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The Axe Files
David Axelrod Talks with Presidential Candidate, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). Aired 7-8p ET
Aired May 11, 2019 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on "The Axe Files", New Jersey Senator and 2020 hopeful Cory Booker on the fight between Congress and the Trump administration.
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SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't care whether you want to say impeachable or not, can't we all just agree this is despicable behavior.
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ANNOUNCER: His campaign trail frustrations.
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BOOKER: I continue to have to answer questions about debates that are distracting us from the urgencies that are affecting most Americans.
DAVID AXELROD, HOST, THE AXE FILES: Is that danger for the Democratic Party?
BOOKER: Yes, it absolutely is a danger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: And the battle he hopes to take from the streets of Newark to the Oval Office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOOKER: When I'm President of United States, I'm taking a fight to this issue like folks will never seen before because we're better than this as a country.
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ANNOUNCER: Welcome to "The Axe Files".
AXELROD: Senator Cory Booker welcome home.
BOOKER: It is incredible to be sitting here with you and really what was a locus of a lot of community chain. AXELROD: Here at City Hall?
BOOKER: Yes, it's powerful for me to sit here. It's been a while since I've sat right here.
AXELROD: Now you've been a United States Senator for five years or so do you sit here and say, "Man, I kind of like being able to make decisions and make things happen. A little less talk and little more action".
BOOKER: The truthful feeling I have is like this overwhelming sense of just gratitude - almost debt. This is a city that took me from law student and gave me my first shot to lead. And we have a habit of in this country of electing people have never run anything to the positions.
And so I started this job having no experience - managing thousands of people like a billion dollars budget and learned on the job. And it was - this was such an amazing experience for me, and made mistakes and learned a lot and had moments - I mean, I think very emotional moments where this - I was really felt broken.
But had a community they'd always sort of extended to me the kind of grace that put me back together and put me back in the game better because of the broken moments.
AXELROD: I had the occasional watch the other night this documentary "Street fight" that was made about your 2002 campaign when you were challenging the incumbent machine Mayor Sharpe James.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOOKER: For the last 32 of your life you've had the same leadership.
JAMES SHARPE, FORMER MAYOR OF NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: We ain't going nowhere! And we don't need any carpetbaggers coming here, telling us how bad we are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AXELROD: It was a brawl and you were the earnest young reformer, fighting the corrupt status quo. And your message was crystal clear, new versus old, reform versus corruption, schools, jobs, policing. Tell me where your message is now that you're running for President of the United States.
BOOKER: It's very simple, very straightforward is, this is a nation who built a global reputation for doing impossible things, for bringing people together from diverse backgrounds and accomplishing extraordinary feats of humanity, whether it's expanding the middle- class bigger and better than anybody had ever done before, sending people the moon.
We are at a point now in American society that people are losing faith in our ability to do big things anymore. They feel like the force is tearing us apart are stronger than those that are holding us together. I'm running for President of United States to rekindle, to revive that sense of common purpose to address what I know is a sense of common pain in this country we need to repair that fabric of our community and we need to get to the business of addressing persistent injustice is in America.
AXELROD: That's a very different message than some of the other candidates, which says we are a divided country, and one has to choose sides and win these fights, because the results of not doing that could be catastrophic.
BOOKER: Well, first of all we want to pass comprehensive criminal justice reform. It's just a first step, but it's a bill that people told me we couldn't get done, and we got it done, because we found a lot of common ground with people that I can write a dissertation on my disagreements with.
I'm the only person in the Senate, only person in this race that lives in an inner city, black and brown community, that's below the poverty line still. We made a lot of progress in Newark, but I chose 20 years ago to move in a tough neighborhood. And the people in my community don't have time to wait for you to hold hostage progress because of your ideological purity.
I had to make tough decisions. When you have to run something, you have to cobble together the coalition's to move the ball down the field. When you're an executive and you have to fix things and you have the urgency of communities that are too often left out, marginalized or struggling.
My - the people on my block, when I come home from the Senate, from Washington, they're less interested in my partisan fights than what we were actually doing to make communities better.
[19:05:00] AXELROD: I'm interested in what you said about not being a prisoner of ideological purity when you're trying to get things done. It's a very pragmatic point of view. But I watch you in this race trying to navigate these forces, so you are a co-sponsor of Senator Sanders Medicare for All bill.
But then I hear you're talking about it and you're very quick to acknowledge that, no you're probably not going to transform the whole health care system overnight, and yes, there were transitional steps. It feels like you're checking the box, but you're also kind of cooling the expectations.
