Booker and Biden clash sharply over criminal justice records

Booker and Biden clash sharply over criminal justice records
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Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerCalifornia Dems back Yang after he expresses disappointment over initial DNC lineup Obamas, Clintons to headline Biden's nominating convention Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report MORE (D-N.J.) jabbed former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNAACP seeks to boost Black voter turnout in six states Biden touts Trump saying Harris would be 'fine choice' for VP pick Kamala Harris: The conventional (and predictable) pick all along MORE for misinterpreting his criminal justice record as mayor of Newark during the Democratic primary debate Wednesday.

Booker turned to his rival and declared bluntly: “There’s a saying in my community: You’re dipping in the Kool-Aid, you don’t even know the flavor.”


Booker then accused Biden in the mid-1990s of pushing a crime bill that “used that tough-on-crime phony rhetoric that got a lot of people elected but destroyed communities like mine.”

"It's no secret that I inherited a police department with massive problems and decades-long challenges. But the head of the ACLU has already said, the head of the New Jersey ACLU, that I put forth national standard-setting accountability," Booker said after Biden criticized him for using controversial stop-and-frisk tactics to fight crime and hiring a top adviser to former New York Mayor Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiFeehery: Weak mayors destroy America's great cities Coronavirus concerns emerge around debates Giuliani says Black Lives Matter is 'domestic terrorist' group MORE

"If you want to compare records, and I'm shocked that you do, I'm happy to do that," Booker said, as the crowd laughed.

Biden said Booker did nothing during his eight years as mayor of Newark to crack down on police abuse, which he said resulted in a disproportionate incarceration of young African American men.

“In 2007, you became mayor and you had a police department — you went out and you hired Rudy Giuliani’s guy, and engaged in stop-and-frisk, you had 75 percent of those stops reviewed as illegal,” Biden asserted. “The Justice Department came after you … saying you were engaging in behavior that was inappropriate.”

The heated exchange came as Booker and Biden clashed over criminal justice reform and Biden’s role in drafting the 1994 crime bill, which has been blamed for a massive rise in the incarceration of African Americans. 

Booker blamed Biden as a central figure in the tough-on-crime movement in the mid-1990s that tackled addiction and mental health problems by throwing millions of people into jail.

“This is a crisis in our country because we have treated issues of race and poverty, mental health and addiction with locking people up and not lifting them up,” he said. “Mr. Vice President has said that since the 1970s every major crime bill — every crime bill, major and minor — has had his name on it.”

Booker challenged Biden directly over his long record as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“This is one of those instances where the house was set on fire and you claimed responsibility for those laws,” he said. “You can’t just come out with a plan to put out that fire, we have got to have far more bold action on criminal justice reform, like having true marijuana justice, which means that we legalize it on a federal level and reinvest the profits in communities that have been disproportionately targeted.”

Biden meanwhile continued to press Booker on his crime-fighting record as mayor and contrasted it to his own efforts in 2007 to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder-cocaine offenses, which often led to harsher sentences for minority offenders.

“Why did you announce on the first day a zero-tolerance policy of stop-and-frisk and hire Rudy Giuliani’s guy in 2007 when I was trying to get rid of the crack cocaine disparity,” he said.

But Booker unleashed his Kool-Aid line and added, “you need to come to the city of Newark and see the reforms we put in place.” 

“Sir, you’re trying to shift the view from what you created. There are people right now in prison for life for drug offenses because you stood up and used that tough on crime phony rhetoric that got a lot of people elected but destroyed communities like mine,” Booker said.