Cory Booker has worked extensively with three Republican candidates for president in the U.S. Senate — Sens. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and “even” Ted Cruz. Booker, the senator from New Jersey, likely will add a fourth to that list soon — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“From Marco Rubio to even — I’m co-sponsoring a bill with Ted Cruz, if we can find areas to work together to create economic opportunity, to solve injustices, we should be seizing that ground and moving things forward,” Booker told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos in an extensive interview last month.
The bipartisanship is and has always been a part of Booker’s brand, first as one of the most nationally recognized mayors in the country in Newark, N.J., and now as the state’s junior senator.
And he thinks continuing that trend will help him solve some of the issues near and dear to young people in America — from finding a job to fixing inequalities in the nation’s criminal-justice system.
“Well, I have that passionate attitude,” Booker told Ramos. “Look, the Republicans or the Democrats are not going to be able to move government forward. We have to figure out ways to work together. And so, I came to Washington with that intention. The overwhelming majority of pieces of legislation I’ve introduced have been with Republican partners.”
Take the LEAP Act — the Leveraging America’s Apprenticeship Programs Act — for example. Booker introduced the legislation last year with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), which the two said would help fill a gap plaguing American companies. Currently, about 4 million open jobs are unfilled because companies can’t find enough skilled, qualified workers to fill them.
The LEAP Act would offer tax credits to companies that hire workers registered through official Labor Department apprenticeship programs. Those credits would be more exponential for companies hiring workers under the age of 25.
“The thing that’s most frustrating about it is we know from looking around the world that there are strategies being used to employ young people that we could be employing here in the United States,” Booker said in the interview with Ramos. “That’s why I’m trying to push as hard as I can for people to focus on that important demographic of our young folks who really are going to be the bedrock foundation for the future we want to build and hope to have.”
Booker is working with Cruz on disaster-assistance legislation. And he’s teaming up with Paul on a bill to reform the nation’s criminal-justice system, a problem with which he familiarized himself during his stint as mayor of the crime-ridden Newark.
He blames an “explosion” in U.S. prison population on the War on Drugs. And he says the REDEEM Act, which was also introduced last year, would, among other things, expunge the records of children who commit non-violent crimes before the age of 15, something that currently affects their lives well beyond that age.
“You come out of prison for a nonviolent drug offense,” Booker told Ramos, “you can’t get a Pell Grant for school. Hard to get a job. Hard to get a loan or a business license. Hard to get even public housing if you desperately need that.”
“We create these prison systems in states like mine where 70 to 80 percent of the people in our prisons are black and Latino for non-violent offenses,” Booker added. “Even though they don’t make up the disproportionate amount of people committing those crimes.”
Booker doesn’t think much of that can be solved by a president. It’s why he believes it has continued throughout the presidency of Barack Obama after, as Ramos pointed out, many thought the U.S. would become a “post-racial society” after his election.
“I don’t want to live in a post-racial society,” Booker said. “… I want us all to always be a rich place where we celebrate our racial, ethnic diversity.”
What about President Booker?
“I’m not going to go that way and jump into a presidential race,” Booker told Ramos. “There’s so much good work to do from the United States Senate — fighting for greater employment amongst our young people, fighting for military veterans on which we have a shameful record recently, fighting for our criminal justice system. I want to take on these challenges. I’m in the right place to do it.”
There is one candidate he’s excited about, though — and it’s not any of his Senate colleagues.
“I’m so excited about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy,” Booker said of the Democratic frontrunner and former secretary of state. “I can’t tell you how energized I am by the news that she announced. And I’m looking forward to the vision that she’s going to paint.”