA has done?

Booker: So as a former NCAA player, Division I football, the older I get the better I was -- no highlight clips for me? Look, I'm here because of that privilege. I always say I got into Stanford because of a 4.0, 1600, 4.0 yards per carry, 1600 receiving yards. So many paths were opened up to me by bigtime football. But what I saw as a football player just seemed unjust. You have people who get injured and then years after need surgeries but they have to pay out of pocket and deal with those challenges and the football team that made millions of dollars off of them does not pay. You see kids who when you're in session you spend 60, 70 hours on football, they don't get their degree and then the university after four years they're done with them, your eligibility is gone, no you can't stay here and take classes. Folks like me, I came from a middle class family, my parents could fly and see me play, I could fly home for Thanksgiving, but the scholarships don't cover those kinds of things. So we have to think about a more just system and I think that what the NCAA has finally done is okay, because I've talked to players who they have left the college and the college is still selling jerseys with their name on it, still using their likeness while they're struggling to make it. And so we have to rethink this system, especially because it has become a multibillion dollar business and the people that are producing so much of that wealth get nothing and are often left in financial straits and strapped.

Henderson: In your view, would you leave it to the NCAA? Or does there need to be federal action?

Booker: I've been saying for a long time as a Senator holding hearings with the head of the NCAA that we must have some rules of the road because most people don't understand Congress, the federal government gives them exemptions to anti-trust law to allow them to do business practices that otherwise we wouldn't let other industries do. And in exchange for that the least we can ask is that they allow kids to have their health care covered, to not be in poverty while they're at school, to help them get an education and yeah, when people are finding ways to make millions of dollars off of your face and your name that you should share in some of those profits.

Henderson: How do you get around the idea that it ends the title of amateur and it creates friction on a team when some players get money and others don't get as much?

Booker: So I've played on teams where there's been incredible stars on our team, McCaffrey, Vardell, I can go through, Woodfield, and we knew that they were great but when they were in that locker room, when they were working out with us in hot August three days, that team bonding, you can't break that up. The unity we had, I saw it, in fact this is what I say about a country that is racially diverse, religiously diverse, you want to remind people that the lines that divide you are not as strong as the ties that bind you, you put them in the trenches together working for a common cause and common goal. That is how we beat the Nazis, that is how we put somebody on the moon with hidden figures and others. And so football I'm not worried about a university making millions of dollars off of somebody's likeness and then sharing that revenue with somebody else. I'm really not worried about that. What I am worried about, again to pivot to our country is, I knew when we were going to score touchdowns in Stanford, I was a great predictor. When we would hear the defensive huddle arguing and fighting amongst themselves we knew we would blow right through them. That's where we are in America right now. We share so many more common values than we affirm, than our 24 hour cable stations show, than our politics show. I think this is one of those moral moments in our country that is not about who is bad and who is good, it's really about recognizing that we all need each other a lot more. And so from football to gun violence --

Henderson: We want to get to those issues.

Booker: I hope so. I'll let you run -- thank you very much for stopping my filibuster.

Murphy: Well, and one new kind of issue that could have a tangential impact on college sports is sports betting which is growing now in part thanks to your home state.

Booker: I was going to say, you're going to talk to a Jersey guy about sports betting?

Murphy: Cleared the way because of a Supreme Court ruling for other states, we have sports betting in Iowa now. Wondering your perspective both as a New Jersey Senator, but also as a former college athlete, do you have any concerns about the growth of sports betting and whether that could have an impact on college athletics and its tentacles so to speak?

Booker: I'm a freedom guy, of course there's going to be issues that we need to make sure we have regulations and security around of course. But this is why from marijuana to sports betting we can do these things in a way that controls for it and actually with the taxes and revenue we can actually end up having a benefit at a time here in Iowa and New Jersey those revenues and receipts are really helping us do a lot of things for our children, for our health care, for disadvantaged communities. So let's do it right so there's no abuse, let's hold people accountable. But I'm a big freedom person. If you want to place a bet on, in fact I think Kay might want to take a bet on you and I one-on-one basketball. I'd be willing to take on that challenge.

