FULL INTV: Cory Booker Talks Policy With Two Undecided Voters In His Hometown | Off Script | NPR


ARI SHAPIRO: Welcome to Off Script, NPR’s
series of conversations with Democratic primary candidates and voters from around the country.
We are here in Newark, N.J., with Sen. Cory Booker, who was
mayor of this city for eight years. You’ve been a senator since 2013.
Welcome. Thanks for being here. CORY BOOKER: Really good to be here. Thank you for being in my neighborhood. SHAPIRO: And I also want to introduce the two Democratic, undecided voters who are joining us today. Shanell Dunns runs her own education and leadership consulting business right here in Newark. She is 48, an Army veteran, a single mother of five and a grandmother of three. Shanell, welcome. SHANELL DUNNS: Thank you for having me. SHAPIRO: And also Diana Candelejo: 29 years old, an economist who works for a local health
care network. Thank you for joining us. DIANA CANDELEJO: Thank you for having me. SHAPIRO: And we are having each of these conversations in a restaurant of the candidates’ choosing.
Sen. Booker … BOOKER: Yes.
SHAPIRO: You chose Vonda’s Kitchen here in Newark. What do you like to order when you come here? BOOKER: Well, we chose this because when I
was mayor of the city, we were trying to get more local people to be entrepreneurs and
especially women. And this was really one of our great success stories. And Vonda is
an incredible African American woman entrepreneur. This is a usually packed restaurant. You
guys have cleared it out a little bit. SHAPIRO: We tend to have that effect on people.
BOOKER: And Vonda is a friend. So when I come in here, this is not a restaurant known for
its vegan delicacies, right? But as a vegan, this is a soul food restaurant that’s when I come in here, she does something special. SHAPIRO: Yeah. They’re known for their catfish.
They are known for their chicken. What do you order? BOOKER: She does Brussels sprouts in a way that is a transformative human experience. SHAPIRO: Wow.
DUNNS: That’s serious. BOOKER: These are very, very. … She does. She does wonderful things to vegetables. SHAPIRO: I’m curious: As you’re in the primary and you’re going to states where there is,
you know, pork chop on a stick and fried butter, do voters you’re trying to connect with ever
give you kind of like a side eye about the fact that … BOOKER: No, the vegan tribe is growing around America, and even people that aren’t … people
seem to want to bring me vegan food everywhere I go. So I have been not want for incredible
food all around the country. SHAPIRO: You’re being well-fed all over
the country. BOOKER: Yes, even at the Iowa State Fair.
I had a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which was amazing. Yes.
SHAPIRO: Alright, well, before we get into the heavy stuff … I suppose deep-fried peanut
butter and jelly sandwich is by definition heavy. But, do each of you have an icebreaker
question you’d like to ask the senator. Shanell? DUNNS: So I do.
SHAPIRO: OK. DUNNS: And this is maybe make it or break
it for me. Yeah, it’s really heavy. So, Sen. Booker: Tupac or Biggie? BOOKER: Wow. That is deep! Pulling me down in the controversy. I really … Tupac’s music is something that like … a number of songs that still source me … some faith … deeply faithful songs. But I just always love Biggie. He’s just this person that I
just feel this affinity for because he was unapologetically who he was. So if you had
forced me to choose … DUNNS: I’m forcing.
BOOKER: Then I’m going to say Biggie. But I listened to Tupac’s music more.
SHAPIRO: You said that was a make or break question for you.
So did he make it or break it? DUNNS: I’m a Tupac fan all the way.
BOOKER: I could tell she was. I knew she was. Because most people will go Tupac over Biggie.
DUNNS: There’s still hope though. BOOKER: Yes. There’s still … thank God.
SHAPIRO: Diana, have you got an icebreaker question you’d like to ask?
CANDELEJO: I do. So, Sen. Booker, you’re a pretty handsome man, and I don’t think it’s
gonna get better than Rosario Dawson. So when are you proposing?
SHAPIRO: Wow. BOOKER: Ay dios mío. I can’t announce something
like that. She would be mad at me. That would be her saying, “No. Oh, you come up with
a proposal to me on NPR, for crying out loud?” CANDELEJO: It would be pretty monumental though,
on national television. Or radio rather. BOOKER: I would … I would … I would … I
will. Should I ever get to that point, I will try to embarrass her and put her on the spot.
But I’m not making any … I’m very happily … happy where I am right now. You’ve got
me stammering for crying out loud. ALL: [laughter]
BOOKER: Literally, I just went to two of her premieres: one for an incredible show about
… The Need To Grow, it’s called. It’s a documentary about soil, which is something
that I’ve put out policies about, about the farming practices in our country and what
it’s doing to the earth and the environment and incentivizing some farmers. And then I
went to the next show — which I do not know what the implications are in public policy,
but — Zombieland 2, which was an amazing night. I got to be her arm candy on the red carpet. CANDELEJO: Good for you. She deserves it.
BOOKER: Thank you. SHAPIRO: Alright, well, let’s get into some
of the subjects that the two of you — Shanell and Diana — are most passionate about. And
I know one thing that you both care deeply about is education accessibility, the cost
of education. Diana, can you tell us a little bit about your experience? And do you have
a question for Sen. Booker on that? CANDELEJO: Sure. So what I really want to
talk today about is the student debt crisis. You know, I’m an immigrant. I’m a Latina.
I followed the American dream to pursue a college education. And unfortunately, it is
also [a] pathway, not only to economic stability, but a pathway to debt. And unfortunately,
like many of my peers, you know we have to delay wealth building, like buying a house.
And so my question for you is really how do you intend to address the student debt crisis,
not only for me but for future generations? BOOKER: So this is a culture-changing impact
that we now have a nation that sees hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of debts for
a generation, who are delaying life choices — everything from marriage to buying homes
— because of crushing student debt. And to me, it’s outrageous and unacceptable, especially
when you look at our peer, our peer nations. Other developed countries are doing everything
they can to lower the cost of college, from Germany — which is 0-4% of median income
– and to go to college [in] Canada — I think it’s like 7% of median income. In America,
it’s between 50% and 60%. And you have people grow up, graduate with tens of thousands – sometimes
well over $100,000 — with the debt. DUNNS: I’m there.
CANDELEJO: Yeah, I always say I own a house — New Jersey prices — that I never walked into. BOOKER: Yes.
SHAPIRO: Just the cost of your debt is the cost of a house?
CANDELEJO: That’s how bad it is. BOOKER: So we need to start right away by
something that I … this is a little bit out of the box, but we think that every child
in America should have a child’s savings account created for them. And my plan is called baby
bonds. And what you do is for the lowest income kids, they could build upwards of $50,000
by an interest-bearing account. It’s an amazing program that a lot of folks have looked at
that can really shift the wealth dynamic. But one of the things we can do with that
money is to help to afford college. But the next thing we have to do is bring down the
cost of college, and this is why as a senator I’m a champion of some legislation
for debt-free college in America. And that’s something that we’re going to get done. But
that doesn’t help folks with debt right now. CANDELEJO: Right.
