Booker vs. Biden on Crime: "You're Dipping Into The Kool-Aid And You Don't Even Know The Flavor"

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Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) accused former Vice President Joe Biden of destroying "communities like mine" during an exchange about support for the crime bill at night two of CNN's Democratic presidential primary debates on Wednesday.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN: Welcome back to the CNN Democratic presidential debate. We are live from Detroit.



I want to turn now to criminal justice. Mr. Vice President, Senator Booker called your new criminal justice reform plan, quote, "an inadequate solution to what is a raging crisis in our country," unquote. Why is Senator Booker wrong?

BIDEN: Well, I don't -- I think he is wrong. I think we should work together. He has a similar plan. I think that we should change the way we look at prisons.

Right now, we're in a situation where, when someone is convicted of a drug crime, they end up going to jail and to prison. They should be going to rehabilitation. They shouldn't be going to prison. When in prison, they should be learning to read and write and not just sit in there and learn how to be better criminals.

And when they get out of prison, they should be in a situation where they have access to everything they would have had before, including Pell grants for education, including making sure that they're able to have housing, public housing, including they have all the opportunities that were available to them because we want them to become better citizens.

That's the essence of what my plan, in detail, lays out. I'm happy to discuss it more in detail if the senator would want to. And so I -- you know, I look -- anyway, that's what I think my plan -- I know what my plan does, and I think it's not dissimilar to what the senator said we should be working together on getting things done.

TAPPER: Senator Booker, your response?

BOOKER: Well, my response is that this is a crisis in our country because we have treated issues of race and poverty, mental health and addiction with locking people up and not lifting them up.

And...

(APPLAUSE)

... 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 -- 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, like having true...

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.

BOOKER: ... marijuana justice, which means that we legalize it on a federal level...

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator Booker.

BOOKER: ... and reinvest the profits in communities that have been...

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator Booker.

BOOKER: ... disproportionately targeted by marijuana enforcement.

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

BIDEN: The fact is that the bills that the president -- that, excuse me, the future president here -- that...

(LAUGHTER)

... that the senator is talking about are bills that were passed years ago and they were passed overwhelming. 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 -- and engaged in stop-and-frisk. You had 75 percent 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 nothing happened, the entire time you were mayor.

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

BOOKER: Well, first of all, I'm grateful that he endorsed my presidency already. But I'll tell you this, it's no secret that I inherited a criminal -- a police department with massive problems and decades-long challenges. But the head of the ACLU has already said -- the head of the New Jersey ACLU -- that I put forth national standard-setting accountability.

BIDEN: That's...

BOOKER: Mr. Vice President -- Mr. Vice President, I didn't interrupt you. Please show me that respect, sir.

BIDEN: I'm sorry (inaudible)

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...

(LAUGHTER)

... I am happy to do that. Because all the problems that he is talking about, that he created, I actually led the bill that got passed into law that reverses the damage that your bills that you were, frankly -- to correct you, Mr. Vice President -- you were bragging, calling it the Biden crime bill, up until 2015.

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator. Vice President Biden?

BIDEN: Number one, the bill he talks about is a bill that in my -- our administration, we passed. We passed that bill that you added onto. That's the bill, in fact, you passed.

And the fact of the matter is, secondly, there was nothing done for the entire eight years he was mayor, there was nothing done to deal with the police department that was corrupt. 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?

BOOKER: 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 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.

Sir, you are trying to shift the view from what you created. There are people right now in prison for life for drug offenses because you stood up and used that "tough on crime" phony rhetoric that got a lot of people elected but destroyed communities like mine. This isn't about the past, sir. This is about the present right now. I believe in redemption.

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.

BOOKER: I'm happy you evolved.

TAPPER: I want to bring in Secretary...

BOOKER: But you've offered no redemption to the people in prison right now for life.

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