BOOKER: Look, I remember having a debate with this my staff, pulled up a tweet from when I was Mayor, talking about universal health care. I mean, this is something that when you are Mayor and you see the brokenness of this system that we spend so much money on - because the system is perverted.
If we were going to design a system that doesn't work, that was hyper expensive, this would be the system we design. I support Medicare for all, because I think it's the best way to get to the common goal that Republicans and Democrats have. That in this country health care should be a right. That it shouldn't
be something that is their purview people that have money versus people who don't.
AXELROD: But you know that the bill that you signed on to fetch it all in one swallow.
BOOKER: Yes. And again, I'm not going to be one of those people that's afraid to tell people what my vision and hope is. I do believe that there - if I'm the President United States that, the first thing I can do is - by the way 150 million or so people have private insurance. They really like their insurance.
You've got to start building the kind of coalition's you need to make progress towards expanding care and low in cost. So, yes, the first thing I'd be interested in doing is lowering the Medicare eligibility in a very pragmatic way. Maybe to 55, we were one vote shy of doing that in the Senate, and that's going to help to actually lower costs to the private insurance, because it'll get older people out.
There's common sense things we can do to lower prescription drugs, that's what you do when you are a person who's governing it. You should find the things that you can do to move the ball down the field.
It is intolerable that we are a nation where everybody doesn't have access to health care. We're going to get there.
AXELROD: You don't think that the bill that you're co-sponsoring - the Sanders bill would pass the Senate anytime soon?
BOOKER: It will not pass the Senate. And the way I look at these 2020 elections, we're not going to get enough votes. That doesn't mean I'm not going to try. That doesn't mean that I'm not a prisoner of hope.
I still think that we have a - this could be a breakthrough election. I think we are still in this path that we don't know if this is going to be a small election about getting rid of one guy in one office. I'm working every day to make it a much bigger election.
AXELROD: Can we talk about the one guy in the one office. Right now the President is challenging Congress in a in a historic way, resisting on a lot of different fronts, and not just on the Russia probe and on the Mueller report, but on a wide array of issues. What should Congress do about that?
BOOKER: Well, first of all I appreciate the way you sort of broaden that question to more than just the Mueller report and subpoenas. We've seen a lot of what, I think, is a violation of separation of powers as powers enumerated for Article One branch of government are slipping to or being taken by the Article Two branch government.
Foreign relations - foreign policy is a great example, we have a President that bomb Syria. He wasn't bombing terrorist organizations. He is bombing a regime that we have not declared war on. So I think that we have a real - in a sobered way, and I'm glad I have these conversations with Republicans and Democrats need to start talking about making sure that we have a respect for the separation of powers.
This impeachment proceedings, if you read that Mueller report with it any kind of objectivity it is a fierce documentation of - on the campaign side a campaign that was willing to have contact, after contact, after contact with a foreign adversary. Then try to lie about it and cover it up, that is bad enough.
But then you have administration which was documented time and time again lies and deceits and deceptions, literally the President of United States ordering McGahn to manufacture documents, trying to throw people off the trail of the truth.
This is this is really bad. And I don't care whether you want - he is impeachable or not, can't we all just agree, this is despicable behavior?
BOOKER: And as Mueller even said that's worthy of a potential obstruction of justice charges. So this is not to me a partisan issue. This is - the Congress needs to continue to do its job. See unredacted report. Interview - have hearings with Mueller in it. See the underlying documentation, everything right now should be on the table as the Congress does its investigation.
AXELROD: Impeachment is a wrenching exercise for the country. On the other hand, in the face of some of the things you've seen, if you don't act, you're further reducing the norm, you're shredding the norm. Now there are acts that would have been considered impermissible that become permissible.
[19:10:00] BOOKER: Yes, so look, the benefit of being the Mayor of this city, which was a city really tough, intractable problems. Is that you had moments where - there are just really difficult decisions. This is going to be a really difficult decision.
And there are moments in your life where you have to say, "Damn the politics. But make the best decision you can about what's best for the country, because life is about purpose not position". And those people that want to so cling to their position and willing to violate their purpose in order hold on that position, I think they shred their integrity and ultimately lose their effectiveness.
AXELROD: So you're open to the idea that impeachments still maybe--
BOOKER: I am going to - first of all I'm a Senator, so I don't--
AXELROD: I understand, but I'm not going to give you that cheap out.
BOOKER: I'm not going to take the cheap out. I'm just telling you that--
BOOKER: I'm also a presidential candidate and we'll have to answer this question not from the press, I have to answer this question from--
AXELROD: Who are important--
BOOKER: Who are much - no disrespect.