Henderson: You mentioned marijuana. What is your proposal?

Booker: I put in early on, some of my democratic colleagues said you're crazy, come to Senate and put in a bill called the marijuana justice act and I believe we should deschedule it on a federal level, legalize it, tax it, regulate it. But I always tell people who say that and you don't say in the next breath that we need to expunge records and begin to start restorative justice in this country, there are more marijuana arrests and convictions in 2017 than all violent crime arrests combined. We are destroying people's lives for doing things that two of the last three Presidents admitted to doing and now because they have that criminal conviction they can't go out and get a job, get a loan from the bank. As a guy who has never drank alcohol or smoked anything this is to me about justice, it's about fairness, it's about equality under the law and there shouldn't be different rules for different people. Half of Congress, I'm making up that number, I'm not sure how many have, but many more than I can count have come out and admitted smoking marijuana. Many people in this presidential race have done. And you're not for expunging the records and legalizing it for people when it's disproportionately targeting low income people, black and brown people? Come on, this has got to be about justice in our country.

Lynch: Speaking of justice, some democrats have talked about countering the Trump/McConnell packing of the courts with conservative judges by saying they want to expand the Supreme Court beyond the nine justices. As a member of the judiciary committee does that look like a good idea or as parties keep doing this will we run out of space in the Supreme Court building?

Booker: Will my grandchildren wake up one day and say, granddad, why do we have 195 members on the Supreme Court? Look, we are not going to win as a country with continuing to have a race to the bottom tit for tat tearing each other down, tearing each other apart. I think McConnell was wrong, I think he stole a Senate seat by violating constitutional norms and mandates and I think that we should have a strategy for balancing this court and getting away from the far extremes. But I really have to caution us as a country, every big thing that we have done has done because we found ways to inspire a country coming together, not doing things that more tear us apart. And so yeah, I want to talk about strategies for the Supreme Court, but I really worry right now, I think we're at a crossroads in our country because right now from climate change to our global competitors who have universal preschool and our global competitors who have universal prenatal care, we're declining. We lea industrial nations in infant mortality maternal mortality, complications at birth, our infrastructure is falling apart. I'm going around Iowa and kids are asking me about access to the Internet while they're trying to compete with South Korea or Germany where they have universal access. So yeah, I'm one of those folks that will come in and fight, the judges that are being put before the judiciary committee right now, the ABA, I've never seen letters like they're writing about unqualified, how biased, how arrogant that some of the judges that Donald Trump is putting up. Some of them have been taken down by republican colleagues of mine. This has to stop, there has to be a way. But the ideals of this nation cannot be trashed on our way to thinking somehow we're going to do progress if we can't figure out a way to get us back to constitutional norms, to societal norms, to these ideals that I keep talking about of grace and dignity.

Murphy: So along a similar line, the filibuster in the Senate, you joked about filibustering here at the table. How about back in the Senate? Should that be eliminated?

Booker: Again, I'm not taking anything off the table. I'll listen to any ideas on the Supreme Court or about the filibuster, filibuster is not a sacrosanct element of our Constitution, it's not in the Constitution, it's Senate tradition. But woe be to people who want to get rid of the filibuster. When Donald Trump was elected Paul Ryan controlled the House, Mitch McConnell controlled the Senate, if majoritarian rule was there they would have taken away a woman's right to choose, they would have taken away the Social Security, they talked openly about taking away Medicare. So if you want to do that just be prepared that if the titles -- minorities, people who are struggling, and I say minorities I'm talking about low income people or vulnerable people or people whose rights have been advanced through the last 40, 50 years, women, religious freedom, all that, that could be stripped away as easily as we got it. And so before you pull that lever let's talk about ways to do things that actually avoid the necessity for that. Remember, the longest filibuster in Senate history is what? It's Strom Thurmond's filibuster against civil rights. How did we overcome that? By creating broader civil rights majorities in this country, people literally taking to the streets washed over his filibuster and established the rights many of which I enjoy that could possibly make me the first descendent of an American slave ever to sit in the White House.

