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“You’re Dipping into the Kool-Aid”: Booker Accuses Biden of Helping Drive Mass Incarceration

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In one of the most heated exchanges of the debate, Senator Cory Booker criticized Joe Biden’s role in backing several key crime bills during his time in the Senate. Biden fought back, attacking Booker’s record as mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, let’s go to an exchange now between former Vice President Joe Biden and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker on criminal justice.

SEN. CORY BOOKER: Mr. Vice President has said that, since the 1970s, every major crime bill—every crime bill, major and minor, has had his name on it. And, sir, those are your words, not mine. And this is one of those instances where the house was set on fire, and you claimed responsibility for those laws. And you can’t just now come out with a plan to put out that fire. We have got to have far more bold action on criminal justice reform—

JAKE TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.

SEN. CORY BOOKER: —like having true marijuana justice, which means—

JAKE TAPPER: Thank you, Senator Booker.

SEN. CORY BOOKER: —that we legalize it on a federal level—

JAKE TAPPER: Thank you, Senator Booker.

SEN. CORY BOOKER: —and reinvest the profits in communities—

JAKE TAPPER: Thank you, Senator Booker.

SEN. CORY BOOKER: —that have been disproportionately targeted by—

JAKE TAPPER: Vice President Biden.

SEN. CORY BOOKER: —marijuana enforcement.

JAKE TAPPER: Vice President Biden, I want to give you a chance to respond.

JOE BIDEN: The fact is that the bills that the president—that, excuse me, future president here—that the senator is talking about are bills that were passed years ago, and they were passed overwhelmingly. Since 2007, I, for example, tried to get the crack-powder cocaine totally—disparity totally eliminated. In 2007, you became mayor. And you had a police department that was—you went out, and you hired Rudy Giuliani’s guy. You engaged in stop-and-frisk. You had 75% of those stops reviewed as illegal. You found yourself in a situation where three times as many African-American kids were caught in that chain and caught up. The Justice Department came after you for saying you were—you were engaging in behavior that was inappropriate. And then, in fact—and nothing happened, the entire time you were mayor.

JAKE TAPPER: Thank you. Senator Booker, you want to respond?

SEN. CORY BOOKER: We have a system right now that’s broken. And if you want to compare records—and frankly, I’m shocked that you do—I am happy to do that.

JOE BIDEN: Why did you announce on the first day a zero-tolerance policy of stop-and-frisk and hire Rudy Giuliani’s guy in 2007, when I was trying to get rid of the crack cocaine disparity?

SEN. CORY BOOKER: Uh, Mr. Vice President, there’s a saying in my community: You’re dipping into the Kool-Aid, and you don’t even know the flavor. You need to—you need to come to the city of Newark and see the reforms that we put in place. The New Jersey head of the ACLU has said that I embraced reforms, not just in action, but in deeds.

AMY GOODMAN: OK, what’s the flavor of the Kool-Aid, Cornel? Professor Cornel West, if you can talk about also—you know, you were at Princeton. You’re at Harvard now. You were also at Princeton University, in the state of New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. You have watched as he’s risen from mayor of Newark to become senator of New Jersey, clearly taking, in many cases, a more progressive line, increasingly progressive as he has risen in power. Your thoughts on his challenge to both Joe Biden—you were also a fierce critic of the Obama administration—and his own record, Booker’s record?

CORNEL WEST: No, I thought that Brother Cory Booker was strong last night. He was trying to get people to see that Brother Biden not only lacks the kind of vision, as well as the vitality, to really beat Trump—and this is all—all this talk about electability. It’s clear that a milquetoast neoliberalism can never beat a high-energy neofascism of Donald Trump. But when you look at the concrete details of the record—and both of them actually have spotty records in a certain sense—but with Booker’s pointing out the ways in which Biden’s history has circumscribed where he is now in terms of his vision, and now all the flip-flopping, now Biden acting more progressive, certainly Brother Booker is more progressive in his language and rhetoric and in his actions, in part, in the Senate, but they’re both still so tied to the permanent powers at the moment, the oligarchs and plutocrats. And the oligarchs and plutocrats are looking to see which candidates will be amenable to them and, at the same time, electable for the larger citizenry.

And I do think—and this is where Sister Dolores can help me out—I do think more and more that Sister Harris is emerging as a possible darling of the powers that be in the Democratic establishment, because she is so vital and vibrant. And I want to make sure that her record actually is scrutinized in a way each and every one of the candidates are. But in the end, it’s going to be Brother Bernie. I mean, this kind of “anybody but Bernie” phenomenon that’s setting in more and more among the Democratic establishment of the party is something that we ought to keep track of.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Dolores Huerta, your response?

DOLORES HUERTA: Well, I think the whole criminal justice system definitely needs to be dismantled. As Reverend Jim Lawson says, we’ve got to, you know, get rid of these systems of oppression. And all of this police—the growth of the police system in our country, not only in our streets, but also in our schools, definitely has to be changed, because there are so many innocent people, especially people of color, young men and women also, that have been hurt and damaged by this whole system.

And I think that Joe Biden should really apologize, instead of attacking Cory Booker. And this is what he does. He’s kind of using kind of the Trump tactic. When people bring up to him the things that he contributed to this horrible system that we have right now in the United States, instead of acknowledging that he made a mistake, then he attacks Cory Booker and, you know, tries to put him into the same level as himself. And that’s very wrong. And I think that Vice President Biden is going to lose a lot of respect from a lot of people if he continues doing those kinds of tactics against the other candidates.

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