AXELROD: No, no.
BOOKER: --a lot of respect for--
AXELROD: I know where I stand.
BOOKER: But I'm sorry. You were not at Iowa caucus goer, so I have to stand on the saddle and tell people where I stand. And where I stand right now is I want to see the unredacted report. I want to see Mueller - I want - and I'm on the judiciary hearing, God willing, I'll get a chance to question him before we come to a conclusion.
I will make that conclusion on what I think is not best for my presidential campaign, not best for my politics. I will make the decision on what I think in a - with the gravity of what's at stake with a President that's done high crimes and misdemeanors. I'll make the decision on what's best for the country.
AXELROD: Nancy Pelosi said this week apparently to her caucus and it was reported that - she said she's concerned that if the election were close that the President wouldn't accept the result.
And on the heels of that, Jerry Falwell Jr., one of his supporters tweeted that he was owed an extra two years because the first two years were stolen from him. And then the President retweeted that and amplified on it. Do these things concern you? Do you take them seriously?
BOOKER: They better concern you when you hear people and high offices in this land not just flaunting democratic norms, but - and in way sabre-rattling threatening the very fabrics of what makes us distinguished on the planet Earth, is that we are a nation of laws, we're a nation of these traditions that the peaceful transition of power, which we almost take for granted, other countries that have the same democratic system, have the same Constitution.
These documents are ultimately worth what they're written the ideals because of men and women hold them to be true. And when men and women betray those documents, those - these institutions will fall. Now I don't think that that's going to happen.
But when I hear that coming from the President of United States, I take it seriously and frankly it makes me want to double down and in speaking out against that and work even harder to replace him in 2020.
ANNOUNCER: Coming up on "The Axe Files".
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BOOKER: We are not going to give thoughts and prayers, which to me is just bullshit.
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[19:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BOOKER: You released a plan this week comprehensive of 14 points on gun control. It goes well beyond what we've seen from many others, including registration of gun owners with screening interviews for them, universal background checks and assault weapons ban.
I want to ask you about something else which is your experience with gun violence. Living here in this city you have mentored young people who have been killed. You wrote in your book about a young man named Hassan Washington who was killed. You have countless stories like that.
What does this do to a community, what does it do to these kids, what does it do to you?
BOOKER: So I can't not be emotional on this issue when you mention Hassan's name. And I still remember leaving - it was the first weeks I was elected Mayor of the City, he was a kid that lived in my buildings who would be there hanging out in the lobby when I'd come home.
And he - I still remember smelling marijuana in the lobby and worrying. I spent marijuana at Stanford, had no worries. But in communities like mine, kids don't have the margins to do things that privileged kids or college kids do all the time.
And it ate me up with guilt and shame that Hassan - when I met him he reminded me of my father, and he was being raised by his grandmother. Look he was one of the first murders when I was Mayor, and I got too busy to continue the mentoring. I felt like I should have been doing when I saw him in distress.
And I still remember, it's clear to this day that. His funeral it was in Perry's Funeral Home which is in the Central Ward where I live. Everything is on the first floor in that funeral, except for one room and it was in that room and I hated that room, because I had seen too many children in boxes, and going down there was like descending into the bow of a ship where people are chained together, moaning and groaning.
And I just couldn't stay, I couldn't take it anymore and I was the Mayor of the City and people were looking to me for strength and I had none to give. And I ran out of that room and came back here and slammed the doors. It was the first time I just broke in my office and I felt a sense of unbelievable shame. And everybody had shown up for his funeral and I couldn't escape the idea of why couldn't we show up for his life. And that this kid had more gifts than I have. He had a natural talent, natural leadership. And he is now just another statistic that no nobody seem to pay attention to.
[19:20:00] And so there's a larger issue going on - suicides, mental health - 100 people a day. Every one of them has a story, every one of them has a family, every one of them has a community. But I live in a neighborhood for 20 years where people are getting killed at rates and shot at rates as in other cities that is unacceptable.
And so I'm tired of living in a country where people are slaughtered in a concert, nothing changes; people are killed in a synagogue, nothing changes; in a grade school, nothing changes; on my streets every day and nothing changes.
So when I'm President of United States, I'm taking a fight to this issue like folks will have never seen before, because we're better than this as a country. It's uniquely American problem. No other country has this kind of carnage more. People in my lifetime have died in this nation due to gun violence and in all the wars and the revolutionary works now.
We are not going to give thoughts and prayers, which to me is just bullshit. I'm sorry to say that as a man of faith, but I was taught that "Faith Without Works Is Dead". We're going to bring a fight with everything that I have to solve this problem and because it's solvable, and we know it.
