How Cory Booker is wielding newfound Senate power

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker says another White House run isn't on his mind, as he's distinctively positioned to wield his power in the Senate

6/2/2021 4:02:00 PM

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker says another White House run isn't on his mind, as he's distinctively positioned to wield his power in the Senate

The New Jersey Democrat says another White House run isn't on his mind, as his friend and former colleague Vice President Kamala Harris 'by all measure is on deck.'

a police officer drew a gun on him.Growing up in suburban New Jersey, he had his share of negative experiences with the police — an unfortunate rite of passage for many Black Americans. But he describes his college years in the wealthy and mostly white Northern California enclave of Palo Alto as the period where “the fear was at its highest in my life.” In one terrifying moment, Booker said the police stopped him and accused him of stealing his own car.

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“It seemed like half the police force came out and they kept me, sitting in my car, screaming at me commands," the New Jersey senator recounted in a recent interview in his Capitol office. "And ultimately the only excuse they gave me was that I fit the description of somebody that they were looking for.”

Booker said the “incidents just started racking up” after his parents bought him a car when he was a Stanford University sophomore. “You have these humiliating experiences, where you just feel helpless, and like a razor edge of the wrong move could get you shot." headtopics.com

Thirty years later, the Democrat has those memories in mind as he leads police reform negotiations alongside Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.). It’s a daunting task that, if it ends in a workable deal, could help deter police brutality toward people of color after years of tragic killings. It’s also a new chapter for the genial 52-year-old, whose presidential run on a message of love and unity ran aground but who now finds himself positioned to wield power with a new audience — his own colleagues.

Booker has come a long way from the partisan combatant he’s occasionally played for his party, particularly during the bitter fight to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. These days he looks like a budding dealmaker in the mode of the sitting president, in whose administration many of Booker’s former staffers hold prominent posts.

From left, Sen. Cory Booker and then-Sen. Kamala Harris attend a Judiciary Committee hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on June 16, 2020 in Washington, D.C. | Tom Williams-Pool/Getty ImagesEven though his own White House bid did not go as he’d hoped, Booker says he’s at “a strange moment in my life” where he can finally count close ties to Joe Biden’s team, good relationships throughout the Senate, and a personal friend-plus-former colleague in Vice President Kamala Harris. He’s also wielding the gavel on an influential Judiciary Committee subpanel.

“People are starting to see Cory for who he is,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a longtime friend. “In this building, people often think that you have to pick your path: you're either the workhorse or the show horse. And I think he’s demonstrating he’s here to get something done, not just to be world-famous. He was already world-famous before he showed up.” headtopics.com

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Unlike Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who also mounted a failed presidential campaign, Booker says he doesn’t know if he wants to make another run for the White House. He noted that Biden is likely to run for reelection and that Harris “by all measure is on deck.” Those close to Booker confirmed the presidency is not on his mind.

“I’m happy I did and I’m a much better senator because I did” run in the 2020 primary, he said. “I’ve now sort of conceded to the truism that my life speaks to — and I think most people’s lives do — that the best way to make God laugh is to make plans for yourself."

First elected to the Senate in 2013 after serving as mayor of Newark, Booker played a central role in shepherding 2018's bipartisan criminal justice reform law, which eased strict sentencing practices and improved prison conditions. But that work was different than this year's talks on overhauling American policing after years of brutal encounters between officers and people of color. Policing bill negotiators say they’re making steady progress and keeping the outside groups they need in the fold, while also keeping discussions closely held to a small circle of lawmakers.

The New Jersey Democrat put the odds of reaching an agreement as “far more likely than not” but acknowledged the process is grueling, often lasting into the weekends. Major sticking points remain, including addressing differences on qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that shields police officers from being sued by brutality victims and their families. headtopics.com

Sen. Tim Scott, right, shakes hands with Sen. Cory Booker, left, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 1, 2015, to discuss criminal justice reform with a bipartisan group of senators. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP PhotoAnd the effort's success will hinge in large part on Booker's relationship with Scott, the only Black Republican senator.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), another police reform negotiator whom Booker counts as a mentor, says he is “realistic” about the odds of reaching a compromise.“I know it’s a very tough issue,” he said. “It’s quite controversial. But Cory and Tim, I think, are really doing a great job. I hope they can find that sweet spot.”

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Booker says he and Scott have a “real respect and affection for each other,” adding that the two men have bonded over shared life experiences, their faith, the occasional fitness competition and even their shared bachelor status. Scott confirmed they’ve discussed the “challenges of dating when you’re a senator” and said that “for Washington, we have a true friendship.”

It’s also not the first time the two senators have worked together on bipartisan legislation. Booker and Scott previously teamed up on the 2018 criminal justice measure, in addition to bills on apprenticeships and sickle-cell anemia treatment.POLITICO Dispatch:

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Spartacus NewJersey constituents think he’s a fraud DemocratsAreDestroyingAmerica He doesn’t have or wield power, junior senator from New Jersey that’s about the size of it! Love? What happened to Spartacus? Cory has a hot girlfriend,that is all For the record: This replaces a deleted tweet to fix a typo. Our apologies.

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