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CNN Live Event/Special
Town Hall with Sen. Cory Booker (D) New Jersey. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired March 27, 2019 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEMON: Good evening from Orangeburg, South Carolina, home to the first in the South primary, and welcome to a CNN Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Cory Booker.
Boy, the crowd is ready here. I'm Don Lemon. And I want to tell you that Senator Booker made his name as mayor of Newark before making history as the first black senator from New Jersey. He is now pitching optimism as the best way to defeat President Donald Trump.
You can applaud for that. Tonight, Senator Booker is going to take questions from Democrats and independents who say that they plan to participate in the Democratic primaries or caucuses. Also in our audience tonight, students, faculty, and staff from the city's two historically black universities, HCBUs, Claflin and South Carolina State.
So without further ado, please welcome Senator Cory Booker, everyone.
Get on up here. How are you doing, brother?
BOOKER: So good to see you.
LEMON: Thank you.
BOOKER: Good to see you.
LEMON: Wow, look at the reception.
BOOKER: Hello, everybody.
LEMON: You want to sit?
LEMON: So this is the land of barbecue.
BOOKER: It is.
LEMON: And you're a vegan.
BOOKER: I am.
LEMON: What's that like?
BOOKER: What's that like?
LEMON: How has that been for you?
BOOKER: It's been a great experience for me, for great -- for well being. You know, when you come from a family that literally owned a soul food restaurant, my mom and dad, it may have caused some trouble. But now they understand that, for health reasons, it's a good way to go.
LEMON: Yeah, but you're not eating barbecue down here, right? Maybe putting a little sauce on the vegetables. Welcome. It's so good to have you here.
BOOKER: It's good to be here.
LEMON: It's good to be here. So we're going to start off with our audience questions now. First one is Tawanya Herbert, a health care professional from Columbia. She's a supporter of yours. Tawanya, there she is.
QUESTION: Good evening.
BOOKER: Good evening, Tawanya.
QUESTION: So, even though you have proposed legislation and policies that positively impact our country, moving forward, many people just want to defeat Trump in 2020 and are critical of your approach for campaigning on love and unity. What do you say to those people?
BOOKER: I am so grateful for this question, because I do hear it from time to time, even from some of my friends. But let's just first say that we all agree about the urgency of this moment, to beat Donald Trump.
Now -- you can applaud that definitely.
And I'm uniquely qualified. I've gone up against titans, bullies, through my New Jersey politics. In fact, I don't think anybody in this race has been through the kind of tough politics I've been through. There's even a documentary about it called "Street Fight."
But we win this election not by showing the worst of who we are but by the best of who we are. You see, Donald Trump wants us to fight him on his terms. To me, that is not only a recipe for losing the election, it's a recipe for losing the ability to move this country forward.
We have to understand that what Americans want is not to know what we're against. They want to know what we're for. And in this moral moment in this country, where we're seeing moral vandalism from the highest office in the land, somebody who is Twitter trash-talking and trolling, this is a time that we as Democrats have an opportunity not to go around and say, hey, we're going to beat Republicans, but to stand up with the ideal of uniting Americans.
I believe very firmly that you can't lead the people if you don't love the people, all of the people. And we need that energy.
We need that leadership. The only way to beat hate is not bringing more hate. It's by bringing love and hope and uniting people to solve the persistent injustices in our country. I'm going to do that, and that's actually how we are going to win.
LEMON: Regine Rucker is standing right there. She's from Columbia. She's a program manager at the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education. Go ahead, Regine. What's your question?
QUESTION: Hi. The visibility of police brutality has increased because of video from dash-cams and cellphones. And marijuana is now a legal and profitable business. These issues have disproportionately impacted people of color. What are your thoughts on the disparate treatment in police encounters for people of color and commuting the sentences of those currently in prison for marijuana-related offenses without retribution?
BOOKER: Wow, I can't tell you how grateful I am for this question, because in this climate where many states are moving to legalize marijuana, I have a lot of frustrations as a person who understands exactly what you're saying. We fundamentally have different laws in this country that are treating people differently.
Now, look, there are still marijuana arrests. In 2017, there were more marijuana arrests in this country than all violent crime arrests combined. And marijuana enforcement is disproportionately impacting black and brown communities.
You don't see stop and frisks often on college campuses like Stanford, where I went, but you see them targeting communities for these types of arrests. Let me give you an example. There is no difference in America between using and even selling marijuana between blacks and whites. But if you're African American in this country, you're almost four times more likely to be arrested for that. And by the way, when you get arrested for marijuana in this country,
it is like getting a lifetime sentence. Imagine this. You now have a conviction for doing things that two of the last three presidents admitted to doing. And you leave now, and you can't get a business license, you can't get jobs, you can't get a loan from a bank. It's affects -- it's like a lifetime sentence, compressing your economic well-being.
That's why when I heard all of this about marijuana legalization, I fast put a bill into the Senate called the Marijuana Justice Act, which is about decriminalizing marijuana on the federal level, letting the states do what they want, but very importantly -- and I'm hoping all of us, when we talk about marijuana legalization or decriminalization -- in the same breath, we've got to talk about expunging the records of everyone who is still suffering.
And so I talk about issues of bringing this country together, but it's not for a kumbaya moment. It's about bringing this country together to pursue the ideals of our nation, which is justice. Right now we have a lot of injustice in our criminal justice system, being borne by the poor, disproportionately minorities.
If I am your president, I'm going to fight to have sane drug laws and make sure that we expunge the records of those people who are going through convictions and the aftermath from things like marijuana.
LEMON: So I have to ask you, Senator, let's follow up on Regine's question. What about -- considering where you lived, where you lived in housing, and drugs were sold there. Would you consider mass pardons or commutations for federal marijuana offenses?
BOOKER: You know, absolutely. Look, in America, one of my friends, Brian Stevenson, says that we have a criminal justice system that treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent. We have a criminal justice system in this war on drugs that has resulted, by the way, in an increase -- since 1980 alone -- of 500 percent in our prison population, 500 percent.
While other countries were restoring their infrastructure, building mass transit, the one infrastructure we were building out is a new prison or jail every 10 days between the time I was in law school and the time I was mayor of the city of Newark. And this, again, is impacting communities of color, because the war on drugs has been a war on people.
And so as president in the United States, your job is to pursue justice, and what we see right now is so many folks suffering. Now, I passed a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill with other senators on both sides of the aisle, the first time since those horrible crime bills back in the 1990s, passed this legislation working across the aisle to move forward.
And you know who I brought to the State of the Union was a guy who had a life sentence, a life sentence for being in possession of an amount of crack cocaine weighing less than a baseball. This is tragic, unjust, and violates our values. And my -- one of my focuses as president of the United States will be to balancing the scales of justice and having a criminal justice system that reflects our highest ideals.