BOOKER: And so that’s what we have to have a plan for is: how to alleviate or mitigate
what I think is a cultural warping reality in America. And so we’re going to do a number
of things. No. 1: I believe in debt forgiveness for people who are in public service professions.
So whether you’re a public school teacher or another … you know, you take your law
degree and you want to be a public defender. We should have an aggressive loan forgiveness
for those folks. I think another thing we should do is through interest rates, which
right now you can’t change your interest rate. You can refinance a car loan or a mortgage
but you can’t refinance — I [don’t] know if you want to share with us. What’s your
interest rate now on your loans? CANDELEJO: About 6.7%.
BOOKER: Which is kind of outrageous at a time that we see interest rates have fallen so
low. And so I believe that you should be able to refinance that, and that the people who
are making profits off of your federal loan right now, i.e. the government, actually makes
billions of dollars of profits off the backs of millennials and folks who are working like
you. I will change that. No. 1: letting you refinance, but also taking those profits that
we’ve been making and start to reinvest them in programs to help lessen your overall, your
overall payments. And so for me there’s a lot of things we just have to change around
student loans, including you know, you can discharge debts in bankruptcy, but your student
loans you just can’t. And that to me is unacceptable as well. Go ahead.
DUNNS: If I could just jump in. I’m sorry. So I’m familiar with baby bonds, right? But
I had twins that are in college right now. Well, one was actually taking a semester off
because of the student loan debt. He just can’t afford to be there. So how do you keep
kids that we … from day one, we said college is the pathway to success. You have to go
to college. How do you keep them encouraged when they hit this wall and can’t attend college
because they can’t afford it? BOOKER: Well, a couple of things. One is,
if I become president, we’re going to pass that debt-free college bill, which is going
to help lower his costs and encourage, reencourage them to go in. But in addition to that … look,
we have to begin to make sure that every child doesn’t feel like they’re hitting a wall,
but has pathways for success. Now, we all live in Newark. And one thing I know from
you know pulling together my manufacturers here in the city when I was mayor … I remember
asking them, “So what are your pain points?” I wanted to know what their pain points were
because I wanted to grow manufacturing jobs in Newark, and I expect their first complaint
to me to be property taxes here are too high. Their biggest complaints — and taxes were
lower on the poll than I thought — but their first complaint was we cannot find employees.
So one manufacturer here in Newark was like, “We can’t find machinists.” And I said,
“Well, what’s your starting machinist salary?” And we were like something like $70,000. And
I was like, “OK well, maybe I’ll stop being a mayor and become a machinist!” And I say
that to say that you know we are still looking at our country as … as college is like the
epic goal. While other economies — I mentioned Germany earlier — are saying, “Well, wait
a minute. We’re going to start to make sure we honor all pathways. Because in a 21st-century
economy we don’t necessarily need more people with political science degrees and sociology
degrees like I have. We may need people with advanced manufacturing skills. And that’s
why I think we also have to start getting bolder pathways towards apprenticeship programs
like our competitors are doing that are plugging into … into it, so …
DUNNS: So he’s put in three years of college. This would have been his senior year. And
so how do you — you’re $100,000 almost in debt — how do you throw all of that away
and say, “OK, well now I’m gonna pick up this trade?” BOOKER: No, and forgive me. Because No. 1 we want to make sure that people … every
kid has a pathway. But for your child that’s got $100,000 in already in debt.
DUNNS: Well, his mama does. BOOKER: His mama does.
I mean that’s just obscene to me. DUNNS: It’s ridiculous.
BOOKER: It’s obscene. DUNNS: And it’s two of them at the same time.
So it’s that much harder. BOOKER: No, that’s obscene. And that’s why
No. 1, we have to have a way of lowering the cost of college and then specifically for
your child, I’m wondering what schools — because there’s a lot of schools — I believe in
… the schools that are doing, running schemes and scams on students, that’s No. 1, just
like we had bail out for industries on Wall Street, we should be … kids who find themselves
with despicable practices of schools, we should be forgiving that debt completely because
I have a problem right now. I have a problem right now with colleges in general, frankly.
To take all this federal money and I can increase Pell Grants as president 50%. But if colleges
are raising their tuitions 60% with no accountability whatsoever? You know a lot of colleges are
raising … what is that going to? Is it going to your athletic programs? Is it going to
this other kind of waste? So one thing I believe in is increasing the resources to students
like yours and scholarships and loan forgiveness. But I also believe in holding people who take
federal dollars accountable for their spending practices. SHAPIRO: Diana, you’re an economist. When you hear this talk of baby bonds and the different
financial machinations that could make college accessible, does it seem plausible to you?
CANDELEJO: Yeah, so I have concerns on feasibility. I hear you on the debt forgiveness. And that
sounds great, but how would you fund that? Sustainability-wise, how are you looking to
fund that? BOOKER: Right. And it’s one of the reasons
why differentiating myself from other candidates who might want to say free college, universal
debt forgiveness, that does have a big price tag. But my program, we’ve already shown that
we can pay for, No. 1 by reversing a lot of these costly Trump tax cuts, which have blown
as you know about a trillion-dollar hole in our deficit, which would give us a lot of
those resources. And so we’re going to do debt-free college by No. 1 the federal government
making a contribution but demanding that states match us as well and to begin to hit those
tuition targets. So this is something actually that is feasible, we’ve run the numbers on
it. We actually, the legislation I’m talking about actually already exists in Congress,
and the Congressional Budget Offices run those numbers. So it’s something that we can afford
and I believe is something that actually we can’t afford not to do because by people like
yourself having such inhibiting debt, you’re failing to do a lot of other things that would
grow the economy. Like the housing market is suffering right now because as you said
before. So my program would not only be affordable by our pay force as they call them, but it
also would be something, by liberating you from that debt, it’s going to stimulate the
economy and overall growth as well. SHAPIRO: Is that persuasive to you, Diana? CANDELEJO: Somewhat, but I also actually as
you were speaking, I realized that you did mention you know an example about there being
not enough machinists in the economy or you know creating apprenticeship models, and I
understand that, but also we’re playing to the narrative that we’re blaming. you know
— the talent in our communities isn’t there. And so I’m actually a Newark 2020 hire. I
came back from … SHAPIRO: Explain for people who aren’t familiar
[with] what the Newark 2020 program is. CANDELEJO: The Newark 2020 is an initiative
by Mayor Ras J. Baraka, who really tried to address the unemployment issue in Newark by
encouraging anchoring corporate institutions in the city to hire 2020 Newark residents
by the year 2020. And so you know, I come back with this great graduate degree from
the London School of Economics and I don’t want to contribute to the brain drain. I’m
trying to come back to my hometown, give back… BOOKER: I love that.
CANDELEJO: And to be honest, I applied everywhere. And I’m not going to name-call any corporate
institutions, but I also did a social experiment where I changed my name and I changed my address. SHAPIRO: You mean you changed your name to sound less Latina? CANDELEJO: Yes, correct. Candelejo wasn’t doing it for me. And I started getting callbacks.