AXELROD: Have you spoken in this way to your colleagues in the Senate?
BOOKER: I've had very private moments about in - caucus--
AXELROD: Have you shared stories from your neighborhood--
AXELROD: One thing that strikes me is, we as a nation, 90% of people in this country, by polling, approve of universal background checks and nothing happened. So why will this happen?
BOOKER: There are things happening in this nation that should break us all if we have that kind of compassion and empathy for each other as we should have. And look, I'm an African-American male. We're 6% of the - that demographic is 6% of this nation's population. We make up over 50% of the homicide victims.
When you have kids and parents that tell you about when fireworks go off, you think that's a celebration for 4th of July, while in communities like mine, you have kids that show evidence of post- traumatic stress, they show anxiety, they high, they duck the cover. This is outrageous.
And so if you keep doing the same things over and over again, and expect different results at the definition of insanity, that's why when I tell folks this is - here's my plan and when I'm President of United States I'm going to use a lot of different tactics to do what I've seen some of the best of American leadership do, is.
Change the terms of the debate, not to let the gun industry and the gun lobby tell us what the what's possible even, because the opposite of justice is often not injustice, it's an apathy, inaction and indifference. We're going to form the kind of coalition we need and take on the kind of tactics we need to go beyond thoughts and prayers and get action and progress.
AXELROD: One of the things you ran on was a pledge to release this vise of violence on the community and you did. You - and you embraced some very aggressive policing tactics. Homicides ultimately fell by, what some 40% in the city, but the tactics became controversial.
The ACLU petitioned the Justice Department investigated hundreds of incidents of the infringement of. Rights Police Department came under supervision of a monitor. Tell me how you as a Mayor - because you're obviously sensitive to this issue. How you balance the rights of people to live free of fear of getting shot--
AXELROD: And the rights of people to be respected by law enforcement. And how do you balance as a Mayor the need to keep the police department on the job, while insisting that people's rights are being respected.
BOOKER: Being tough one crime is not a contrary to respecting people's rights. At the end of my career as Mayor when we were finding - when we were working with the Justice Department and partnering with the ACLU to do far reaching - more far-reaching things than the Justice Department was calling for, about collecting data and creating more data transparency.
Start looking at ways to reduce violence by building community that not only helped us lower crime, but help to build community strength and strength of people that are often given up on. And so there were strategies that worked that we need to double down on a society.
As my Police Director - he says you can't save the village by burning it down. We've got to find a way to restore community and actually restore trust between police--
AXELROD: Someone who has made criminal justice reform the core of your work, were you anguished by that Justice Department report about the Newark Police Department under your leaders.
BOOKER: When I first got there I knew there was problems and I felt we were rewriting the ship. I wasn't anguished over the accusation. I was anguished with, "Hey, we're doing the best we can. We're turning this ship. We're going to get there". We weren't moving fast enough.
And so at first I felt like, wait a minute, I'm doing everything I can and just didn't realize them sometimes in life you need to ask for help. And as the U.S. Attorney there at that point said to me, "You're going to get like millions of dollars' worth of free consulting right now" and you're going to see things through our data efforts that give you transparency that you don't have or even have the capacity - built the capacity to understand.
[19:25:00] So it actually ended up being something that I went from being anguished over to being grateful for. And it helped to yield a lot of strategies to make Newark working with the ACLU BS (ph) model for what you can do.
AXELROD: This controversy has arisen because Bernie Sanders said in a debate or in a town hall meeting, I should say. That he would favor giving everyone in prison the right to vote - even the Boston Marathon bomber.
You are a criminal justice reformer. I'm sure you support the resumption of voting rights when one leaves prison, but what about when people are in prison?
BOOKER: And I'm going to answer your question, but I just say why I find this question so frustrating to me. Is because, as a guy that knows there's more marijuana arrests in 2017 than they were violent crime arrests. That people are literally serving time for things that President Obama admitted to doing, the President Bush admitted to doing.
That the problem we have in America is not that people are losing their voting rights is that they're losing their liberty when they shouldn't lose their liberty. And this mass incarceration where we've seen this prison population go up 500% since 1980 alone. And so no--
AXELROD: No, I appreciate that--
BOOKER: --frustrate me because, what ends up happening is you hear the sound bite that is - is that so also supports the Marathon bomber and I'm sitting here waving my hands and saying what about the hundreds of thousands of people that are running arrest records for marijuana in our country.
And so do I believe that people who did things that President Obama and President Bush did, who are serving time should have the right to vote? Yes, do I believe the marathon bomber or child molesters should have the right to vote? No.