LEMON: Ra Shad Gaines is here. Ra Shad Gaines is from Aiken, South Carolina, Senator. He's the founder of Black Progressives, an advocacy group, and was a delegate for Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
BOOKER: And, I'm sorry, it's Ra Shad?
LEMON: Ra Shad Gaines.
BOOKER: Ra Shad, all right. Thank you, Ra Shad, for being here.
QUESTION: Thank you for having me, sir. Many people feel that President Obama was unable to fight race relations while in the White House due to the Democrats losing the House, the Senate, and governorships across the country. If the cards were aligned the same way, how would you handle yourself during those lowful times? And also, how would you be different than President Obama in dealing with race while in the White House?
BOOKER: Well, first of all, I'm not going to accept the premise that we can't continue to win elections and allow us to have the House and the Senate. What we just saw in 2018 is extraordinary. We took back the House of Representatives because many people who were not involved -- we had some of the highest record turnouts in my lifetime in a midterm election.
And so if I'm president of the United States, I'm also leader of the Democratic Party, and I'm going to make sure that right after I'm elected to be United States president, I turn around and challenge us to in all 50 states to build a Democratic Party that can win at all levels.
Because I'm going to be very frank with you here in South Carolina. We may have a president that's of the Democratic Party, but a lot of the problems here in South Carolina -- savage cuts to education, the failure -- the failure -- the failure to expand Medicaid...
... these things are happening because we're not taking back enough statehouses. Now, by the way, these aren't partisan issues. You talk to Americans, and we agree on so much more than our politics indicate. And so I'm going to be a leader of the party that fights to make sure that we are building a nationwide party that can win legislative seats, mayors' races, that can win congressional seats, and make sure that we don't go into that valley where we lose the House or the Senate.
(APPLAUSE) LEMON: Senator, I want to ask you more directly to his question, then. How will you be different, he said, how will you be different in dealing with race in America than President Obama?
BOOKER: Yeah, that's a very important second part of that question. And, look, I have spent my career being a person that has -- from the time I left law school -- I live in an inner city community. I'm the only person in this race that lives in an inner city black and brown community, and it's a low income community. You know, my neighbors are rich with spirit and rich with character, but they're trapped in this economy where the medium income where I live, according to the last census, was about $14,000 per household.
These are issues that I've been fighting for my entire professional career, to make sure that the issues that we're struggling with in this country, that are racial disparities that exist throughout our system. In health care, a lot of Americans don't know that maternal mortality rates, we lead the Planet Earth, but for black women, it's almost four times higher than white women.
Let's just take something like asthma, the most common health reason why kids miss schools in America in general. But you know that black youth are 10 times more likely to die of asthma complications than white youth?
And so this is not something to me that is -- that I just talk about. My entire career has been about trying to balance these scales and address these disparities using creative ways. And in Newark, when I was mayor, we did it. We accomplished a lot of things to give -- to balance those racial scales.
So I have a particular expertise in dealing with these issues. As a United States senator, I've passed legislation, from the criminal justice reform bill that I've already mentioned, even a bill with Tim Scott, your senator, across the aisle, on something called opportunity zones to make sure areas of our country that have not gotten the investment in jobs they need, the lowest income areas, many of which are in this state, have different tax treatment to attract investment, to create jobs and opportunities in communities that have been denied that.
So give me the chance to fight for all of America and to deal with these disparities that we have in our economy, in our health care, even in education.
LEMON: So an issue, Senator, that has really been a hot button issue you know this time on the campaign trail, reparations. Would you be in favor of direct monetary payments to black Americans who are descendants of slaves?
BOOKER: Can I tell you why I'm frustrated and disappointed by this reparations conversation? It's because it's being reduced to just a box to check on a presidential list when this is so much more of a serious conversation. (APPLAUSE)
So do I support legislation that is race conscious about balancing the economic scales? Not only do I support it, but I have legislation that actually does it. In fact, I've got the only legislation, I think, in the entire Congress that Columbia University says would virtually eliminate the racial wealth gap in our country.
It's something called baby bonds, which means that every child born in America would get a bond when they're birthed, $2,000 placed in it. And during the time, every year of their life, depending on their family's income, they would have more money placed in it. The lowest income Americans, by the time they reach 18 years old, would have upwards of $50,000, real wealth, a stake in our economy, to invest in going to school or education, starting a business, buying a home.
And so the ideas I'm bringing to the table with very much conscious towards closing racial gaps is there, but let me go further than that. And this is one of the things that frustrates me about this conversation.
Since slavery in this country, our nation's original sin, we have had overt policies fueled by white supremacy and racism that have been oppressing African Americans economically, but it didn't stop with slavery. Reconstruction period, it went even beyond the reconstruction period into the Jim Crow period. Many of the best ideas we've had in America that have ushered millions of Americans into the middle class, blacks were systematically excluded from the G.I. Bill to -- even Social Security is written to try to exclude the professions that African Americans were in.
Even in my lifetime, you had red-lining. You had mortgage loan problems. In fact, my family, to move into New Jersey from Washington, D.C., had to get a white family to pose as them in order to buy the house I grew up in.
And so what I'm saying to you, and my frustration is, is we don't have a way of addressing head-on in this country the persistence of racism, the persistence of white supremacy, and implicit racial bias. And you know it even in the media.
BOOKER: How do we talk about black protesters? They're thugs. You see it in our politics. Willie Horton and welfare queens, these tired tropes that still show up and allow things to happen like mass incarceration, which has implicit racial bias in our criminal justice system that hurts blacks.
So I want to make sure that we are dealing with the problem. That's why I support H.R. 40, which is a bill in the House that would bring together the best minds in America to deal with this issue, not only trying to right economic scales from past harms, but to make sure we are a country that creates a more beloved community where all dignity and humanity is affirmed of every single person in our country.
LEMON: It's a complicated question. Exactly. What are reparations? And I think that's part of the conversation.
LEMON: So we're going to move on to get more questions in now. I want to go to Miriam Birdsong now. Miriam is a retired nurse and educator. She's from Summerville, South Carolina. She's also the first vice chair of the Dorchester County Democrats. Miriam?
BOOKER: Miriam, thank you for your question.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. After 43 years of working as a nurse, I now find that I'm disabled. My medications and my physician costs are astronomical. I have Medicare and private insurance, but they're expensive, and they still don't cover my costs.
The current administration thinks that the free market is the best route for people. Just put some money aside, they say, and it will cover my medical expenses. The problem is, where is that money coming from? Can you explain to us, sir, how you're going to help folks like me who have worked and paid into this system? How are we going to do this?
BOOKER: Thank you, Miriam. Thank you for that question.
QUESTION: Thank you.
BOOKER: Yes. And your struggles, some days, I'm sure, like a lot of Americans, you feel alone in it. But this is one of those things, all across our country, there are people struggling with the same issues with you.