And so, SHAPIRO: Wow. When you changed your name on
your resume, more people called you back. CANDELEJO: And my address. Exactly. And so
I also find it interesting that you know we have to do more to keep employers accountable
to also be ready to hire and willing to hire the talent that is actually educated, qualified
and could meet their, you know, demand. And so how do you intend to also hold the employers
accountable, you know, to hire the community? BOOKER: Oh, I love that. And and there are
a lot of problems with employers, and I’ve seen studies where they show, switch, just
swap out pictures on resumes and you see it dramatically change, and this is why we need
to have open conversations about discrimination in our country and how it still is rife within
our society, from our policing practices to the hiring practices that you did. And this
is again why we should be doing things like what my senior senator before I got into the
United States [Senate], Sen. Bob Menendez — we’re the only state that has actually
two minorities representing them in Washington — began to demand that corporate boards
report their diversity statistics. I found that in the United States Senate, when I got
there, I was shocked at how little diversity there was. SHAPIRO: Do you mean amongst staff? Because
we all know among senators there isn’t a lot. BOOKER: No, there’s not a lot among senators,
but you would imagine that especially amongst the Democratic Party. We’re being elected
by very diverse coalitions. But I was pretty surprised when I got there. I remember looking
at the Judiciary Committee in my cursory view. I couldn’t find one African American on the
Judiciary Committee, yet they’re making policies that are disproportionately affecting African
Americans. SHAPIRO: We’re gonna talk about that too.
BOOKER: Yes. So Sen. Brian Schatz and I went to Sen. [Chuck] Schumer, and he cooperated
in saying, “OK. I just know this from being the mayor of the city that if you want to,
if something is important to you, you’ve got to demand measurements and accountability.”
So we asked all the United States senators and the Democratic Party to release their
diversity statistics, gender and race diversity. And No. 1, they were not what they should
be, but guess what’s now starting to happen. You’re seeing a lot more people of color and
women being hired in positions. SHAPIRO: OK, but Congress is a very small,
rarified bubble, and we’re talking about corporations in Newark.
BOOKER: And so I’m talking about my priorities, when as president of [the] United States,
is to make sure that we start doing something about the diversity problems that we have.
And that means holding people accountable for discrimination. And so when we have a
president right now who through his Department of Justice and the other levers of accountability
that we have to fight against discrimination, is not bringing those suits. That’s very problematic.
And so for me, I want to be very clear. One is we’ve got to make sure that people who
are talented, no matter what their background — and by the way, we don’t talk about enough
about discrimination against people with disabilities, we don’t talk enough about discrimination
against LGBTQ Americans. SHAPIRO: Which the Supreme Court is considering
right now. BOOKER: To literally, the majority of states
in America, you can be denied a job or fired from a job just because you’re gay, with no
legal recourse whatsoever. And so these are issues that I take very seriously, and the
reason why I brought up the Senate was because no matter what job I have, I’m one of these
people that calls this out. I do want to say though about this idea of it’s not that — and
my mom did HR for IBM and used to say the same thing. People that said, “Oh, I can’t
find qualified women,” aren’t looking then enough and don’t have systems of doing it.
But I want to differentiate that from what I was saying before, which is we know that
there are millions of jobs in this country where we are not training people in this country
for the jobs that are actually there. Advanced manufacturing in the medical profession, and
we need to do what other countries are doing, which is attenuating their educational systems
for the jobs of the 21st century. DUNNS: So I agree with that. And I understand
what Diana is saying too, like I don’t think the question was about people not being trained
and qualified. BOOKER: Yes. DUNNS: But that’s my question. What about
the folks that aren’t trained and qualified? I know here in Newark, there’s been a lot
of talk about universal basic income. What are your thoughts with universal basic income,
and how does that work in synergy with your baby bonds? Where would that money come from?
BOOKER: Right. And so again, the baby bonds program because — I’m saying this for my
economist’s benefit — everything that we do, we talk about how we would pay for
it. Universal, excuse me, our baby bonds proposal, we can pay for that by shifting back to the
crazy old days of 2009 and going back to what the estate tax was then. And eliminating some
of the estate tax loopholes pays for our baby bond proposal. And I like baby bonds so much
better than universal basic income because I just don’t believe in giving money to people
who already have a lot of money. SHAPIRO: The U.K. did try a baby bonds program,
and after the Great Recession they folded the program. It wasn’t successful. It didn’t
withstand a downturn of that scale. BOOKER: No. They folded the program because
the political will wasn’t there to sustain it. It wasn’t that it wasn’t working. And
that was the problem. They didn’t play the baby bonds out in their system. Folks turned
against it. So… SHAPIRO: Political will to go into debt? Political
will to do what? DUNNS: Right.
BOOKER: Political will to sustain the payments, to say that this is a priority for our society.
And so what I’m saying is that we know — and by the way, this is an idea that doesn’t come
from the left. It comes from the left and the right. Think tanks both are saying, we
are a society that right now uses its tax code to reward people with wealth, by giving
them tax breaks to create more wealth. Now some of these things I agree with. The mortgage
income deduction is overwhelmingly used by people making six figures and above. But the
reality is why don’t we have something that’s helping people create wealth who don’t have
wealth. Why aren’t we using our tax code not just [to] make the rich richer but also to
do that. And so the reason why I like my program better than universal basic income, No. 1
is not giving money to people with wealth. It says that everybody in this country gets
$1,000 in an account and that account will build with upwards of $2,000 being placed
into it based upon the wealth of your family. And the powerful thing about this is, it closes
the racial wealth gap. Columbia University says it virtually eliminates that for kids
and it would give children the ability to have something that can create generational
wealth. Paychecks help you get by; wealth helps you get ahead. And now you can invest
that not only into college, but if you want to do it in that training program or in buying
a home, the kind of things that will help not just that child, now 18, but would help
the economy as a whole. SHAPIRO: We’ve been talking a lot about the
cost of higher education, but there are at least 12 years leading up to that.
DUNNS: Right! SHAPIRO: And Shanell, you’ve raised five children
in Newark, you’re helping to raise three grandchildren. Do you want to talk about accessibility to
public education and to a good education at the younger ages?
DUNNS: Right. So my kids have run the gamut of it: homeschool, private school, charter
school, public school, you name it. Right now, I’m actually considering world schooling
my grandchildren just for the experience of seeing other cultures and learning different
languages. BOOKER: That’s a new phrase for me, “world
schooling,” which means going to other, taking them to other countries to learn.
DUNNS: Yes, essentially homeschooling in different parts of the country.
BOOKER: Different parts of the world. DUNNS: Right.
SHAPIRO: Does that reflect a lack of confidence that they could get a great education in Newark? DUNNS: That reflects the lack of confidence
that what I want to instill in them, what I feel like their platform should be, what
I feel like their foundation should be, I don’t know what in Newark is comparable to
that. So right now they’ve, my grandchildren, all my children are adults. My grandchildren
have been to a number, well not a number, two different charter schools in the city
of Newark, all of which I don’t feel is, where they are now is really a great school.
BOOKER: Which one? DUNNS: So I don’t want to say. BOOKER: I know my schools in Newark very well.
