BEN SMITH: Senator! Thanks for doing this. To begin -- can you send over a selfie, and tell me what you’re up to right now?
IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Senator Cory Booker smiling in front of a Clara Barton rest stop.
CORY BOOKER: I’m from Jersey… where you think I am? A rest stop on the Turnpike. (And hi Ben!)
BS: waving emoji
CB: Where are you right now? Please send a selfie.
IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Ben Smith smiling in front of a banner for The City.
BS: Oh man, the tables turned! I am visiting a great Nyc news nonprofit, The City, and squatting. A campaign question to start: There’s a kind of insider consensus that you’re a great candidate but somehow it’s not quite working. Can I get a reaction -- perhaps in emoji -- to headlines like this: Why isn’t Cory Booker’s Campaign Taking Off??
CB: Turtle emoji v rabbit emoji
BS: Ugh you’re so good at texting! Trump tweeted yesterday that he doesn’t get enough credit for reforming the sentencing for drug crimes.
IMAGE DESCRIPTION: @realDonaldTrump tweet reading, “When all of the people pushing so hard for Criminal Justice Reform were unable to come even close to getting it done, they came to me as a group and asked for my help. I got it done with a group of Senators & others who would never have gone for it. Obama couldn’t come close…”
BS: You worked with him on this. Does he have a point?
IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Tweet from @chrissyteigen reading, “lol what a pussy ass bitch. tagged everyone but me. an honor, mister president.”
BS: Or do you share Chrissy Teigen’s point of view?
CB: There is no honor in his tweets. And he debases the presidency with just about every one. We made good progress with that bill, but there is still so much more work to be done and the injustices in our criminal justice system demand less bragging and more working. So if you are asking my which side I take on this - yet another chapter of Trump attacking a minority woman - I’m #TeamChrissy
BS: You’re the only one running who has actually worked with this administration to pass a major piece of legislation. As president, do you think it’s easier than some of the other Democrats say to get back to the bipartisan working relationships of the 20th century?
CB: I’m under no illusion about how partisan things have gotten, and how extraordinary the challenges will be for the next president. In fact, we’ve descended into dangerous tribalism in our country. “Us against them;” “Zero sum game;” “fear based;” politics. This is a major reason why I’m running is to confront this, with the relentless conviction that we can change this reality. We must create new American majorities - not partisan ones, but a more workable consensus that we must do big things - raise wages, meet the climate crisis, pass common sense gun safety that the majority of Americans agree with. There are powerful forces that want us divided - from corporate greed to the Russians. After this President, who is effectively in league with the forces of division, our next leader(s) must be able to inspire a greater sense of common purpose and common cause so we can get things done that help us become a more just and prosperous country for all.
BS: You came up in a recent profile of Marianne Williamson, the implication being that you speak a similar new age language but don’t get made fun of for it because you’re a guy:
IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Article excerpt reading, “Cory Booker said, as he brisk-walked into the event, that he admired Williamson as the thing she was before declaring herself a presidential candidate - a guru, a spiritual leader, a faither healer, an author, whatever. “I think she’s said some really beautiful things,” he said carefully. He had memorized a quote of hers that he said is often falsely attributed to Nelson Mandela, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” That quote is from Williamson’s 1992 book, “A Return to Love,” Book said. Booker, an actual vegan who has read Williamson’s books, has received zero laser-eye memes at my last count.
BS: Do you buy that?
CB: There is no question that women face double standards, often impossible standards, in our politics and every corner of our society. Marianne is no exception. There are those who want to trivialize the importance of the power of ideals of empathy, grace and love in our politics - and I understand that folks are wary of such spirit in the context of Trump’s cruel, hateful, mean spirited leadership. I believe though that our highest ideals are our strongest political weapons against Trump. We won’t beat him by being like him or showing the worst of who we are. We counter him with the best of who we are - it is not only the right tactics with which to win, but the most effective strategy with which to govern.
BS: A Trekkie friend suggested I ask you: Isn’t it stupid that the Voyager crew kept passing up the big, bold solutions to their Delta Quadrant problem in favor of incremental fixes that no one on board really liked?
CB: Come on! Most of the time the big bold fixes involved violating their core values. My parents taught me to be kind to unkind people/ I sometimes don’t like it, or enjoy it, but it is the right thing to do.
BS: And finally, I want to ask you about a couple of tweets from your girlfriend, Rosario Dawson.
IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Tweet from @BenPu_nbc reading, “.@rosariodawson declines to endorse @CoryBooker for president: “Regardless of Cory, I wasn’t going to be behind any particular candidate this election,” she said, “I really just want to be behind the electorate.” (H/t @mmurraypolitics)”
IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Tweet from @rosariodawson reading, “For the record I, of course, endorse @CoryBooker. Anyone writing otherwise clearly hasn’t been paying attention. My focus this election is on voter registration and the census. Proud to celebrate 15 years with @votolatino and support folks in using their voice and being counted!”
BS: What happened in the time between those tweets??
CB: I love my girlfriend. Next question.
BS: Ok! Let’s end it on a more serious topic then. How do you stay optimistic when your neighbors in Newark can’t even drink the water? And do you wish you’d pushed harder on repairing the lead service lines when you were mayor?
CB: When I was mayor the water was being treated properly and we didn’t have this problem. This is a crisis not and it is not only affecting my close friends and neighbors but millions of Americans who live in communities with lead service lines. We know thousands of communities where kids have more than twice the blood levels than Flint Michigan. This is why I went to the Senate and founded the Environmental Justice caucus, wrote a landmark environmental justice bill, and have been able to fight for and win significantly more money for communities struggling with environmental injustices. Just last night, the Senate passed a bill that Sen Menendez and I wrote to help communities like Newark fund replacement of lead water lines. This is a national crisis that requires a national federal response. That’s why a central pillar of my Climate Plan includes billions to remediate environmental injustices around our nation affecting people’s health and well-being - most often low income communities like mine — including the replacement of all lead pipes. From superfund sites to abandoned mines to lead paint and contaminated drinking water I will be the president that champions and wins environmental justice for our nation. This is personal to me. While these things barely make it into the headlines - they are living hell for too many Americans and indeed, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere..”
BS: Thanks for doing this Senator.
CB: Thank you Ben! Best Turnpike interview of the campaign so far.