In a system that is the most expensive system on the Planet Earth, we spend about 18 percent to 20 percent of our GDP on health care, and we still have folks that are struggling just to get by because our system -- all that money we're spending doesn't go to patient care, doesn't go to support folks like you.
This is a broken system, and we must fix it. And so if I'm your president, I'm going to make sure that we deal with this. Now, the ideal in our country is that everyone should have access to health care. Health care is an American right, and the current system is definitely wrong.
I believe the best way to get there is by having Medicare for all. But anybody who says that in politics, they need to get to some explaining, because that's an ideal that we have to show a pathway to get there through practical things that aren't going to make people's situations worse, but help it get better. So here are some things that we can do in the first year should I be
your president. Number one, those drugs and those expenses that you're talking about, that is outrageous. Too many Americans put aside life- saving drugs because they can't afford them. We can drive those prices down doing commonsense things that even Republicans talk about but we're not getting done.
Those are things like using Medicare's bargaining power to drive down costs. That means allowing on a bill that I wrote with Senator Sanders and Senator Casey, allowing imports from other countries safely. And I'll tell you what, we're going to drive down drug prices by doing what other countries do. They simply say that if you're going to have a drug in their country and raise the price in their country higher than others, there are going to be penalties for that.
Well, if I'm president of the United States and you raise your drug prices higher than other countries, we're going to have a definite penalty. We're going to take away your patent and let generics come in and undercut those prices.
And I want to give you one more example. I want to give you one more example. And something, again, commonsense. You know, our way to getting to Medicare for all, we could just lower Medicare eligibility to 55, allowing people to have it as an option to buy in to. Even companies can use that as an option.
And what that's going to do is not only giving folks like you lower costs, but it also, for those folks who are left in private pools, by pulling older folks out, it's going to actually make those healthier pools and drive down the costs.
There are many commonsense things we can do on the glide path to our goal of health care for everyone. And the most important thing is to relieve the financial burden on too many families that are hurting in the most expensive system on the Planet Earth that fails to produce the kind of outcomes that this nation deserves for all of its citizens.
LEMON: Right. Senator, David Alexander works at a health care non- profit. It is in Columbia. And it is focused on the AIDS epidemic. David?
QUESTION: Thank you. Hello, Senator Booker.
BOOKER: David, hello.
QUESTION: When you first ran for the U.S. Senate, you accepted huge contributions to your Senate campaign from the pharmaceutical industry. Can we trust you to be tough on them when it comes to fighting the greed of this industry? Shouldn't the government be required to engage in price negotiation with drug companies? BOOKER: David, you are talking to some of the same issues I just
talked about. But first, you asked me, which is really important, on an issue of trust.
an issue of trust.
I am in politics because I was representing low-income folks. It was a bunch of tenant leaders in projects in Newark that banded together to elect me to my first office in the central ward of Newark. Heck, the map of the central ward of Newark sits behind my desk so I never forget why I got into politics and who I'm fighting for: Those people left out and who are often taken advantage of by powerful forces and powerful interests.
And so when it comes to pharmaceutical companies, heck, when I was mayor, I put together projects that lowered prescription drugs for my residents. And I've made a declaration years ago before I was running for president that I would not take pharmaceutical executives' contributions.
And so let me give you this commitment, because you can't campaign wrong and then think you're going to govern right. So I will not only not take pharmaceutical executives' money...
... but I will not take corporate PAC money and I will not take federal lobbyist money. And what I'm going to do is remembering where I go home in the central ward of Newark -- hopefully it's from the White House -- but I'm going to tell you right now that I'm going to remember the people that put me in office in my very first race, and every single day, I'm going to fight for folks like those in Newark and like those here in Orangeburg.
LEMON: So you said you pledged not to take PAC money. Do you regret taking corporate money in the past from pharmaceutical companies?
BOOKER: Well, look, I live in a pharmaceutical state and a lot of these data that's being thrown around the Internet obscures the fact. There's a lot of folks that live in my city in low income neighborhoods that work for pharmaceuticals, hundreds of thousands of jobs. And so that gets obscured and lumped into one number.
And I'll tell you this, I'm happy now that I'm one of those folks that has taken the Citizens United pledge and other pledges to have clean money and clean campaigns. President or not, this is the way to go.
LEMON: Do you regret it or not?
BOOKER: Do I regret taking pharmaceutical executive money? I didn't need it, and I'm glad now that I'm not taking it.
LEMON: OK, let's bring in now Yvonne Jones. She's from Irmo, South Carolina, a retired mental health counselor. Yvonne, go on, please. QUESTION: Hi. I believe the current president, the most corrupt and dangerous in history...
I believe he should be impeached regardless of whether Mueller's report provides a smoking gun, direct evidence of a crime. There are plenty of grounds for impeachment in plain sight. And in fact, I think it would be a blow to our democracy if impeachment proceedings are not attempted. Under what circumstances would you support impeachment? And how far will you go to make it successful?
BOOKER: So, I understand your sense of urgency and even your sense of disgust about seeing what's coming from the White House. Can't even condemn Nazis. In the last budget, literally trying to cut from billions of dollars out of our Medicare and Medicaid programs after saying publicly that "I wasn't going to cut them."
It seems like every day that I wake up, it's not just the toxic Twitter trolling and trash talking. It's actually the policies that are really hurting people from a president who it seems like everybody around him now has been indicted or convicted of serious crimes, from his private lawyer to his campaign manager.
And so I understand the sense of urgency to get rid of him, but I'm going to tell you this: I'm going to wait for the Mueller report to actually be released. You see now our attorney general wants to say, "Hey, we're going to give you the Cliff Notes version." No. You are a Trump appointee. I don't need you to filter facts. I want to see it.
And you see how they try to change the rules. When Bill Clinton, President Bill Clinton was impeached, that report, the Starr report that was done on him, they released it the very next day publicly. It was in newspapers all across the land. We should see that report and make our decisions based upon that.
But this is what I'm going to commit to you right now. I'm going to commit to you that we are going to beat Donald Trump, that we are going to have this nation, through the electoral process, send him packing from the White House, because I think there are a majority of Americans who believe just like you do.
And I look forward to having the opportunity to lead us to that victory.
LEMON: So let me follow up on that. And I want to get the language right. This is your words. You call it the Cliff Notes version of the Mueller report. The special counsel Robert Mueller -- and this is a quote -- said the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia to influence the election. The attorney general, right, and Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, they cleared President Trump on obstruction. So I'm just wondering, does that take impeachment specifically off the table for you?
BOOKER: I don't think we should come to any conclusions until we have seen the report. The public has a right to know what is in that report. And we should wait and make our conclusions after we have read it, not after it's been filtered through a Trump appointee to be...
LEMON: It sounds like it's not off the table. You're waiting for the results of the...