SHAPIRO: Right. DUNNS: You do. You know one of them. SHAPIRO: Putting them on blast before a national
audience. BOOKER: We won’t do that.
DUNNS: But while I think we are getting there in Newark, we’re not there yet. And I’m not
willing to allow yet another generation to be the crash test dummies to get there. So
what is it that can happen immediately? I mean I hear all the time, a lot of talk about
education: “What we’re going to do when I’m in office, what we can do 2045 and 2062,”
and I need to know what can be done immediately to ensure that not only are they getting the
quality education, but it’s equitable across the board.
BOOKER: So let me just say, of all the people running in this presidential primary, very
few of the people on that stage have been into the weeds on education as much as I have,
and have taken a system that was under state takeover, that was one of the worst-performing
urban districts in the state of New Jersey, to now the No. 1 school system in the whole
country for Beat the Odds schools, kids in poverty going onto high performance.
SHAPIRO: I do want to jump and explain what Beat the Odds schools means, because it’s
a phrase you’ve used. It comes from a study by the Center for Reinventing Public Education.
This included public, private and charter schools. BOOKER: Yes. SHAPIRO: And while this study, using seven-year-old
data, did show that students from underprivileged backgrounds were performing at a high level,
there were a lot of other findings in this study that were really not very positive for
Newark. To give you just one example, the study said though blacks represent just over
half of Newark’s student population, only about 6% of the city’s black students attend
a top-scoring school in math compared to 85% of white students.
BOOKER: And so I love that you pointed out that that was a seven-year-old study because
now, since those seven years, if you’re an African American student in the city of Newark,
your chances of going to a school that beats the suburban schools went up almost 400%.
So what you see now as blacks are the majority of our kids, is their options. Because now
we’ve created an equitable one-enrollment system. Their options have gone skyrocketed,
in terms of the quality of the schools they can go to. So not only have we seen, since
that study, a 30, over 30% increase in overall, over the last decade in graduation scores,
but you’ve seen math and reading scores go up to a level that is really astonishing
in terms of the gains our kids have made. SHAPIRO: And yet Shanell doesn’t have confidence
in her— BOOKER: But my point is, and I know that,
I actually know this, Shanell and I have bumped into each other at school events—
DUNNS: Yes. BOOKER: —so I know at least one of the great
charter schools that some of your family is, which we will not mention, out of respect—
DUNNS: Right. And that’s the one I wasn’t satisfied with.
BOOKER: Right. And by the way, my mom — and I went to one of the, to a suburban school
— my mom was a lot like you in the sense of a great driving mother who, even then,
was not satisfied. And was one of those moms that would come into a school and really demand
better in terms of the experience we get. And by the way that is wonderful and that
is extraordinary. I just want to give this as background to say that the kind of measurable
progress that Newark has had, that is unassailable in terms of the improvements from where we’ve
been. Do we still need to improve? Heck yeah. DUNNS: Of course.
BOOKER: But the reality is for a city, where a significant amount of our population is
at or below the poverty line, we now are distinguishing ourselves nationally by the kids that are
getting a chance just to go to high-performing schools. Many wish— DUNNS: But— BOOKER: But that’s not what I would do as
president. Let me just tell you. Let me go through what I want to do as president of
the United States to help our school systems. So first and foremost, the biggest bet we
made here in Newark was to increase teacher salary. And right now, we have a profession
that does not reward or compensate teachers in the profession in the ways that it should.
We have got to get back to elevating the importance of this profession and backing teachers up
with salaries, with loan forgiveness, with getting their training paid for and the kind
of obstacles that will help us to get, to up the profession even more. No. 2: One of
the biggest challenges in Newark, as in rural schools and others, is the cost of special
education, which is a massive cost to make sure that every child, every beautiful child,
has quality education. While the federal government has never met its obligation there, as president
of the United States, I’ll make sure it meets its obligation. For a big urban district like
Newark, it means tens and tens of millions of dollars and more resources that they can
be investing not just in special education, but freeing up other dollars to make the whole
school experience even richer and better. DUNNS: So I, On Mondays I do, with a co-host,
I do a podcast called Parenting Evolution. So we talk to parents about a myriad of different
things, and the subject of education always comes up. And so I hear the numbers, I hear
the statistics, but parents don’t want to hear that, right? Their takeaway is how schools
make them feel and how their children feel when they come from these institutions. And
the biggest issue again is, especially for urban communities, children going to schools
and not seeing people in those buildings that look like them, that reflect them, or that
are teaching them or helping to teach who they are and where they come from.
SHAPIRO: Diana, you’re nodding your head. CANDELEJO: Yeah, no, I absolutely agree that
the, you know, the teachers should definitely reflect the community. They also come with
a different eye and perspective of even how to address students, understanding their lived
experience, you know. And so I think it’s keenly important that you know it reflects
the local hiring population. BOOKER: I absolutely agree with that. In fact,
the data shows if a black male is in a classroom that achievement of the black boys in that
school goes significantly up. So I definitely agree with that. And look, we have to make
sure that we are doing a lot more around particular problems of urban areas. This is why the progress
that had begun, it’s been now turned around on breaking the school-to-prison pipeline.
There’s so much more that we could be doing in our schools, from the national level to
address this issue. DUNNS: Can we talk about that?
SHAPIRO: Yeah, I think this is a good moment to pivot to another issue that has been important
in your career and is important to both Diana and Shanell.
BOOKER: One really important issue before we pivot — because you know this to be true
— is that the problem also is that we are a nation and, you know, I saw this in Newark,
that we don’t understand that 90% of brain development happens between the womb and the
fifth year. And so our teachers often are getting children, and this what I hear from
kindergarten and first-grade teachers all around the country, but definitely here in
Newark, by the time they get to school they’re very far behind. And so we are a nation, if
you look at what our competitors are doing on education, understanding the most valuable
natural resource in a country now … in a global … in any country now in a global
knowledge-based society is the genius of our children. And if brain development is happening
that much, why is it the United States [is] so far behind on prenatal care? We lead on
… we lead on infant mortality, maternal mortality, we lead on low birth weight babies
and all the complications with that. And again, as a guy who actually runs stuff, I can tell
you it is cheaper to give every woman, every at … every low-income woman doula care…
access to doula care than it is to pay for the complications of birth. Then we fall down
by not having affordable child care in this country, not having paid family leave, not
having universal preschool. We are an outlier of all of the developed nations that do more
than we do to cultivate that genius before they even get to K-12 years. One of the best
ways I can help as a president of the United States to empower our kids to succeed is doing
much more for them in that womb until fifth year, and we are gonna change it.
DUNNS: So would that be better health care practices because, as an entrepreneur, I take
full advantage of my Obamacare. BOOKER: Right.
DUNNS: But even with that there is still a large number of people that don’t qualify
for ACA or still can’t find quality care with the ACA. I have a son who suffers from juvenile
diabetes. He was diagnosed at the age of 5. He’s 28 now. And I have a 27-year-old daughter
with her master’s degree who’s not working right now and has no health care because she
can’t be on mine or her father’s. [00:29:44]
SHAPIRO: And Diana, when you came back to the United States after your master’s degree
and you were looking for a job, what was your health care situation?
