Biden campaign rebukes Booker criticism of criminal justice plan

Biden campaign rebukes Booker criticism of criminal justice plan
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Joe BidenJoe BidenNYT editorial board endorses Warren, Klobuchar for Democratic nomination for president Trump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Biden breaks away from 2020 pack in South Carolina MORE’s presidential campaign is pushing back against criticism from fellow 2020 contender Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker ahead of Trump impeachment trial: 'History has its eyes on us' Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial DNC announces new criteria for New Hampshire debate MORE (D-N.J.) over the former vice president’s criminal justice record, a move intended to head off a potential confrontation ahead of next week’s Democratic debates.

The campaign’s efforts came hours after Booker escalated his criticism of Biden’s proposal to combat mass incarceration in the United States, calling the former vice president the “architect” of policies that exacerbated racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

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“Since next week’s debate format will give Senator Booker twice as much time to make his attacks than it allows Vice President Biden to respond to them, we thought we would begin to respond now,” said Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager. 

Bedingfield argued that it was Booker “who has some hard questions to answer about his role in the criminal justice system,” pointing to his promise as mayor of Newark more than a decade ago to implement a “zero tolerance policy for minor infractions.”

She also accused Booker of “running a police department that was such a civil rights nightmare that the US Department of Justice intervened.”

In a tweet, Booker’s campaign manager, Addisu Demissie, cited a line from Bedingfield’s email that noted Biden has worked on criminal justice reform “for decades, saying that that was precisely the problem.

“ ‘For decades, Joe Biden has been working on criminal justice reform,’ ” Demissie wrote.

“That’s the problem. And that's the tweet.”

Bedingfield’s comments, made in a lengthy email to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, represented a concerted effort by the Biden campaign not only to rebuff criticism of his criminal justice record, but to go on the offensive ahead of next week’s second Democratic presidential debate.

Biden and Booker are slated to share the debate stage in Detroit on July 31, along with Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisParnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (D-Calif.), whose confrontation with Biden during a debate last month helped boost her standing in the Democratic nominating contest.

Criminal justice has emerged as a particularly difficult subject for Biden to navigate. Even before he launched his campaign in April, progressives have questioned his record on criminal justice, particularly his past support for the 1994 crime bill that is now widely seen as having contributed to mass incarceration.

Biden's proposal, however, appears aimed at reversing some of the effects of that crime bill, including the plan's call to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences and to close sentencing discrepancies for convictions related to powder and crack cocaine. 

Booker has since made a point of criticizing Biden’s plan, arguing that the plan is “inadequate” and that the former vice president’s past support for the 1994 crime bill undermines his credibility in addressing mass incarceration. 

“For a guy that helped to be an architect of mass incarceration, this is an inadequate solution to what is a raging crisis in our country,” Booker told reporters in Detroit on Wednesday after an NAACP presidential candidates forum.