BOOKER: Again, I am waiting for the results of that report. And by the way, there are other investigations going on in the Southern District of New York. In fact, all the way from California to New York, there are folks that are investigating the criminal activity -- potential criminal activity of this president.
LEMON: All right.
BOOKER: And we should see where that leads.
QUESTION: Good questions, right?
BOOKER: Great questions.
LEMON: Very good questions. You guys are great. OK.
BOOKER: Thank you very much.
LEMON: So stand by. We're going to be right back with more from CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Cory Booker, live from Orangeburg, South Carolina. Make sure you stay with us at home.
LEMON: Welcome back, everyone, to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Cory Booker. We're live in Orangeburg, South Carolina. So we're going to get back to the audience in a moment, but I want to talk to you about your personal story, OK?
LEMON: You've been on my mind all week because I've been reading your book.
BOOKER: You texted me about it, yeah.
LEMON: I've been reading your book. So here's what I want to tell you. You did your ancestry.
LEMON: And I did mine. You got further back in your ancestry than I was able to, because you know many African Americans can't go back further than 1870.
BOOKER: And that's because that's the first time African Americans were included in the census.
LEMON: Right. So in your family lines, they include slaves, slave owners, Native Americans, and a Confederate soldier. The most important thing you learned in exploring your ancestry, your family history?
BOOKER: Well, when I was a kid, I used to hear, you know, songs about the Pilgrims and the first settlers and always felt like that didn't include me. But to find that, you know, slaves have been in this country since 1619 and have Skip Gates to be able to go back generations into slavery, and then he found out that I have ancestry that he traced a direct line to ancestors that had arrived here in 1640.
And so it was a profound expansion of my understanding not only about my family, but about our country, that we're all, I think King said it eloquently -- we're all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. We are far more interwoven as a country than we know. And to see that about us was really inspiring to me to kind of continue to try to let folks know that the lines that divide us are not as strong as the ties that bind us.
LEMON: It was amazing to me to have white relatives reach out and say, "I'm your cousin. I'm your"...
BOOKER: Yeah, my -- my grandfather from Louisiana, literally he was a lot lighter skinned than his brothers and sisters. And so he already suspected -- Skip went back and tested the DNA of white families and found my mom's first cousin, half first cousin. It was an amazing reunion in the show.
LEMON: So you would be the first unmarried president in over 130 years. What are the odds that we would see a wedding in the White House?
BOOKER: I am...
LEMON: Would you guys like that?
BOOKER: I am worried about where this is going. Is this CNN or TMZ?
LEMON: It's CNN. You guys want to know, right?
LEMON: There you go. They want to know.
BOOKER: I have an incredible girlfriend. She's just simply amazing, and I am hopeful, as is my mother.
LEMON: And that is Rosario Dawson.
LEMON: All right. So you've been dating -- you called her. You said recently that she'd be an incredible first lady.
BOOKER: Well, I want you to know that -- let's not get ahead of us. Right now, she is -- she is an incredible girlfriend.
I'm very lucky to be in a relationship with someone who is just so incredibly special, but more importantly has taught me so much in a very short period of time.
LEMON: I ask you because you've been very open about it, as has she. How did you guys meet?
BOOKER: We had a meeting once at a political fundraiser for Ben Jealous, who was running for governor. I was trying to help him out, but she didn't give me the time of day.
So we met again, and I had one of those really awkward experiences. I'm a United States senator, and I had to get up the courage to walk up to her and ask her for her phone number. And this does not -- doesn't make me nervous, but that made me nervous.
BOOKER: She gave me the phone number, yes.
LEMON: All right.
All right. I'm sure you would like to get back to the audience questions.
BOOKER: I would like to get back to the policy, please.
BOOKER: Please. So we have CNN/TMZ, OK.
LEMON: No, but we do have some serious stuff that we want to talk to you about, so I think it's important that we get back to our audience. So I want to -- my next question is from Rachel Morey. Rachel Morey is a stay at home mom. She's from Waxhaw, North Carolina. Rachel? QUESTION: Hello.
BOOKER: Hi, Rachel.
QUESTION: I was terrified to send my daughter to school when she began kindergarten this year. It's devastating that my 6-year-old had to be taught how to hide and stay quiet in case someone came to her school to shoot people. How can we talk about being free in this country when we have to leave each day in fear of gun violence in schools, places of worship, concerts, and even from law enforcement? What is your plan to ensure our safety and freedoms?
BOOKER: Rachel, thank you for that question. And that fear you're feeling is something that we see in Americans now who fear going to their house of worship, fear going to a concert. And it is so horrific that in America, we have in the aggregate a mass shooting every day because dozens of people are shot and killed.
I am frustrated with politicians who all the best they can muster is to give thoughts and prayers. Enough of that. Enough of that.
And I'm telling you right now, we as Americans, on most of the core issues, on so many of them, we actually agree. Gun-owners and non-gun owners agree that we need to have universal background checks and close so many of these loopholes. And the NRA does not represent their membership, because their membership actually agrees with closing those loopholes.
And so I want to tell you right now, if I'm your president, we are going to bring the fight to the NRA who wants to represent corporate gun-owners, corporate gun corporations, manufacturers, more than they want to represent the people, because this is what they're doing to Americans.
They are defending loopholes like that loophole that if a man is convicted of beating his wife, he can find a loophole to go out and buy a gun and murder her. They're defending not their membership, but loopholes, like the loophole that says that someone on the terrorist no-fly list in our country can still go to a gun show and buy weapons, or that somebody that's convicted of a violent crime can still find a loophole to go and buy a weapon.
Now, I am -- I live in Newark, and my mayor, Ras Baraka, is doing a great job in lowering crime, but there are shootings. I think I'm the only person in this race that has had shootings on their block. Shahad Smith was killed with an assault rifle on my block last year, at the top of the block where I live.
And this is very personal to so many of us, me, because I'm a black man, and black males are 6 percent of the nation's population, but they make up the majority of homicide victims in this country. I am tired of going to funerals where parents are burying their children.
(APPLAUSE) And so I am going to bring a fight, we are going to bring a fight like the NRA has never seen if they're going to defend corporate gun manufacturers more than represent the people.
We are going to bring that fight on every level necessary. I'm a guy that's taken on tough fights before and won them, and this is one that we are going to win together.
LEMON: That is a very important issue that there will be lots to talk about as you get closer to the election. But I want to turn now and I want to talk about the Green New Deal.
LEMON: OK, Senator, a sweeping proposal. It's going to fight climate change and overhaul industry to transition to clean energy. I want to bring in now Mary Wright, Mary Wright is an office manager from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Mary?
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. This week, Representative Sean Duffy mocked efforts to combat climate change as elitist fantasy. But being from a coastal town, I've seen the devastating damage increasingly intense hurricanes can inflict on low-income communities and communities of color in particular. So I would like to ask, would you support the Green New Deal, especially if nuclear power options were included?