CANDELEJO: Right. [00:29:50]
DUNNS: It was … I also had really poor, satisfactory health care.
BOOKER: Which is crazy. I studied in England as well, to go from a system where—
DUNNS: —the NHS BOOKER: —yeah, NHS universal health care
to go from a system that has these massive gulfs in which people fall in. So before that,
these are issues, as the only person in the United States Senate that lives in a low-income
black and brown community, these were issues that have been driving me, so even before
I was running for president of the United States, I put in something called the Mommies
Act which was focusing on the health care needs of women having children. And so there’s
a number of things that we have to do from expanding Medicaid offerings, because right
now we are pushing women out of hospitals who still have health care needs, it’s one
of the reasons why we have a maternal mortality rate that’s so high amongst women in America
compared to other nations, and for African American women it’s almost four times higher.
But it also includes making access to things that make sense, I mentioned doula care before,
we need to make sure that women have the kind of support and resources they need to have
healthy children. And so for me this is penny-wise and pound-foolish in our country that we would
so short change. And another thing, and I know you’ve experienced this, it’s just the
cost of child care is outrageous in this country, where you have in the majority of states in
America the cost of child care is actually more expensive than the cost of tuition in
the state colleges. That is just stunning. And again, I have a vision and a plan for
doing that legislation already been presented. These are things that are policy decisions
that we’re making that are hurting children, straining families, costing us more on the
back end because of the problems as opposed to being a country that says we’re going to
invest in our children on the front end and, I’m sorry that I’m just loading on policy
because we’re having a policy discussion with undecided voters. It’s really important that
we all know this: that the costs attenuated with having children put people in situations,
we’re in a so-called good economy, where they’re falling behind and it’s not just child
care costs. I believe that right now from housing costs, which are getting higher and
higher and higher. I know you told me before where you live all the way to just the costs
of normal goods. I see people in this … in our community right now who work full-time
jobs, catch extra shifts to provide for their families, but they still need food stamps.
SHAPIRO: These things are so clearly interconnected from health care to the cost of child care
to education. BOOKER: But the solutions are very common
sense. SHAPIRO: But I want to make sure we have time
to get to one other major issue that is connected to all of this.
BOOKER: Yes. SHAPIRO: Which I know has been important to
your career and is important to both you Shanell and you Diana, which is the criminal justice
system: police and prisons. Diana, do you have a question for the senator about this?
CANDELEJO: So we see that body cameras, you know, are making police brutality more salient
unfortunately, affecting disproportionately more of the black and Latino communities.
I just want to better understand, you know, what are your policies in order to improve
our system, our police system here in the United States?
BOOKER: So look, this is something I’ve learned the hard way running a police department here:
that police accountability is so critically important and police transparency. And so
when I … before I became a senator, I worked with the ACLU here to have … to try to create
national models for police transparency. And one of the biggest things we learned — and
I learned this morning with the DOJ here in Newark — is that you have even good-intentioned
people who — just because we’re not doing deep dives on the data — you don’t have that
kind of objective understanding — like you found out with your resumé — but objective
understanding of what has happened with police reform. So the first thing that I’m going
to do as president of the United States is reinitiate what Obama had as his task force
on 21st Century Policing. It’s a bill that I put in that calls for deep data collection
from our nation’s police departments. SHAPIRO: If I may, you refer to working with
the DOJ, the Justice Department, in Newark. But the police force in Newark came under
a consent decree from the Department of Justice because the abuses while you were mayor were
so egregious. And that went on for years. This was …
BOOKER: Just to give you a little bit of a counter to that is … I inherited the police
force with decades long problems and patterns and practices, and we were fighting to correct
those things — not moving as quickly as we should have. And the DOJ came in — which
at first I actually was like, “Why do I need the DOJ?” And when they presented us
with the data, we saw that we were not moving fast enough to correct the problems.
SHAPIRO: You were mayor for eight years, and those problems persisted well into your second
term. How much time do you think was reasonable? BOOKER: Well, we actually were making tremendous
strides on that. And again, having worked with the DOJ, a lot of the things we were
doing, they just doubled down by helping us with resources to address those problems.
And, as the head of the ACLU themselves will tell you, we were embracing reforms not just
in word but in leadership and presenting national standard best practices by the time I was
out. SHANELL DUNNS: And so now while I feel like
the consent decree is a piece of the puzzle, I mean we still have to have people in place
that actually want to adhere to that consent decree, right? And so I want to kind of take
it back to you. We need to do the data. Yeah, we have to have the numbers. We have to do
all this research. But if people are literally dying at the hands of the police or whatever
you may have here in the street. And how do you then talk to their parents?
SHAPIRO: Have you had firsthand experience? DUNNS: Sure, I have. I can give you my own
experience with my own, my very own son. Thank God that he was able to walk away, but he
was definitely in a position where he was in a car. He was stopped for absolutely no
reason. He was 17 at the time. They dragged him out of the car, handcuffed him, put him
in the back of the police car — still not telling him what’s going on. And just by happen,
he had his St. Benedict’s Prep I.D. in his pocket. And when the officer saw that he went
to this private school here in Newark, he changed his actions toward him and literally
left my son standing on the street. He took his cousin that he was with into the precinct
for nothing — because he was eventually let go as well — but left my minor child on the
street and like midnight just by hisself. BOOKER: As a … as a black man who grew up
in this country, too, and — your story is exactly … very similar to that I should
say to mine … who’s been followed in department stores just walking around. The indignities
that as a young black person that you faced in my generation — as well as the kids today
— are absolutely outrageous and unacceptable. DUNNS: Yeah.
BOOKER: And so it’s not just data collection. I had just begun talking about my … other
things that we need to do to take steps on that. And that’s why when Black Lives Matters
… Black Lives Matter folks sat down with big city police chiefs and others to develop
a pathway to 21st Century Policing, these are the kind of things that are so urgent
that I will follow through on that means a lot more than just data collection. Again,
this is having a president of the United States who’s experienced these things and feels driven
to deal with them, has experience running a police department where we did do a lot
of very good things that we saw started to work and heal in our communities. We have
to deal with an issue that is a life-or-death issue in this country because we are seeing
so many unarmed African Americans. And as a guy — I’m sure that you gave the same
talk to your kids that my parents gave me — because of the real danger that exists
in this country. And so it’s more than just data collection. It’s more than just body
cameras. This has to do with recognizing that implicit racial bias is a reality in this
country and unless you start doing everything from training police officers, getting a diverse
police force … One of the things that we worked on in a big way in the city of Newark
is to make sure that our police force lived in our community and reflected our community
and from our community. It means making sure that we have a DOJ under my leadership that
will actually investigate these things, hold people accountable, take up cases when local
prosecutors are willing to … unwilling to prosecute clear violations of people’s civil
rights. There has to be a larger vision for how that we do this.