And in creating a debate that is to me a distraction from the urgency of reducing mass incarceration in this country is frustrating to a guy who's been fighting on this issue since I was a college kid and trying to get people to pay attention to it.
And I - and Bernie Sanders is my valued colleague. But I look at his state that has 1% African-Americans, I think their prison population is like 11 percent black with incarcerating people that shouldn't be there, that's what I want the debate to be about.
The urgency of mass incarceration, the over incarceration of black, brown people, mentally ill people, a drug-addicted people that shouldn't be in jail, should be getting treatment, should be getting health care. And we've got a system that's so screwed up and now we're debating whether the Boston bomber should have the right to vote? Come on - come on.
This is what happens in this country that distracts from the real urgencies that we have that creates issues is if Presidents can do it and Senators can do it - don't arrest a black kid in New York or Chicago for doing that.
AXELROD: I completely understand that issue, but you understand politics.
BOOKER: Yes, but I'm tired in this campaign. I mean, in a town hall and I went somebody asked me, do I believe in capitalism? I mean that's where the Democratic Party's going to be leading the debate, we are in trouble.
Do I believe in capitalism? Hell, yes. You and I are going to a restaurant of an African-American woman, who started a small business. I want to more new business starts, because we have a crisis in our country that new business starts are going down and they're the engine of job creation in our country.
I want more entrepreneurialism. I don't want more oligarchies that are squeezing out unfair competition. What we have is a perversion of capitalism going on, which is crony capitalism. We need to get back to a more vibrant free market that is more democratic.
And so what I keep having to see in this election, you don't have to tell me I have to like it, because I'm very frustrated I continue to have to answer questions about debates that are distracting us from the urgencies that are affecting most Americans.
AXELROD: Is that danger for the Democratic Party?
BOOKER: Yes, it absolutely is a danger. I'm - it is a serious danger if we're arguing over should there be capitalism, should we be allowing the Boston bomber - I can - bomber to vote. I mean these are things that undermine the urgencies of the bigger issues that everybody's trying to distract us from.
AXELROD: Up next on "The Axe Files"--
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BOOKER: My dad would be like, "Boy, don't walk around this house like you hit a triple. You were born on third base".
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[19:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
AXELROD: You didn't grow up here.
AXELROD: You grew up in a suburban community, mostly white community 20 miles from here. In fact, it was an all-white community before your parents showed up and fought to integrate the community.
BOOKER: My parents had to get a white couple that poses them. There was a big sting operation set up and a volunteer group put white couples to follow my parents around the house shopping in Bergen County. And my parents were told the house was sold. The white couple would show up and find out the house was still for sale.
And the house I grew up in, not only the white couple posed on us to put a bid on the house, but on the day of the closing when my father showed up with a lawyer to confront the real estate agent for their violation of federal law, the real estate agent punched my dad's lawyer in the face and sig the dog on my dad.
And so I grew up in a community with sitting around a table with parents who lived very different lives than I did. And the stories of my mom's participating in sit-ins, helping the plan the march on Washington.
Everything that I had as my father would indicate to me, don't - "You drink deeply from wells of freedom and liberty and opportunity that you didn't dig". My dad was almost indignant about his two sons having experiencing a life that was a dangerous dream to articulate just a generation or two ago.
And my dad would be like, "Boy, don't walk around this house like you hit a triple. You were born on third base". You can't pay back those blessings. You have an obligation to pay them forward. And so my brother and I were raised with this understanding that the you don't get these blessings to luxuriate in them.
And as my father would say, "Sit back and get dumb fat and happy". These are blessings to be metabolized and use as fuel to continue the fight for justice in this country.
AXELROD: You went to Stanford, you played football there. You were the class President. You did work in the community while you were there. You went to Oxford, you went to Yale Law and then you came back here. And I'm sure that many people here wondered why?
[19:35:00] BOOKER: Well, I think the politics often I heard that question, but the people in the community which I still live, they just wanted to know was I for real and was I willing to roll up my sleeves and help?
And I always say I got my BA from Stanford, but my PhD on the streets of Newark, because I was adopted by lot of the - sort of the elders in that community and put to work. The first thing I did getting out of fellowship at a law school was to fight for tenant rights. Fight for the housing rights of others, because you can't pay it back, you got to pay it forward.
And that's why I tell people "Life is about purpose, not position". The work that I was doing then is very similar in purpose the work I'm doing right now.
