PARSIPPANY – For those like U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) who thinks he needs to get a grip, he’s got a Ulysses “Nothing less than total and unconditional surrender” Grant biography on the bookshelf, the story of arguably the toughest of of dead U.S. presidents, that he plans to chew into this summer in the event that U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) doesn’t ratchet up the real time agenda.
Sandwiched between an event with CD-11 candidate Mikie Sherrill and one with CD-7 Dem Tom Malinowski while juggling a tele-town hall with Senate colleague U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, the junior senator occupied a diner booth here earlier today to have a conversation with InsiderNJ as the general election battleground intensifies. He said he worries about healthcare right now, premiums and gas going up, the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
And then he took a question about colleague Cornyn, who zapped him in the aftermath of Booker’s comment about “something savagely wrong” in America.
“I’m not sure what motivated him to say something,” Booker said. “It’s not productive for me to call him or respond. But we have trends in our country that people should be concerned about. We have the highest child poverty rate of developed nations. Only 50% of millennials are doing better than their parents. We have a criminal justice system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent. This isn’t me attacking our nation, this is me pointing out things that we need to address. If you love your country you want to improve you’re country and that’s what I’m working to do every single day.”
In the same speech that Cornyn drew a bead on, Booker wondered aloud about whether Democrats hadn’t lost their way.
But he doesn’t believe that as it relates to the battleground districts he toured today, he insisted.
“I just came from a Mikie Sherrill event and to me I said this is stark,” he said of the difference between Sherrill and her Republican opponent. “If you’re a New Jerseyan you have one candidate who supports Donald Trump’s tax plan, which is a direct attack on New Jerseyans’ ability to decut their state and local income taxes. That’s why most New Jersey Republicans voted against it. They said ‘this isn’t Republican or Democrat, this is New Jersey loyalty and New Jerseyans are paying too many taxes.’ That’s why the Republican who held that district, [U.S. Rep. Rodney] Frelinghuysen, voted against it. Now the guy running is ‘Trump, Trump, Trump. I would support Trump’s tax bill.’ I’m sorry, that’s a betrayal of every New Jersey taxpayer’s bottom line. Mikie sherrill is like, ‘I’m sorry no way.'”
Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26) issued a statement in response to Booker.
“The average family of four in NJ-11 saves over $6,000 as a result of the recent federal tax reform,” said Sherrill’s general election foe. “That is simply a fact. We know Mikie is infatuated with the radical, budget-busting ‘Medicare for all’ idea, so maybe that explains her refusal to embrace the tax cuts. Mikie is going to have to raise taxes to pay for her crazy ideas.
“And standing with Cory Booker after Booker stood with the far-left, anti-Semitic, anti-Israel crowd is abhorrent,” Webber added. “The only thing Mikie should do with Cory Booker is denounce his radical associations and wash her hands of him.”
Booker reveled in the matchup.
“I’ve never seen such stark choices for someone from New Jersey,” he said. “We were moving on getting rail lines underneath the Hudson, Frelinghuysen was supporting it and the President is trying to block it. You either support New Jersey taxpayers or you don’t.”
He ticked off the issues again, the main ones he argues give his party a big leg up this season: Republicans threatening repeal of the Affordable Care Act, championing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh (“someone we could be pretty confident is not going to save the Affordable Care Act,” Booker said) and Trump’s refusal to get behind the Gateway Tunnel.
InsiderNJ then asked him about that sign someone photographed him with: “From Palestine to Mexico: All the walls have got to go.”
Does he really believe the wall on the west bank is equivalent to the wall Trump proposes between the U.S. and Mexico?
“Anybody who knows me knows where I’ve stood for seven years, knows that I believe in Israel’s right to protect itself,” Booker said. “I have been voting to expand Israel’s security capacity. Again, the state of Israel is under constant threat; terrorist attack after terrorist attack. They need to protect themselves and my record if 100% clear on that.”
He also voted for the Iran Nuclear Deal, which U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7) opponent Malinowski – a former assistant secretary of state – supported.
Lance backers salivate over that issue, arguing that the congressman can use it to try to brand the Democratic challenger as Iran-soft.
“I would say here’s somebody that was trying to create more security for the United State of America,” the senator said. “Iranians having a nuclear weapon puts us in jeopardy. As a result of that deal we have – or had – incredibly intrusive inspections. They dismantled their pipeline of materials. They took reactors offline. There is a consensus… we stopped the immediacy of their race toward a nuclear weapon.”
Regarding the reelection effort this year of the corruption trial-addled U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Booker said, “Oh my gosh, he’s running against a pharmaceutical executive who raised prescription drug prices on Americans, on New Jerseyans, while he lowered prescription drug prices for Russians. I mean, we’ve already got Trump in there who seems to support Vladimir Putin and treats him better than leaders from Canada to England, so I don’t see how New Jerseyans who are paying too high a price for prescription drugs would put a pharmaceutical executive in there who has been jacking up prices. If you are a pocketbook person, how can you support this person? It comes down to who do you trust?”
But can the average guy really trust Menendez, InsiderNJ wanted to know.
“If you’re the guy on the street, a Jersey guy in the diner, looking at Bob Menenedez, you see someone who had a jury of Jerseyans look at this, all these charges, and you say ‘he already dealt with that.’ Average New Jerseyans felt like this was real government overreach. He was vindicated in a court of law by regular folks. The average person in a diner can look at Bob Menendez’s record, on healthcare, more resources for infrastructure, children’s health insurance, and stepping up to save firefighters. His record of standing up for every day people is incredible. Now you’ve got a guy who won’t even say Donald Trump’s tax plan is hurting this state. You have a guy that was priofiting off other people’s need for life-saving drugs while lowering them for Russians. Bob Menendez, by a jury of his peers, was vindicated. To me this is not that complicated.”
But what about the party?
What about leaders like Schumer and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)?
Does Booker ever look around in D.C. and conclude that the leadership has simply been around too long?
“Come on,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s Bernie Sanders in his 70s or Patrick Leahy in his 80s. These are folks who are every day working for young people. The question is not age, it’s ‘do people have my back?’ Yeah, we want a blend of different backgrounds but at the end of the day New Jerseyans want people who will fight for them. …People don’t look at me and say ‘You’re getting close to 50 now, I don’t know.’ No, they want to know if we’re going to fight for people. This is what people want. At the end of the day we have great leaders in Washington doing hard work and trying to help their communities. I don’t have an age test and neither does the Constitution for people that represent them. I judge people by their actions, not by their age.”
A man in the diner gave the senator the thumbs up sign as he headed for the diner door.
“You’re the best,” he called out.
“No,” Booker said. “We’re the best – New Jersey.
“There is nothing better than a Jersey diner,” the senator added.