Henderson: Senator, you've talked about gun safety legislation, your words, and licensing. Is that just a step too far for many Americans?

Booker: Well, licensing isn't. And you look at polls it's close to 80% of Americans support that and it's kind of common sense. You need a license to drive a car, you should have a license to buy and own a firearm. And states that have done it, you know this, I'm a data guy, partisanship one thing, but you look at numbers, what are the facts? The facts are states that have done licensing like Connecticut saw a 40% drop in shootings, 15% drop in suicides. So let's talk about things that actually work that the majority of Americans agree on, licensing is one of them. I'm happy that when I push this agenda there are people in this field that didn't support it at first who are coming around. And I criticize some that are in this race who say well let's let states decide on their own about licensing. Well, the problem with that is then you get a state like Chicago, a city like Chicago, lots of gun violence and they have licensing. But where so many of their guns come from is Indiana that doesn't. So unless you have a federal system that creates rules for the road you're not going to see the kind of precipitous drop in gun violence that we must see. And if I'm President of the United States I'm going to deliver those kinds of results.

Lynch: Senator, one of the more contentious issues among the democratic field has been health care. And so I want to ask you on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being where we're at today and 10 being Medicare for all, universal single payer, where are you on that scale and why?

Booker: Look, you want to ask me if I'm going to build this system from scratch and what do I think is the ideal is going to be for having single payer. To rationalize this system we have where people are going bankrupt today, can't afford their prescription drugs, battling with their insurance companies just to cover things, it is a savagely broken system and it's even broken because we incentivize people not to go to the doctor and then they end up in a hospital emergency room which continues to drive up costs. I'm worried about our economy. We're getting close to one out of every five dollars being spent on health care. So yeah, I will tell you every day that the best system that I think we need to continue to advance towards getting is Medicare for all, a system like that. But I'm also a guy that points out to President Obama, he wanted a public option, couldn't get it, he wanted to lower Medicare eligibility to 55, couldn't get it, was one vote short, but he got as much off the table as possible. You see a divided democratic field, if you can't unite democrats for Medicare for all how are you going to get it past the Senate if you've only got half of the democrats in the Senate? If you elect me President I'm going to fight to make sure we take continued strides to get to the point where every American has health coverage. And if it means the next step is a public option, lowering Medicare eligibility, I'm going to battle the prescription drug companies and drive down costs. Every single day of my time as your President, all eight years will be marching towards a day where every single American can say I live in a country where health care is a right.

Murphy: Senator, we've got about 30 seconds left. The ethanol waivers are once again upsetting farmers here in Iowa.

Booker: They should upset farmers.

Murphy: What pledge could you make to Iowans and Iowa ag producers about the RFS and those small refinery waivers that have them upset?

Booker: This President has been doing more for big oil than he does for American farmers. And you ought to know that as a guy who has fought his whole career for communities that are left out, left besides, looked down upon, promised and lied to, my whole career has come up in a community like this. Farmers, I'm going to stand with you. I'm going to get you more resources, not only the issue of ethanol but I think that any climate change bill has to be about putting farmers first. That means incentivizing cover crops and the kind of practices that farmers could lead us out of this problem by drawing carbon down. I'm going to do things for your kids by making sure rural education and rural health care is a top priority for my administration. I'm going to do things for your infrastructure because we need to have a Marshall Plan for our areas. Every area has economic competitive competition. And remember what I said before, if you want to go fast go alone, but if you want to go far go together. That means no community, no neighborhood, no people can be left out because we're in a tough competition. We need every player on the field, as I said before, so we can get into the end zone multiple times and lead this planet Earth when it comes to the achievements of a great country with great people who are doing it together.

Henderson: Senator Booker, thanks for your time today.

Booker: Thank you.

Henderson: Thanks to you at home for joining us. Join us again next week at Noon on Sunday or on Friday night at 7:30 on the main Iowa PBS channel. On behalf of all of us around this table and those of us in the building today, thanks for joining us.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.