Sen. Cory Booker on Civility in Politics and Working with Mitch McConnell


-You talk about,
in all seriousness, in so far as we
talk about politeness, which will be
an interesting thing in this campaign going forward, you talk about civic grace and you talk about
courageous empathy. Can you speak a little bit
to what you mean by those ideas and also the difficulty
in expressing those, in practicing those at a time where the opponent will
likely not be using those? -Look, I was running on an Iowa
stage, and we were so psyched. Hundreds of people there. I’m about to jump up,
and this guy sees me, a former tight end
for Stanford University. He’s a big guy. He puts his arm around me
and he goes, “Dude, I want you to punch
Donald Trump in the face.” And I stop in my tracks
and I go, “Dude, that’s a felony, man.” [ Laughter ] And, you know, this —
Donald Trump is a guy who you understand he hurts you,
and my testosterone sometimes makes me want to
feel like punching him, which would be bad for
this elderly, out-of-shape man that he is if I did that.
[ Laughter ] [ Cheers and applause ] This physically —
physically weak specimen. A physically weak specimen. But you see
what I’m talking there? That’s his tactics. And you don’t beat a bully like
him fighting him on his tactics, on his terms, using his turf. He’s the body shamer. He’s the guy that shows — tries
to drag people in the gutter. And I — This is a moral moment
in America. And to me, what we need from
our next leader, especially after the time of
moral vandalism that we’re in right now, is we need a leader that’s not
gonna call us to the worst of who we are but call us
to the best of who we are. And we need to be, as a party — [ Cheers and applause ] In this moral moment, we need not to talk about
necessarily what we’re against, but what we’re for, and the best way of looking at
this is just our history. The gardens of our democracy
have never been free of the weeds of bigotry,
hatred, a demagoguery. Every generation has had them. I literally had an elder friend
of mine text me, saying, listening to Donald Trump’s
rally last week, that he was talking —
the words he was using reminded him of
a George Wallace rally that he watched
in black and white and now it’s in living color. But how did we beat them before? First of all, don’t mistake
strength for — to be strong,
you need to be mean. We beat Bull Connor,
for example, in Birmingham not by bringing bigger dogs
and bigger firehoses and matching his demagoguery
with more. But these were incredible
artists of activism that called to the moral
imagination of a country, that called us to a greater —
a revival of that civic race that pulled black folks
and white folks and more folks together
that relegated that demagogue to the ash heap of history. We will not beat Donald Trump
by trying to be more like him but by showing
that we are not like him. We are not weak morally.
We are not weak mentally. We’re a strong nation,
and we’re a nation that unites. [ Cheers and applause ]
-It does seem like — Obviously, it’s going to be
a difficult undertaking for whoever the nominee is
to take back the White House. It might even be
more statistically difficult for the Democratic Party
to take back the Senate. So, let’s say
you’re in the White House, but Mitch McConnell
is still running the Senate. Where does — Where can you find
any optimism to think that you can get something done
as long as Mitch McConnell, who has been
incredibly effective, no matter what
you think about him, effective in sort of having
this Republican platform that has been a wall that’s been
impossible to break through. -So, that’s a distinction
of my record. Look, I was the mayor
of New Jersey’s largest city in the middle of a recession where people told me
what we couldn’t do, and now from transforming
our school system to the biggest period economic
development in 60 years, we got things done
people said couldn’t be done. I got to the Senate. One of the things
that drove me there was the fact that we have one of the most shameful
criminal-justice systems on the planet, where we say
we’re the land of the free, but we incarcerate 25% of
the globe’s incarcerated people. And I went there
to do something about it. And I remember people
in my own party telling me, “You’re never gonna get
legislation like this passed through the United States
Senate, especially freeing people
from prison at a time in the aftermath of
Willie Horton, where everybody
is gonna be afraid to do that.” Well, with Mitch McConnell
there, I led from the Democratic side a bill that not only got passed
but right now, last week, we saw thousands of people
being released, the overwhelming majority of
them being African-Americans. -This is the First Step —
-The First Step Act. And, so, I do not
resign myself ever to people saying
things can’t get done. And why I fight so hard
in this election, I tell people, I know that the number-one thing
people want in my party is just to beat Donald Trump. But I’m like, “That is a floor.
It is not the ceiling. We have to have
bigger aspirations.” If we make this election
all about him, that’s a small man, one office. That’s not what I want
this election to just be about. We will beat him.
I will beat him. But we’ve got to make this
more of a movement election to create
new American majorities. And I’m not talking about
Democratic majorities. But the fact of the matter is we actually agree on
more than we disagree. The lines that divide us, they’re not as big as
the ties that bind us. And so, I think our generation
now, and this election and this moral moment has to
begin not to resign ourselves to a fractured broken government but aspire to do
what our ancestors did. We just came off a weekend where they created
the new American majority to defy the limits
of human potential and put a person on the moon. It’s time for our generation
to begin to reject divisive tribalistic politics and inspire people
so that we in our generation can defy gravity as well and do the things that other
people think are impossible. -Alright. Well, thanks for
making the time. I know it’s got to be busy
out there. -Thank you. -Best of luck in the next round
of debates. That’s Cory Booker, everybody.