When I come home to Newark, New Jersey, that's my barometer, is a work I'm doing does it really matter to Ms. Jones who was the first person - the tenant President of my buildings who first told me to run for office and then made me promise her that I would not leave the community or forget the people that first got me elected.
AXELROD: When you when you ran for Mayor the first time against Sharpe James it was a brutal campaign, all manner of abuse and intimidation and caricature of you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sharpe is quoted calling Cory a (bleep) white boy, and telling audiences that he takes money from the Ku Klux Klan. He says the Cory, a Baptist, is actually Jewish.
JAMES: he went to Stanford and he's Jewish.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AXELROD: How powerful was that, because you end up losing most of the black wards in that in that race. That was a margin of difference.
BOOKER: We actually won a lot of black neighborhoods we lost our election by a handful of points. It was a really close fight. I'm really proud of probably one of the greatest experiences of my life. I hate to say it say how it ended.
But when Newarkers saw me go right back to work in community, organizing, staying there, by the time a year out from the election we were polling 25 points ahead of any opposition, because Newark is a community that wants to know you're for real. And while the Central Ward, which supported me in significant ways, knew who I was.
I was running a citywide election from a ward' seat and we ended up we ended up coming up short and then winning in the biggest landslide at that point in Newark history. When I came back and run and ultimately beat the Machine.
AXELROD: Right now in polling and I always point out to people that these really are marathons, it's a cliche. We're at like mile marker 3. But having said that, if you look at polling, Vice President Biden has like 50 percent of the vote among African-American voters in the Democratic electorate, and you have under four. Why is he doing so well and does the association with President Obama give him a special place in this race?
BOOKER: Well, I don't know. I do know that we see that over 50 percent of African-Americans don't even know who I am right now. So while the Vice President has full name recognition, I'm still introducing myself to voters.
You also know that Barack Obama was behind - in South Carolina--
AXELROD: Until he won the Iowa caucus.
BOOKER: He won the Iowa caucuses. And so we're working really hard to run a grassroots organizing campaign that reminds me a lot of how we beat the machine in Newark. We went out in the fields - living room- to-living room, door-to-door, town hall-from-town hall in 1998.
My opponent got the same amount of votes he always got, but we brought out an entirely new electorate and won in the Central Ward of Newark, New Jersey. In Iowa, I've gone all over the state now, and you've got to earn people's vote.
You've got to get out there and meet people and do the kind of organizing that I feel very comfortable as a guy who came up through retail politics. And I think we're going to do extraordinarily well in those early primary states.
AXELROD: One of the things that I - that was also part of that campaign and I mentioned it was that you were a kind of quasi Republican, because you were getting support from Wall Street.
BOOKER: Look, I want people to judge me on my record. You people say Wall Street support. Well, I live in New Jersey where hundreds of thousands of people from jobs, ranging from secretaries on up, my high school friends have often worked in the industry. But there was a non- profit, they did an analysis of who votes with Wall Street in this Senate and they said Cory Booker 0 times has voted in favor of Wall Street.
In fact, I fought against the rollbacks of Dodd-Frank and some things I think are awful like carried interest and more. So when I was a Mayor of the City of Newark, we needed to do things to get things going, to get jobs created getting. Institutional capital to invest, getting philanthropy in our city, because we were in a recession, which recessions for the country are depression like circumstances here.
AXELROD: LET me ask you specifically about one battle you fought here which was school reform here in Newark and you were champion and I think you continued to be a champion for vouchers, for - and particularly for charter schools, which have flourished here in Newark and that has become a bone of contention with the teachers unions and some forces within the Democratic Party.
[19:40:00] BOOKER: Right. And the reality is, is what I've been a champion for in Newark was for Newark kids to have great public schools. And what I champion specifically is that we should create a system - a unified system that works for my kids.
We should not have a system where your activist parent or your zip code determines your - the quality to school you do. My vision for America is at every zip code in America has great quality schools regardless of the - your parent's ability to navigate school systems or if they have to work two jobs and can't do that.
AXELROD: And I want to - I just want to stipulate that in fact graduation rates went up dramatically I think 27%--
BOOKER: Yes, close to 30%.
AXELROD: Yes, and performance as well. BOOKER: Not just a little bit. If you're a black kid in Newark, which as you said, is a majority of my kids, your chances going to a high performing school since I was Mayor in 2006 I've gone up almost 400 percent.
We've shown in New York with a system that was under state takeover known for its poor performance in a span of a decade. We've shown a dramatic turnaround in the toughest of conditions. I think it's a tribute not to one guy, but to a community of people that put aside the purity and said we're going to create a school system that works for every child - we're not there yet.