DUNNS: And what do you say to … so in a lot of my work, I talked to, like, first-time
voters, kids that are just turning 18. And those are the things that come up for them,
like the criminal justice reforms. And when we talk about the presidential candidacy,
they … a lot of times they say they don’t feel like you are the voice — the black voice
— for the black youth. How do you respond to not being able to connect to that demographic
of youth? BOOKER: Well, No. 1: I think we actually do
connect to it. Some of our biggest support is from HBCUs to African American young people
who are big activists for our campaign. It’s one of the groups we do very well in. But
more than that … Look, this is the issue as you know. As a United States senator in
fact … when I was running for the United States Senate, my pollster said, “This isn’t
an issue that polls in the Top 5 or so of things. Why are you talking about it at every
stop?” And I go, “I’m talking about it because this is a national crisis. We’re a
country that swears an oath. We all put our hand on our heart and say that we’ll be a
nation of liberty and justice for all. But that’s not true.” DUNNS: Right. BOOKER: And it’s aspirational, and we live
in a country that — as Bryan Stevenson says — it treats you better if you’re rich and
guilty than if you’re poor and innocent. We live in a country where marijuana … Everybody
thinks that somehow we’re making some advancements. There were more marijuana arrests in 2017
than all violent crime arrests combined. And people on college campuses aren’t getting
arrested for marijuana. It’s people in communities like ours.
DUNNS: Right. BOOKER: You’re four times more likely. Even
though there’s no difference in usage or selling, you’re four more times more likely to be
arrested for it. And I know people all over this city — because I’ve knocked on just
about every door in the community we’re in — who have records for doing things that
two of the last three presidents admitted to doing. DUNNS: Right. BOOKER: And what’s horrible about that is
— most Americans don’t understand — it’s a life sentence. Because now you can’t get
a job. You can’t get a business license. You can’t get a loan from the bank. And so, this
is what gets me actually angry: When people are talking about that, “Oh, we need to
legalize marijuana,” and they’re not saying in the same breath that we need to expunge
the records of people who’ve been convicted. So let my work speak for me. In the United
States Senate, I’ve pushed more than a dozen bills on these issues that span from police
accountability all the way to the bill that I actually got passed … that I led with
Dick Durbin from the Democratic side in the Senate for the First Step Act, which has already
led to the liberation of thousands of people overwhelmingly black and Latino people …
SHAPIRO: Working closely with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.
BOOKER: Working closely with … First of all, for years before Jared Kushner even
got to office, we were working with Republicans of all backgrounds to get this bill done.
So I am not only the person in this race that has the best record on criminal justice reform
at the federal level, I produce results. I’ve even written bills that we couldn’t get passed
in the Senate level. But people took literally my Dignity Act for Women Incarcerated and
now have passed the dignity acts in at least 10 states around this country. SHAPIRO: Let’s talk about another important aspect of the criminal justice system. Diana, I know you have questions about the prison system and the way that it functions in America today. CANDELEJO: Yes. So there are jails that are
privatized, and so the idea that they’re making a profit while keeping people in it … maintaining
folks in there. Again, disproportionately we know what those statistics look like: minority
groups. Do you have any thoughts on deprivatization or reforming the entire jail system itself?
BOOKER: Oh absolutely. Thoughts and legislation. I mean this is really my wheelhouse. So I
believe private prisons should be a thing of the past. They should be illegalized. And,
by the way, the biggest ones are in our immigration systems where they have little quotas for
how many people. They lobby the federal government for things like quotas and other criminal
justice measures that will ensure their profits continue. This is outrageous. It’s tantamount
to slavery that people are making profits off of the incarceration of other people:
something I just patently do not believe in. But overall criminal justice reform when it
comes to what happens to people in prisons, this has been something I’ve been fighting
for since again, I was a city councilman here in the city and we’ve been able to make some
changes. The last thing I got in that bill in negotiating with the White House.
SHAPIRO: The First Step Act. BOOKER: The First Step Act was a ban on juvenile
solitary confinement in our prisons, because that is again, other countries call that torture;
it has permanent psychological harm. SHAPIRO: Although if I’m not mistaken, that
only applies to the federal prison system, and there is still state prison systems in
which that’s legal. BOOKER: 100% it was a federal bill. We were
not able to get it banned in its entirety. But again, it’s an important step in the right
direction. And so for me, what happens in those prisons, we often again, people think
in terms of a draconian view. I still remember when they got rid of Pell Grants to people
in prison. People were like, “Why should my taxpayer dollars go…” It’s just such
a shortsighted punitive draconian thing where the people don’t realize that every dollar
we spend on education of people when they’re incarcerated, it saves about $4 in costs associated
with recidivism because people getting their B.A. in prison have very low recidivism rate.
SHAPIRO: Diana, you’re shaking your head. CANDELEJO: So I agree, yes, that the education
element and component is very important, but also I’m curious to know more about the workforce
involvement initiatives that we’re doing you know for incarcerated members but also the
reentry population. BOOKER: Yeah. And so this is … you’re reading
figures on things that I’ve been speaking very strongly about for years and from the
Senate floor, that how we are just not understanding that that reentry period is so critical; where
a person now is out of prison, they can’t get public housing, they can’t find a job,
they have to pay child support, they have to find something to eat, they have to get
a roof over their head. And so what do they do? That’s why we see recidivism rates so
high. So we, here when I was mayor of the city of Newark, creating New Jersey’s first
ever Office of Reentry. We did not only do things on the front end to keep people from
going to the courts. New Jersey’s first veterans courts and youth courts try to stop us, trying
to solve every problem with incarceration, but we did big efforts to help people when
they come home from a farm, where you have an entire block right here in this neighborhood,
where we got people work and jobs on the federal level. What I’ve done is say No. 1 we were
very close to getting passed a big bill that would ban the box, so to speak, which means
that when people have to get that job application and they ask you, “Have you ever been arrested?”
If you check that box, your resume is just going to be thrown out. Nobody wants to know
the circumstances of it or what have you. And so what we save for the biggest employer
in the country is actually federal government and federal contractors. My legislation says
that that checking of the box should be taken away from the front end and pushes it all
the way back to when you get a conditional offer then, and data shows that it will dramatically
increase the number of people that were hired. In addition to that we need to make sure that
we’re doing things while people are incarcerated. We don’t do a good enough job dealing with
people’s drug addictions— DUNNS: Mental health, you know, illnesses.
BOOKER: God bless you for saying that DUNNS: If you talk to a lot of the homeless
population here in Newark, you’ll find those things. You’ll find mental health issues
and people of color who have just been released from prison and can’t get a job.
BOOKER: Absolutely. CANDELEJO: And still can’t get housing. If
you can’t get a job, you can’t get housing, can’t get health care, you can’t take care
of your mental health issues. So all of it kind of encompasses like the three things
that we’ve been talking about criminal justice reform, health care and education. I don’t
think there’s one fit for everything, but there has to be something that can be that
in the immediate to kind of remedy some of those things that we see every single day.