BOOKER: So, first of all, I already support the Green New Deal. This resolution of bold vision is what we need. And we come from a country that put forward bold visions, like a president who said we're going to go to the moon. Folks didn't attack him and say, "Well, wait a minute. That sounds irresponsible. What kind of rocket?" No. People leaned in and said, I'm inspired by that vision. Let's make it go from a vision and a dream to something real that we can implement, and we in America did it.
And so right now, I believe, having been a mayor that dealt with these issues, that there are so many things that we can do and turn into legislation to deal with the planetary crisis. Because he says that this is elitist fantasy? Well, I say look at the military reports. I read what the military is preparing for, for 20, 25 years from now, when I'm younger than the current president about.
We have a country that is preparing through its military to deal with planetary crisis, with famines and refugee problems, with the kind of extremism that comes when people are so desperate because the climate is changing and they have no hope and no opportunity. If the military takes this seriously, then this country's leadership should take it seriously, too, and do bold things.
And so let me give you some pragmatic things real quick. When I was mayor, I found out that we can environmentally retrofit buildings, lower our carbon footprint, create good union jobs and apprenticeship programs, and help -- Newark was a heat island, making our asthma rates high, help with that problem, as well. There are so many win- win-wins for us like that if we do a real infrastructure plan, if we double down on research and development.
And I agree with you. Nuclear has to be part of this solution. Next- generation nuclear is so much safer, burns -- uses spent fuel rods. There's a way to go about this in a bold, comprehensive way to get us back to being a country that leads on the Planet Earth and doesn't follow.
And that's why one of the first things I do, should I be president, will be rejoining the Paris Climate Accords to make sure that America is partnering with others on the planet to deal with this problem.
LEMON: So you say you support the Green New Deal.
LEMON: OK. Just this week in the Senate, a vote came up. You voted present instead of yes. And I know that members of your party say...
BOOKER: We all joined together to do that.
LEMON: ... that Mitch McConnell is playing politics with the vote. So if you support it, then why not just vote yes?
BOOKER: Because I don't need to play on Mitch McConnell's terms, who until recently failed to even admit that there was a crisis.
And the cynicism that they're showing by not putting real plans on the Senate floor to deal with this crisis, things, again, that Americans agree on. So much I'm trying to remind people in this campaign that we have common pain, be it climate change or health care, Democrats, Republicans, independents, we have a common pain, but we've lost our sense of common purpose.
Mitch McConnell is not showing any ideas or unifying the Senate to move forward when there's a lot of territory to do that. I will not play his cynical, political games. I'm going to be a leader that actually puts real solutions into legislation to deal with the climate crisis.
LEMON: All right, Senator. Teresa Jennings, she's an elementary school principal, and she's from right here in Orangeburg. Teresa?
QUESTION: Good evening, Senator.
BOOKER: Good evening.
QUESTION: My question is, do you believe that there should be some type of reform to the Electoral College? Or should it remain as it is? BOOKER: Teresa, thank you for the question. I believe very simply
that, in presidential elections, the person with the most votes should be the president of the United States.
But I want to tell you, for us ever to get to a point where we can address that issue, we have got to win this next election under the rules that are there now.
So it's nice to hear all this conversation going on, but we have about 595 days to win this election, and the way we're going to do it is by getting a lot of folks off the sidelines. Democracy is not a spectator sport, OK? Folks got to get active and get engaged.
Because you as an African American woman, I want you to know, you are the best voting demographic in America.
And trust me, my mom lives in Las Vegas, reminds me of that every single day. But I'll tell you this, even people who are voting at 60 percent, 70 percent, that's not enough. We've got to let the African American women inspire Gen Xers and Millennials, inspire all of us, because I believe if more people vote, our democracy is better.
And you know how I know that? It's because I see the way cynical Republicans are trying to make it harder and harder for people to vote, especially African Americans.
And so the cure for these anti-democratic -- the cure for these anti- democratic problems is not to surrender to cynicism about the system. It's to get up, get involved, get engaged, and let's change it together.
LEMON: Yeah, I can see that you're warmed up. You've been out on the campaign trail. We've got more to come, though. We're going to be right back with more from CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Cory Booker live from Orangeburg, South Carolina, so make sure you stay with us.
LEMON: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Cory Booker. We are live from Orangeburg, South Carolina.
So let's get right back to our audience, Senator. Chase Glenn is from Charleston, and he works as an executive director at an LGBT nonprofit. Chase?
QUESTION: Yes, Senator. Under the current administration, we have seen the rights of the LGBTQ community chipped away. Trump has banned transgender people from serving in our military. He's announced plans to slash global AIDS-HIV funding in the 2020 budget. And his administration supports discrimination of the LGBTQ people under the guise of religious liberty. What will you do to right these wrongs and improve the life for LGBTQ Americans?
BOOKER: So, Chase, I'm very conscious when I walk onto that Senate floor all the people that had to fight to give me the rights for my generation of African Americans, and the folks who marched for my rights and fought for my rights were the full rainbow of America. They were black, white, Christian, Jewish, you name it, including gay, straight, and trans Americans. And knowing that we are not free, because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, true freedom is not achieved until everyone has justice.
To live in a nation where you have a president doing such harm to LGBTQ students -- let me tell you one thing you didn't name. And this is one of the reasons I fought so hard against Betsy DeVos being the secretary of education. It's because she has gutted the civil rights division of the Department of Education, pulling back protections for LGBTQ kids.
We now live in a country where 30 percent of LGBTQ kids report not going to school because of fear. Because of fear. We need to be a nation that protects all of its residents.
And most people will be shocked to know that in the United States of America, in the majority of our states, people who can post on there about their gay marriage up on their website, the next day, if they go to work, they can be fired just because they're gay with no legal recourse whatsoever. This is injustice. And if we swear an oath to liberty and justice for all, we must fix this.
That's why I'm an original co-sponsor of the Equality Act. I don't need to wait to be president to fight for the rights of my brothers and sisters in this country.
But directly to your question, if I am president of the United States, I will reverse these decisions that Donald Trump made, starting with allowing transgender patriots to serve in our military.
And then I will take on the larger fight of uniting this country, like we did for civil rights, for workers' rights, for women's rights, I will unite this country in the fight to make sure that LGBTQ Americans and all Americans have justice and equality under the law.
LEMON: So, Senator, I'm sure you're aware of what's going on in Chicago. The prosecutors just dropped all the charges against Jussie Smollett, who is accused of staging a hate crime against himself in January. You originally said that it was a modern-day lynching before saying you needed more information. You know the mayor of Chicago still believes that he staged -- that it was a hoax.
LEMON: He's calling it a whitewash of justice. Is that what happened here? Is this a whitewash of justice?
