Cory Booker: Joe Biden Is "Not Doing A Good Job Of Bringing Folks Together"

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Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Cory Booker told host Chuck Todd that he believes former Vice President Joe Biden "is not doing a good job of bringing folks together" on issues of race.

"Whoever the next president is going to be, really needs to be someone who can talk openly and honestly about race with vulnerability," Booker said. "Because none of us are perfect. But really call this country to common ground, to reconciliation. I'm not sure if Vice President Biden is up to that task, given the way this last three weeks have played out. And frankly, I know, whoever is that nominee needs to be able to pull this country together.





CHUCK TODD: Yes, it was. Let me start with what happened on Thursday night. Because I want to hear your reaction to the back and forth between Vice President Biden and Senator Harris, specifically, Senator Harris' critique. Do you believe her critique was fair and accurate on the vice president's record?

CORY BOOKER: Look, I was talking about the vice president's comments well before the debate, where he used words, like boy, in a way that caused a lot of hurt and harm. And I called him out on it. And instead of coming forward and saying, "I could have said that better," or, "Let me tell you what I meant," he fell into a defensive crouch and tried to reassign blame and said that I should apologize to him. Whoever our nominee is going to be, whoever the next president is going to be, really needs to be someone who can talk openly and honestly about race with vulnerability. Because none of us are perfect. But really call this country to common ground, to reconciliation. I'm not sure if Vice President Biden is up to that task, given the way this last three weeks have played out. And frankly, I know, whoever is that nominee needs to be able to pull this country together. Because we need to reconcile.

CHUCK TODD: I want to play a quote the vice president said on Friday, that you had took, you took some issue with on Twitter. But let me play that quote and then get you to react on the other side. Here it is.

[BEGIN TAPE]

JOE BIDEN: We've got to recognize, that kid wearing the hoodie may very well be the next poet laureate and not a gangbanger.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD: Now, after your criticism on Twitter, the vice president's campaign put out their own statement. I want to put it up and then get you to react. "Vice President Biden, like many leaders over the years, was calling direct attention to the daily experience faced by many African American men around the country. And the perceived so-called threat from people like Trayvon Martin, who were racially profiled and deemed criminal while wearing a hoodie. As the context of his remarks noted, we need to make sure black mothers feel confident, when they send their child, their son, out on the streets, that they're going to feel safe." But they didn't address the use of the word, gangbanger, which was the issue you had, Senator. Explain.

CORY BOOKER: Again, as a guy growing up as a young black guy in America, who was followed and surveilled, faced that indignity and even the danger of that, being perceived to be a threat, again, this is just another example of just conversations or lessons that Joe Biden shouldn't have to learn.

And there's a lot of his record, from busing to the 1994 crime bill. I was in law school, when that was going on, when you saw African American men being arrested at rates that were unconscionable. I came from Yale and Stanford, where people were using marijuana, using drugs, but lived in a country where there's no difference between drug usage and drug selling between blacks and whites. But African Americans are almost four times more likely to be incarcerated for those things. And these are very typical, painful issues to the point now that, because of a lot of the legislation that Joe Biden endorsed, this war on drugs, which has been a war on people, we now have had a 500% increase in the prison population since 1980, overwhelmingly black and brown. There's more African Americans under criminal supervision today than all the slaves in 1850. These are real, painful, hurtful issues. And again, we need nominees that can speak to this in a way that heals, that brings people together, that rises us up, as a country, to not only deal with historic and systemic racism, but helps us to come together and deal with our common purpose and common cause.

CHUCK TODD: Do you think the vice president is just incapable of that, because of his record? He just doesn’t -- that because of this lengthy record, that no matter -- whether he disavows it or not, that that disqualifies him to be the nominee for a Democratic Party in the 21st century?

CORY BOOKER: Well, a lot of Democrats who were involved with the 1994 crime bill have spoken very openly and with vulnerability, talking about their mistakes. So that doesn't, that doesn’t disqualify you. But what we've seen, from the vice president, over the last month, is an inability to talk candidly about the mistakes he made, about things he could've done better, about how some of the decisions he made at the time, in difficult context, actually have resulted in really bad outcomes. And this is a bad culture, where you can't admit mistakes, where you can't speak to your vulnerabilities and your imperfections. We all have them. But when it comes to difficult issues with race, if you can't talk openly and honestly about your own development on these issues, I think it's very hard to lead our country forward, so that we actually can deal with our past and rise to a better common cause and common future. And we have one destiny in this nation. And right now, the vice president, to me, is not doing a good job at bringing folks together. In fact, he’s cause -- and I've heard this from people all around the country. He's causing a lot of frustration and even pain with his words.

CHUCK TODD: I want to ask you a larger philosophical question about the party here, which is simply this. Take the issue of healthcare and the question of, what’s -- where do you guys disagree, and where do you agree? If you were coming in from a foreign country, you would say, "Everybody seems to agree on where they want to take healthcare. There's just a disagreement on the speed with which you guys would do universal healthcare." But it feels like there's a huge divide. You have tried to straddle this progressive and sort of mainstream wings of the party, trying to tell progressives, "Everybody's got to be brought along together." Where is that line for you?

CORY BOOKER: Well, again, for me, it's very practical. I actually was a chief executive. I had to run New Jersey's largest city. And I always spoke to what our ideals were, where we were going, where the journey, what the destination would be. But I never let perfect be the enemy of the good, especially in communities like -- where, in Newark, where we desperately needed some good. We needed some progress. And so this, to me, is not as complicated a debate as you're framing it. The goal that most Americans hold, Republicans and Democrats, is that the wealthiest nation on the planet Earth should have everyone having access to high-quality, affordable healthcare. I believe the best way to get there, in this imperfect system, would be Medicare for All. But I also know that, on day one as president, people want to see their prescription drug costs go down. People want to see a pathway to having lower healthcare costs. And that's why putting that public option out, letting people buy in, lowering the cost of healthcare, these are the urgencies that I would deal with as a chief executive, from my experience as a chief executive.

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