But the progress we've made in a short time is extraordinary. And as President of United States I believe every child should have a great public school to go to, like the children in Newark are having greater and greater opportunities. We can achieve that.
ANNOUNCER: Ahead on "The Axe Files".
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BOOKER: Words of hatred don't just participate in the wind, they fester and they harm and they hurt. And this is a President that he's done contemptible things.
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[19:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
AXELROD: So this is your neighborhood. This Vonda's Kitchen here is one of your haunts.
BOOKER: It is actually one of things I'm - one of the pride points for me in my life, is this is an incredible entrepreneur who had a dream, but like many people from my community they can't get help to support start their business. We helped her get access to capital to start this restaurant and now she's thriving.
There's double and I dare say triple park sometimes on the street just trying to--
AXELROD: Yes, you are seeing 400 people a day.
BOOKER: Yes, yes. It's incredible story that if you give a little bit of an opportunity to people don't often, they'll get a shot they are going to take that and run with it and do things that you can't imagine.
AXELROD: So there's seven churches in this area, I'm told, in the vicinity of where we situation. And you and I've had discussions before about different faiths, including Judaism.
AXELROD: And you know far more about it than I do, and I was bar Mitzvahed.
BOOKER: OK. Do you remember your Torah portion?
AXELROD: I do not.
BOOKER: Are you serious?
AXELROD: No but this is a big thing.
BOOKER: And I'll never proselytize Judaism to you. But as a guy who studied it for decades, unlike the other two Abrahamic faiths, mine Christiana, Islam - it's not trying to convert people. This is about a bunch of rabbis, learned people, arguing for eons about what it means to live a good life.
And I can't say I agree with everything I've learned from my Torah study. But Martin Luther King drew so much from the Torah. It's like a really powerful--
AXELROD: What drove you to that?
BOOKER: So faith has been the center of my childhood, my upbringing. But when you reach a point where you are becoming an adult, you got to decide am I going to be - like this religion that I sort of inherited, you suddenly look at it and stare at it. I think my - the depth of my spiritual life I started exploring it when I got to college.
I just began to feel this profound love of Jesus. I just began to - this unconditional love. This guy that hated poverty and stood before people who were of trying to cast stones and then I started realizing that there's a humility in my faith and if I'm humble before God's creations - what does it say, "The love you have to know".
And I just became insanely curious about okay well what are other manifestations, the divine on earth. And it was like a gift to me when I got to Oxford to stumble into a Chabad house of all places. The more I read about Jews and Judaism and then started really becoming curious about black Jewish alliances. I mean this started speaking to me.
And then when I started studying Torah--
AXELROD: And let me just interrupt you. What do you make of the debate within the Democratic Party over Israel? And there were some young members of the House of color have raised concerns about Israeli policy toward the Palestinians and representative Omar's comments and so on. That seems more pronounced.
BOOKER: My first trip to Israel was when I was 24 years old. Some of the harshest criticisms of Israeli policy right now are Israeli Jews. And the wonderful thing about Israel is its democracy and you have fearsome debates and the same way we have in our country.
And I often laugh at people and say I don't want anybody to judge my nation on Donald Trump, in the same way I'm not going to judge Israel by Netanyahu.
AXELROD: And yet that's the government policy now. And the question is whether or not the opportunity for the two-state solution that--
BOOKER: That's a real question.
AXELROD: --we've stood for a generation has a future.
BOOKER: And it's in peril. I would say it's - I would say legitimately so. And I worry about this administration that you hear the President's comments, he doesn't even seem to understand the history of that commitment to a two-state solution and is doing things to me that are offensive by pulling back humanitarian support.
And so this is a perilous time that I think we as a government and we as a nation to recommit ourselves to a two-state solution.
AXELROD: What do you make of the rise of White Supremacy and the general rise in hate crimes over the last several years?
[19:50:00] BOOKER: What I make of it is - this is a scourge in our society, and it's not enough to say I'm not a racist. And when such racism and bigotry exists, you can't just be satisfy with not being racist, you have to be anti-racist and work against these things.
And I worry about a country that doesn't sound the alarm when these weeds of hate are getting root and starting to flourish that we all don't feel conviction to weed them out.
AXELROD: And as you don't invoke the President's name in this. What role has he played?
BOOKER: He has been giving license to hate. He has been breeding and contributing to a climate of hatred and giving - I mean, literally you see it - racist anti-Semitic, White Supremacist groups use his language. I think it's really dangerous.
I think words hate words of hatred don't just dissipate in the wind. They fester and they harm and they hurt and we should be quick to condemn that. And this is a President that has done contemptible things.