BOOKER: I don't know all the details in the prosecutor's decision. I know that's going to come out. But what we've got to know is that this is happening in a larger context where hate crimes in this country are on a rise, where white supremacist violence is on the rise.
In fact, if you look at the majority of terrorist attacks since 9/11, the majority of them have been done by homegrown right-wing extremist groups, and the majority of those have been white supremacist groups.
And so I know this issue is being discussed a lot. But why aren't we discussing the rise in anti-Semitic acts, the rise in violence and Islamophobic acts, the rise in racism?
And for Donald Trump to cut funding -- to cut funding from the Justice Department to investigate, I mean, he talks about terrorism all the time, but to cut funding to investigate these domestic terrorist groups, these white supremacist groups, is making us less safe. And for him to fail even to condemn Nazis or even to talk about white supremacy as a problem in this country, to me, that is being complicit in the violence that is happening.
And I find that unacceptable and repugnant. I will be a president that faces the threats to this country, including violence coming from right-wing extremist groups.
LEMON: Jenn Godwin is here. She's from Fort Mill, South Carolina. She oversees a nonprofit that helps children with autism and is a supporter of yours. Jen?
QUESTION: You very adamantly opposed Betsy DeVos for the secretary of education, but you once gave a speech at the American Federation for Children, a group formally run by DeVos. Can you explain your past support of charter schools and voucher programs? And what is your current position on that topic?
BOOKER: I'm really grateful for that question, because a lot of misleading information is out there. I was mayor of the city of Newark, and even before that, I lived in high-rise projects for about eight years and saw what shouldn't happen in America, which is parents struggling with having to send their kids to schools that have been failing their genius for years and begging for other options.
As a local leader, I was going to find options to serve the 55,000 or so kids in my community. And we found a lot of ways to make sure that the great public education I got growing up in one section of New Jersey was a little available for all our kids. And we produced results.
By the way, I fought for excellent schools no matter whether they were magnet schools, charter schools. In fact, I fought to close low- performing charter schools. And we created for our local community, which believes that one size doesn't fit all, we created schools that worked.
And now in Newark, we've made national news. We are the number-one city in all of America for Beat the Odds schools. High poverty, high performance. And if you're a black kid in Newark, which is the majority of our kids, your chance of going to a high performing school that beats the wealthiest suburbs went up 300 percent.
And my record and my vision for public education is the reason why when I ran for Senate both times the state's largest teachers' union endorsed me, and they endorsed me because they knew when I got to the Senate, I would do exactly what I'm doing right now, which is fighting for public education.
You talked about your beautiful child who has autism. Well, as senator and especially when I become president, should I become president, I'm going to make sure that we support public schools by fully funding special needs education.
Right now, it's funded about 18 percent, moving up to 40 (ph), and we make sure that public schools aren't starved of resources, which is making parents desperate to find other options.
LEMON: So, Senator, then how do you respond to people who say that charter schools aren't worth it, that they erode public schools for everyone?
BOOKER: Well, look, I think the people in South Carolina have a case to make. You know, some of these charter school laws are written by Republicans who control state legislatures, are written in ways that really do hurt public education. And there are areas in New Jersey even that many of us joined together to stop, because in a rural area, where you got one public school, to put a charter school, it just doesn't work.
And so what I say again and again and again, local leaders need to find the best solutions for public education that work for them. Whether it's charter or district, you -- local leaders have to support it.
On the federal level, as your president, my goal is that everyone in America regardless of ZIP Code has a great public school. And we do that by funding our public schools. And, god, we do that by supporting public schoolteachers, forgiving their debt, increasing their salaries, and making sure we're drawing more people into the profession.
LEMON: Alejandra Gonzalez-Rizo is a student at South Carolina State University. She's also a recipient of DACA program, offering protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. Alexandra?
QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much for being here.
BOOKER: And let me -- is it Alexandra?
QUESTION: Uh-huh. When the Trump administration took away DACA, TPS, and DED rights, many students like me were left in limbo of deportation. How will you make sure we are protected in a permanent way?
BOOKER: Well, Alejandra, first of all, I am grateful for your question. We need to be a country that has immigration laws that reflect our common values. And to take Dreamers, for example, who are Americans in every way except for the piece of paper. And when I mean every way, they're first responders, they're entrepreneurs, they're teachers. They contribute literally billions of dollars to our economy.
I have a Dreamer in my state who I brought down to Washington, D.C., who -- she started a tech platform that employs hundreds of people. And so to create an environment where they're suffering stress and anxiety and worry right now that they may face deportation, that is so un-American and it works against our economic interests.
Your question was about how do I permanently help that? Well, I'll tell you right now, when I become president, immediately I'm going to reverse Trump's actions and gives those DACA folks a pathway to citizenship.
But we need comprehensive immigration reform, and you know that. It's for people with TPA status in this country who are now facing the same kind of immigration. It's having ICE agents make many of our communities less safe because of ICE raids at schools and at courthouses. I have local police in my state telling me now immigrant communities
are afraid to come forward and even report crimes, from domestic violence to robbery, that are necessary for us to create a safer environment for us all.
The kind of thing that's going on that -- it is a direct abuse to our values, that we would be the nation that wants to be a light of moral strength to all of this country, that we should be a nation that separates children from families, puts children in cages, makes our community and our country less safe, less economically secure, and ultimately un-American, this nation that was built so much on immigration.
I will change that as your president, affirm our values, and create an immigration system that keeps us safe and works in accordance to our values, as well.
LEMON: All right. We've got more questions to come.
BOOKER: All right.
LEMON: We're going to be right back with more with CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Cory Booker. We're live from Orangeburg, South Carolina. Make sure you stay with us.
LEMON: Welcome back, everyone, to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Cory Booker. We're live in Orangeburg, South Carolina.
Straight to the audience again. Reverend James Vigen is a pastor here in Orangeburg.
BOOKER: Reverend James...
BOOKER: Vigen, all right.
QUESTION: You are. I'm not.
They didn't name it after us. I am a pastor here in town, and in my faith tradition, we keep partisan politics out of the pulpit.
BOOKER: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: But as a citizen and a person of faith, I do have my own opinions. And I find President Trump's whole demeanor and most of his policies to be abhorrent, or should be to persons of faith. So I would like to ask you...
... can you share with us how your own faith would influence you as president?
BOOKER: God, thank you for that question. So I just want to say upfront that I'm a person that often says that before you tell me about your religion, show it to me in how you treat other people.
I was raised in a church where my mom taught Sunday school, and I'll never forget learning that verse that faith without works is dead.
And I will tell you what, I feel like I'm in church right now.
And I'll tell you what, this is what often -- I would rather hang out with a nice atheist than a mean Christian any day of the week.
And so -- so, thank you for asking me about my faith. You asked and I will share the foundation of my life was a raising with a faith in God. But I was taught that faith demands, first and foremost, humility before God, that you look at your brother and sister regardless of their faith, regardless of their background, with a conviction of love. Love thy neighbor.