BOOKER: And I so appreciate that you’re saying this because everything we’re talking about
there is an intersectionality. This is why the profound racial biases that are in the
criminal justice system are destroying communities around this country. Newark’s, because of
the over-incarceration in communities like ours, the people don’t put the dots together.
When you take away a mom or dad away from their children, the wage earner, and again
arresting them for nonviolent drug crimes that presidents have admitted to doing, that
family falls into financial crisis, they get evicted, that child does worse in school,
health care; all these things are interconnected. And so what really frustrates me is we’re
doing things in a way that is so much more expensive because remember everything from
our immigration system the way we’re doing it now, Obama showed that there’s cheaper
ways to do it. That you can get 100% compliance without these detention facilities, all the
way to right across the street from where I live around the corner is a drug treatment
center, you know it, called Integrity House, and I sometimes go over there and sit with
the guys in the past. I’ll bring food. They get mad it’s vegan food, and you know when
you talk to the guys you see the absurdity of these beautiful human beings who tell their
stories about addiction or mental health issues, and they’ve been treated dozens with dozens
and dozens of arrests before they find their way to mental health care or care for their
addiction. SHAPIRO: You’re talking about a wholesale
transformation of the medical health, mental health, prison-police system. Is this something
that a president can accomplish? BOOKER: Absolutely. First of all, when you
say mental health, again I want to cheer you because we’ve so stigmatized it that it barely
even gets talked about in our presidential race but that … most of us have either experienced
mental health issues or know somebody that has in our family and that’s why, just using
the intersectionality with our school halls you know, having professionals in schools
that can early detect bipolar disorder, depression. I mean we know this from living in Newark,
there are a lot of kids out there getting “in trouble” because they have undiagnosed
mental health care needs. And so yeah, “Can a president chart a course for a country?”
Well let me tell you, Ronald Reagan did the opposite by destroying our mental health care
system the way it is right now and pushing it towards jails and prisons. Can a prison
stand up and make the economic sense that says what’s more expensive? They’ve run the
data on this. Seattle did it. What’s more expensive, having a mentally ill homeless
person, a mentally ill person homeless on the streets or in affordable … a supportive
housing is what they call it? Well it is cheaper because that mentally ill person on the streets
ends up in our jails and our hospital emergency rooms. And so yeah, this is something for
me. The issues that don’t make the debate stage, the issues that aren’t the so-called
sexy issues but having run a city that we know criminal justice reform, mental health
care, child care, all of these things are critical for us becoming a more beloved community,
a healthier society, more economically productive, and not losing our most valuable natural resources
to death, jail, prison, or our hospitals. SHAPIRO: OK. We have covered a lot of ground
and, because our time is short, I just want to ask a couple questions about the news of
the day, and of course the most important story is impeachment.
BOOKER: And by the way, I just want to say the shocking, jarring reality that you’re
saying the most important is the news of the day. And I agree that if that is the news
of the day what the news cycle’s covering, but if we don’t begin to start valuing the
urgency of child poverty in this country, the urgency of a broken criminal … if this
never becomes something that we want to talk about. So if I’m president—
SHAPIRO: —And we have spent the better part of an hour talking about those things, so—
BOOKER: I’m not criticizing you, I’m just criticizing that … NPR has always been my
bedrock as a person growing up because you get much more substantively in the issues.
I’m just venting to you as a presidential candidate who gets asked about the inane realities
of a Donald Trump tweet more than I talk of the urgent needs of my children.
SHAPIRO: So indulge us for one moment. BOOKER: OK.
SHAPIRO: And as the House is carrying out its impeachment inquiry, you sit in the Republican-controlled
Senate, what do you anticipate will happen if and when this reaches the Senate?
BOOKER: Again, we have a long wait before we get there, and a very important investigation
to go through, which it seems every day or every other day there is new breaking news
that is damning the conduct of this president. So I know we just had a recalled ambassador
testified for over eight hours yesterday. Critical information is going to come out.
SHAPIRO: Maria Ivanovich, the former ambassador to Ukraine.
BOOKER: But she is just one of, I would imagine, dozens of people who have relevant information
about the misconduct of the president, potentially at least two cabinet members, others in the
State Department, others in the Department of Justice. This is a president that seems
to now routinely have been using his office and the leverage he’s had with countries ranging
from Ukraine to potentially now Australia and others to leverage them to do the dirty
work of his research on— SHAPIRO: But so the question is when the Republican-controlled
Senate gets all of, what you describe as this damning information, well what do you expect
them to do with it? BOOKER: Again, the Nixon … when Nixon’s
impeachment proceedings began, the majority of Republicans were in lockstep with their
partisan dictates. What happened there and the reason why he resigned was because the
more information came out, the more Republicans who put party behind their patriotism started
making the right decision. So we don’t know what’s going to happen in the journey from
impeachment inquiry, to articles of impeachment written up, to it coming over for a trial.
And my hope is that the truth, the full truth, comes out. Now we have a problem right now
because we have a president who is stonewalling, who is not … saying he’s not subject to
the checks and balances and the oversight as prescribed by the Constitution. That alone
could be an impeachable offense. So much of this is going to play out in the courts as
well while we’re going on parallel tracks of interviewing incredible patriotic people
like the ambassador we just mentioned, who was given orders not to come but obeyed a
congressional subpoena. This is all going to play out. I’m not … I can’t predict how
it will end. SHAPIRO: There are polls that show a majority
of Americans would prefer that ultimately President Trump’s fate be decided at the ballot
box. That opportunity will be in just over a year from now. Why not let voters make the
decision? BOOKER: I swore an oath to protect and defend
the Constitution. I didn’t swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution unless
there’s an election coming up. This is someone who is violating the Constitution, potentially.
This is someone who is doing things that are unacceptable that the long arc of history
will look back and say, “What did the United States Senate, what did the Congress do when
a President of the United States was acting more like a dictator or totalitarian authoritarian
leader than someone who is subject to the checks and balances as designed by our founders.
So politics be damned. I have a job to do which is to hold the executive accountable
and we should be doing that. This election is going to come. I don’t know what the state
of things is going to be, but when in this moment in history the right thing to do is
not just to sit back and say, “OK, Mr. President, do what ever you want,” because these are
ongoing crises. The Russians are attacking Ukraine right now. Not to mention attacking
our country. And this is a president that is potentially ongoingly doing things are
in violation. So I mean it is unacceptable to me to think that I’m just going to wait
13 months until there’s an election and not do my job. No, I was elected by the people
of the state of New Jersey to do a job I’m going to get the job done
SHAPIRO: OK, so we have been talking about a lot of things today. And Diana and Shanell,
you’ve both had opportunities to ask Sen. Booker questions. You’re both undecided
Democratic voters. Is there anything you’ve heard in the last hour that changed your mind
about something that you thought, “I’m going to take that home and tell my family about
it,” something that you’re going to be talking about days or weeks from now?
DUNNS: I mean, I think this is a household discussion that I have with my children all
of the time. And in one in particular she’s on the fence about voting altogether because
she’s like— SHAPIRO: “She,” your daughter?