AXELROD: Why do you think he does that? Is it a matter of philosophy on his part or is this a matter of opportunism?
BOOKER: It's a cheap way of trying to demean others in order to win elections. This is a person - and there's a politics in our country that thinks the way you win is to pit American against American, is to trigger fears, is to create a zero-sum politics. That is tribalism. It is the antithesis to what I would like to see in our country, which is a reaffirmation of a beloved community, which is not fear-based politics.
It is love based politics. It's - we're all in this together. So I know that this politics has been a strategy that's worked for a lot of people, but I think that that's the contest going on right now in this country and it's contest I think is going on even beyond this.
Because who else is trying to flare up racial tensions in this country, it's the Russians. Look at what they look at what they were doing what their resource.
AXELROD: And still doing.
BOOKER: And still doing.
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AXELROD: Is there a level of theatricality, a sense of how to be noticed that is essential to competing--
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[19:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
AXELROD: I have to ask you about yourself and this flair for the dramatic that you've had almost from the beginning of your career. And I watched you as Mayor, going into burning buildings and saving your neighbor, chasing robbers, camping out on the corner for 10 days and going on a hunger strike. Is there a level - in this media culture--
AXELROD: Is there a level of theatricality, a sense of how to be noticed that is essential to competing?
BOOKER: Look, one of the most - first times I ever trended as a story was all an engineered plan. Conan O'Brien went on national TV and disked American cities. I am sitting here at home one night as Mayor of this city, frustrated that I can't get investment and things in my city.
There was - Conan O'Brien says I hear Newark, New Jersey, has a new healthcare program and found a way to reduce prescription drug cost for a lot of residents. And he goes, I think the best new healthcare plan for Newark, New Jersey is a bus ticket out of town.
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CONAN O'BRIEN, "CONAN" HOST: The Mayor Newark, New Jersey wants to set up a citywide program to improve Newark residents' health. The healthcare program would consist of a bus ticket out of Newark.
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BOOKER: And I sat there and I said OK this is a new era. You may have old media, I got new media. I filmed the - sat behind my desk in city hall, called out Conan O'Brien for insulting our city.
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BOOKER: So now according to the powers invested in me by the people of the City of Newark, I'm officially putting you on the Newark, New Jersey, airport no-fly list. Try JFK, buddy
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BOOKER: I think even the TSA--
AXELROD: That's good.
BOOKER: --took a clarification and said that Mayors don't have the power to ban people from airports. Long story short is, he went on his show and banned me from Burbank Airport. The fight escalated. Now I was getting invited on shows, never got invited on before as a Mayor, earned media through the roof, every chance I got as a Mayor of a struggling city, I bragged about our city.
By the time the whole thing ended, Hillary Clinton filmed the video basically saying, Chief of Secretary then, trying to keep peace in the world, she basically said Cory, Conan give peace a chance.
He invited me on the show apologized, gave a $100,000 to Newark charities. I was able to get calls returned after that flare up that I had never gotten returned before.
And so the platform that Donald Trump uses to demean and degrade - my history is using these platforms to fight hate with love to when people insult me, whether they be a fellow United States Senator, not to fight them back saying you punch me, I'm going to punch you harder, but show grace.
AXELROD: There's a big debate within the Democratic Party right now is, how you deal with Donald Trump?
BOOKER: Well, I'm firmly on one side of that debate. And if that means that I'm not the nominee from our party, I just don't think - I ran a fire department, fighting fire with fire is not a good strategy.
AXELROD: Speaking of that, your term expires coterminous with this presidential election. So a law was passed in the state to allow you to run for both. Do you intend to run for both? And I mean, you expect to be in public office of one sort or another in January of 2021?
BOOKER: Yes. And I'm running full board to be the President of the United States of America and I'm going to fight like anything to win the support of my party and to win the support of the American people.
But should that not work out, I'm looking forward to staying in the United States Senate and continue to do what I have been doing for the last five years, which is getting stuff done. I'm proud of my career as a Senator. I'm proud of the contributions I have been able to make.
So I love the job that I have. But I aspire to the President of United States, not just because of the ideas I want to bring to bear, but because I believe this is a moment in America where we don't need to fight fire with fire or define us by the worst of who we are or fight Donald Trump on his terms.
But this is a time we need a party that's going to unite Americans to deal with challenges and injustices.
AXELROD: Senator it's great to be with you.
BOOKER: Thank you for coming to my town, to my neighborhood.
AXELROD: Great to be here and to eat here.
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AXELROD: To hear more of the conversation go to itunes.com/axefiles.
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