And love is not easy, and it really bothers me that when folks think that being loving or kind, I tell you, to be strong, you don't need to be cruel. To be tough, you don't need to be mean.
And so Christ is the center of my life. I believe in that radical love of all people. I believe that the Bible talks more about poverty, about greeting the stranger, about being there for the convicted far more than it talks about the kind of toxic stuff you often hear the president spewing out there. And our immigration policy violates not only American values, but the values of our faith traditions.
And I'll tell you what, I have learned from faithful people that -- that -- and I'll never forget the faithful woman who was the tenant president of my projects that I lived in who really taught me that hope is the active conviction that despair will not have the last word.
And on President Trump's first Muslim ban, I remember running out to the airport where I saw the whole concourse full of Americans yelling and chanting and singing patriotic slogans as people came into this country, like Abraham welcoming strangers in the desert.
And one of the best sights I've ever saw was a bunch of Jewish- Americans, with yarmulkes and tsitsiyots hanging out, cheering and dancing, as Muslim countries came into this community. Fundamental to Islam, to Christianity, to the Torah, to Sikh and Hindu Americans is this ideal of creating a beloved community.
Can I quote to some Hebrew to you? Because I studied the Torah, too. There's a song sung during the high holidays. (Speaking Hebrew) "May my house be a house of prayer for many nations." We are the United States of America. We were not formed as a theocracy. We were formed on the ideal that many of us in our diversity can come together and create one strong whole. E pluribus unum. And if I am president of the United States, I will fight every day to put more indivisible into this one nation under God.
LEMON: I was waiting for the church organ to come on. Can I get a witness or an amen?
I want to bring in Katelyn Stauffer. She is an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina. She currently supports your colleague, Kirsten Gillibrand.
BOOKER: All right.
QUESTION: Hi, Senator.
BOOKER: By the way, I love Kirsten Gillibrand. She's one of my best friends in the Senate. And you should see the teasing e-mails, text messages we have going back and forth. And by the way, she talks a lot about me being a vegan, but when I go to her house, she cooks some of the best vegan food I've had in D.C.
QUESTION: So as a professor, I hear my students worry about the loans that many of them have to take out to be able to attend my institution.
QUESTION: And I can relate to these worries, because last month I made my first payment on my student loans, and I'll be making those payments for the next 12 years.
QUESTION: If elected, what are your plans for the higher education system? And how could we ensure that future generations can obtain a quality education without incurring massive debt?
BOOKER: So this is a national crisis. Student loan crisis. It surpassed credit card debt, auto loan debt, and it is changing the culture of an entire generation who are putting aside buying their first home, starting businesses, even getting married because of crushing student debt, at the same time that other countries are lowering their cost of college. In Germany, it costs about 0 to 4 percent to go to college. In Canada, about 7 percent of median income to go to college. Here in the United States of America, it's over 52 percent.
And here's the most offensive part of this, is that the federal government is profiting off of the backs of our students. The student loan program makes billions of dollars. I'm going to end that and we are going to go towards a system of debt-free college...
... free community college, and make sure that certain professions, like teachers -- if you're willing to teach or be a school professional, especially in communities like Orangeburg or Newark, we are going to forgive your debt.
But let me say, finally, because this a mistake where people say, talk about college. Do you know we cannot have a system that supports the 35 percent of Americans who go to college -- and I want to get that number up, but the majority of our kids don't go to college. So you often hear all this talk about free college, and all of this, and say, well, what about us?
And this is why I am just as determined -- in fact, my very first piece of legislation when I became a senator -- to show you my priorities of making this nation work for everybody -- is to have apprenticeship programs.
If I am president of the United States, we will do what our competitive nations are doing which are having robust apprenticeship programs for kids to learn the skills of a 21st century economy, like advanced manufacturing, to learn and earn at the same time.
And if you're a person that's older, if you're older, 45, 50, and somehow you lose your job, well, this country should say to you there is a place for you, as well, to get an apprenticeship -- midcareer apprenticeship programs where you can continue to earn money while you learn the skills to retrain you for another job.
LEMON: Does that mean that free four-year public college is unaffordable?
BOOKER: What I worry about is when you hear people talking about free college, and a lot of plans, I want to know how you're going to pay for that. We can pay for my plan by rolling back those toxic Trump tax cuts and making sure we're investing.
And we need to make sure that the pathways we're investing on are for the kind of education that we need in this country, which is for everybody. It may not be a four-year college. You may need to get training in computer program, advanced manufacturing, the medical professionals. Those people shouldn't have to go reach in their own pocket, work two jobs, while they're trying to get the skills they need to get those jobs.
Right now, there's millions of jobs in America where you have people, from manufacturers to others, complaining they can't find folks to fill them. Other countries are doing that. We should actually set the standard on this planet for apprenticeship programs. Under my leadership, I intend to do that.
LEMON: As I mentioned at the top of the show that we are in Orangeburg, which is home to two HBCUs, historically black colleges and universities, Claflin and South Carolina State.
So on that topic, I want to brick in Deon, Deon Tedder. He is a lawyer in Charleston who went to college at South Carolina State University. Deon?
QUESTION: Thanks, Don. Senator, HBCUs are important to most of us here today, but there are many people who want to do away with them. Additionally, states disproportionately fund HBCUs compared to other universities. What is your...
BOOKER: We actually pay them -- fund them less than other universities.
QUESTION: Yes, yes, less.
QUESTION: What is your plan to protect our HBCUs?
BOOKER: Well, first of all, I want you to know -- and I'm grateful for this question, because I am here because of HBCUs. My mom is a graduate of Fisk. My dad is a graduate of a university -- a college a little closer to here, North Carolina Central University.
And I know there might be some Eagles in the house. I'm actually the grandson -- my grandparents on my mother's side met at an HBCU, now Arkansas Pine Bluff. And so America needs to know this, that the majority of black teachers, the majority of black doctors, the majority of black lawyers, the majority of black generals are produced by our HBCUs.
And if you believe in diversity and inclusion, HBCUs are not just for African Americans. HBCUs make America stronger and more reflective of the diversity.
(APPLAUSE) And let's as a senator, I've been fighting and winning battles to better fund HBCUs, including the opportunity zone legislation I mentioned earlier tonight, that there is about 50 HBCUs that are opportunity zones. And there's actually been a fund already created to invest in those areas.
I fought for funding, for scholarships to HBCUs. I do United Negro College Fund events regulatory to try to help us raise funds. If I'm president, I'm going to prioritize our HBCUs because of what they do for America and because my mama wouldn't have it any other way.
LEMON: Mom is important. What mama says goes.
LEMON: I want to bring in now Christian Holmes. Christian Holmes is a PhD student at the University of South Carolina. She's studying social work. Christian?