DUNNS: Yeah, because she says, “You know, I’ve voted for Hillary Clinton. She won the
popular vote but then the electoral vote, the president won.” And she’s like, “so
what incentivises me to go back and try this again?” So I think a lot of what you’ve
said today — that she will hear — I think it would keep her motivated in the sense that,
“Yeah, I have to go and do my due diligence and press that button on Election Day.”
BOOKER: Well let me add one more point as people of color. You know there’s a lot of
talk about electability, and often when people say that I think they’re often talking about,
you know, and I actually I’ve heard direct conversation, “What are we going to do about
the white voter that voted for…” and they don’t miss the power of, or the importance
in the last election, of minority voters. So let’s take a state like Wisconsin, for
example; I did a big rally in Milwaukee with a lot of local black leaders to try to make
the point that this state that — I think there was 11,000 votes that Hillary Clinton
lost by, you can correct me, Ari, it may be in 17,000 or even seven, but it was somewhere
around there — and in the city of Milwaukee alone about 70,000 less African Americans
voted. And that city alone, that had voted before, of African American turnout was what
it had been four years earlier, she would’ve won that state. The same thing, same data
with just black voters in Michigan, same data in the state of Pennsylvania. My point is
that, King said this so well, that we have to repent for in our day and age. He said,
“It’s not just the vitriolic words and violent actions of the bad people, it’s the appalling
silence and inaction of the good people.” And so I worry that the most commonly folks
often give up their powers not thinking they have it in the first place. Like it’s that’s
seduction of cynicism that no matter what I do it’s always gonna be the same. If people
gave into that, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now. I wouldn’t be the fourth elected
African American to the United States Senate and popularly elected in the history of our
country. So much of what we are experiencing right now is a country that came by people
who fought through cynicism, fought through despair as Miss Jones, who lived in the projects
around the corner, taught me that you know, hope is the act of conviction that despair
will not have the last word. So my encouragement, knowing your kids are going to be listening
to this, not for me, but for their for their mom and grandma, my encouragement to them
is never ever give up. As one of the hip-hop legends of my generation would say, “Fight
the power.” Always fight the power. Keep fighting. That’s how we’re here, because power
concedes nothing without a demand as Frederick Douglass says, “Without struggle, there
will be no progress.” SHAPIRO: Diana, is there anything in the last
hour that you’ve heard, anything in this conversation that you’ve heard that you think, “Oh that
really struck a chord for me.” BOOKER: That I studied in Quito.
CANDELEJO: You know, one of my icebreaker questions was going to be how many years of
Spanish did you really take? After I heard you speak
BOOKER: Estudié español en Quito, y tambien en Mexico tambien.
CANDELEJO: Wow, que interessante. I should have done this interview in Spanish.
BOOKER: Yes, see! SHAPIRO: French, Hebrew, no.
CANDELEJO: But no, definitely recommend you hire millennials, Newark residents — shoutout.
You have a very robust policy agenda. I think it’s going to take a lot of, you know, creative
minds and folks with lived experience. Yes I definitely have to do a lot of my due diligence
and, you know, researching a lot of the policies that you mentioned, but yeah.
BOOKER: So I will say one thing though that as we found out in past elections, policies
are really important and what people are going to do, but the policy differences between
the 10 or so of us on that debate stage are small compared to the gulfs that exists between
us and Donald Trump, and I can’t even remember all the policy differences between Obama and
Hillary in 2007 around this time when Obama was polling 15-20 points behind Hillary. But
I know I was the first person in this region, me and the mayor of Jersey City, to break
with … Hillary had this whole, all the electeds in this region locked down, but we broke for
Obama. Not just because of policy but also because of the spirit I felt our nation needed.
And I really felt then that we need somebody who can ignite and excite the electorate in
a way that I knew Obama could, because we needed a wave election, and we won not only
the presidency but we won multiple audiences, multiple … You’ve got the Senate back 60
votes at that time, you’ve got the House of Representatives back. This is really an
election that’s not a referendum on the one guy in office, it’s a referendum on all
of us. It’s not just the head but it’s going to be the heart and the gut who can capture
that spirit of our country, bring us back together to a sense of common cause and common
purpose. It’s what drives me in this election — it’s not just because I think I’ve got
better policy ideas. Heck, I’ve learned things from the broad field and a lot of the people
who put things out as I know I’ve affected the field with my policies. But at the end
of the day, there is something going on when the issues that are really important like
a mother being able to afford child care, like having good public schools to choose
from, the things actually we agree on across partisan lines like common sense gun safety.
But something’s breaking down in our society that we’re getting to this point of tribalism,
us versus them, where we can’t get the big things done anymore. I think this has got
to be an election that’s about that as well where we’re going to beat Donald Trump, I
feel like we have good candidates that can do that, but beating Donald Trump to me is
a floor. It’s not the ceiling. It gets us out of the valley, doesn’t get us to the mountaintop.
I’m running because, not just the policy ideas, but I think we need to get to the mountaintop
again and be able to ignite that spirit, not partisan spirit, but that spirit that begins
to prioritize the things that matter: education, health care, taking care of our seniors and
more. We’ve got to get back because in the global competition, when you see other people
lowering the cost of college education dramatically more than us, taking care of babies when they’re
born dramatically than us, building better infrastructure, that’s one thing that didn’t
come up, but in this region that’s a headache. The busiest rail quarter in America from Boston
to D.C., which runs right through our state, runs half an hour slower than it did in the
1960s. Meanwhile China’s building 18,000 miles of high-speed rail. These aren’t partisan
issues, these are do we … can we create the energy and the unity, the common cause,
to get those things done in our country. That’s what we need from our leaders, that’s why
I’m running for president, and I hope that I can convince you guys over the next … God,
it’s a June primary in New Jersey. We’re a late primary.
SHAPIRO: I’m sure it’s the New Jersey primary that’s going to decide it, definitely.
BOOKER: B’ezrat hashem. Do you know what I just said? God willing, I said, in Hebrew.
We’re gonna do a multilingual, listen, your child is going to get a world education; we’ve
now given them Spanish, Hebrew, English and some rap lyrics from the 1980s.
SHAPIRO: I want to thank our two voters, Diana Candelejo and Shanell Dunns. It’s been great
talking with you today. Thank you so much. DUNNS: Thanks for me.
BOOKER: What? I don’t get a thank you? SHAPIRO: Also, of course, the candidate—
BOOKER: You used to be more polite to me, now you’re just bullying me all the time.
SHAPIRO: Sen. Cory Booker, thank you so much for taking the time.
BOOKER: It’s great to see you here in Newark, man. Keep coming. It looks good on you, Newark.
SHAPIRO: Alright. DUNNS: Thank you.
CANDELEJO: Thank you. SHAPIRO: Before we stand up let me just ask
our team if there’s any kind of touch up follow up redo thing that we need to do. No? Okay.
Oh right, right, right. And for those listening on your local member station we also have
video of these conversa… Oh I shouldn’t be doing this while I’m… because I’m actually
not on… for those listening on your local member station, we also have video of these
conversations you can find it at npr.org. This is Off Script from NPR News. I’m Ari
Shapiro.