QUESTION: Hi, Senator Booker.
BOOKER: Hi, Christian.
QUESTION: How do you plan to fix Social Security so us Millennials can retire someday?
BOOKER: Amen. Amen. So, fixing Social Security is not as complicated as people make it. And you see a lot of Republicans trying to think about privatizing Social Security or somehow doing things that would deny people benefits.
And it's not even adequate right now. There are 7 million seniors right now that effectively live below poverty because their Social Security checks don't go far enough.
So here's how we're going to fix the problem. It is unfair that if you're making $100,000, $150,000, you're paying a higher percentage of your income into Social Security than somebody who's paying a million dollars. We need to make sure that we create a fairer, more progressive Social Security tax situation so that if you're making a million dollars, you're paying more into that system.
That alone, having changes to that cap to Social Security, would more fully fund Social Security. I want to see it expanded for the lowest income folks.
And I want to say this. Another reason why we don't have great retirement security is because of the attack on the dignity of work in this country. People who work full-time jobs are barely staying afloat. They actually can't even afford -- about 40-plus percentage of Americans can't even afford a $400 hit to their bank accounts. They're two flat tires away from missing a rental payment or having to sell something.
That is outrageous. Outrageous. We need to get back to putting the dignity in work. This is why the attacks on unions that we see in this state and others is unacceptable. We need to support union labor to make sure that people can have retirement security.
This is a crisis that's coming in our country. We can avoid it with a president that will prioritize retirement security for all Americans.
LEMON: Yes or no, do you pledge not to cut entitlement programs, like Social Security, if you're president?
BOOKER: I will not cut Social Security. That is a pledge. And I will expand Social Security, if I can build a coalition to do it.
LEMON: All right. Sergeant Joseph Spann from Charleston is here. He served 12 years in the Army. Sergeant Spann?
QUESTION: Great haircut, Senator Booker.
BOOKER: Thank you very much, Sergeant. We are in a very good club here.
QUESTION: Yes, we are. As a United States Army veteran, the Veterans Affairs health system, it's had some challenges. It faced many challenges over the years. And yet they're still affecting hundreds of thousands of veterans. Sometimes veterans are prescribed more medicine, which is a problem in itself, and then given very little care. So, having said that, how would you address it and then fix the problem?
BOOKER: So, first of all, I really want to thank you for your service, and I don't want to just thank you. I want to thank your whole family, because when a veteran serves, the whole family serves with them.
And I want to use very strong language here, and I want you to hear me when I say that the way we treat veterans in this country is a national shame.
And we have a country right now where we sing in our songs that we're the home of the brave. But when our brave come home, they don't get adequate housing, they don't get adequate health care. Just the suicide rate among veterans alone shows you we're not doing enough to support their mental health care, as well.
And so I will change this to be -- from a nation that seems to be able to find trillions of dollars to send people over to war, but suddenly pleads poverty or not the resources to provide for them when they come home.
We're going to make sure that our veterans' service, especially our medical services, have real investment and support so we don't hear the shameful things I hear in my city and in my state, like women who are veterans having to wait weeks and weeks just to get gynecological care. This is unacceptable to me.
Now, I'm one of those people in this race that actually had to run something. I was a chief executive of the city of Newark running about a billion dollar operation. And there's no problem that we've talked about tonight that I didn't find ways to address when I was mayor. When I was mayor, I said I'm not going to wait for other people. The buck stops with me, and we created New Jersey's first ever one-stop, an office for our veterans to come to because too often these services are disjointed, disconnected. I said just come to City Hall and we are going to find an array of services, pull them together to serve you.
These are the kind of efficiencies and effectiveness that I'm going to bring when I'm the chief executive of the United States of America, should I be elected, because I'm going to make sure that we live up to the promise that we make to veterans. And if you're willing to stand and serve, and your family, that we are a country that doesn't just give the resources necessary for you to be the best trained fighting force on the Planet Earth, but when you get home, this is the best nation there is for supporting veterans.
And the final thing I want to say, which is really important, is this is not just about supporting veterans. Veterans want to continue to serve and continue to lead. And if you give veterans the resources they need, whether it's to start businesses or to be involved in counseling other veterans, they are able to lead in ways that will inspire folks, and you know other veterans like that. That's the kind of leader I'm going to be, supporting veterans.
LEMON: So sticking to your experience as a mayor, your executive experience, I want to bring in Robert VanNewkirk. He's the owner and the head coach of a fitness center in Charleston. Robert?
QUESTION: Hey, welcome, Senator Booker. You actually touched on this in the last question, but I'm hoping you can expand a little bit. Why is executive experience so important for someone seeking the presidency? And how did your time as the mayor of Newark prepare you for that job?
BOOKER: Well, first of all, I'm grateful for that question, and it's very clear that you are involved in fitness.
LEMON: He's the only one here in a short-sleeve shirt. BOOKER: And I believe that you should register your guns, sir.
Look, I wasn't just a chief executive of just a city, I was the chief executive of a struggling city that had 60 years of losing population, 60 years of losing an economic base, that was -- and I governed that city through the worst economic crisis of our lifetime. And what did we do there? We were able to turn our city dramatically around.
The first time in 60 years our population is growing. We brought supermarkets into food deserts. We brought businesses back to our city, our first hotels in 40 years, our first office towers. Companies moving their headquarters back to the city of Newark.
These experiences of leading a city through crisis, finding ways to do more with less, not only finding efficiencies but finding ways to create small businesses, double the production of affordable housing and more, those have been indispensable challenges.
And people told me we couldn't do it. People told me so many times what we couldn't do together. And I fought to bring people together to solve those problems.
And let me tell you, I'm here in Orangeburg, and one of the reasons why we chose to be here is because I'm going to continue to go to places in this country like Newark where people talk down to the communities. You all know this in this community, call this a corridor of shame here on 95. Well, to me, I don't see it that way. This is a corridor of opportunity.
And I'll tell you what, I showed under the most challenging experiences as a chief executive that I can transform a city. Let me be your chief executive of this country. And I'll go to all those places, from factory towns to rural areas, where people are feeling left out, left behind, where folks are turning their back or talking down to communities.
I got into politics because I wanted to stand up for people and with people who are overlooked and underestimated. There's too many places like that in America. Let me be the chief executive of this whole country, and we'll create transformations in those places again.
LEMON: So, as Carol Burnett used to say, I'm so glad we had this time together. Thank you, Senator.
BOOKER: I want to give it up for Don Lemon. He's doing a great job.
LEMON: Thank you, Senator.
Senator Cory Booker, everyone.
BOOKER: Thank you very much.
LEMON: And thank you to the audience and to the city of Orangeburg. We had a fantastic time. Thank you for your hospitality. And thank you for being so energetic in your great questions.
I'm Don Lemon. "Cuomo Primetime" starts right now.