Booker: I am not Spartacus 

Booker: I am not Spartacus 
© Anna Moneymaker

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerKlobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Klobuchar moves up in Iowa poll of 2020 Dems Harris announces support for White House-backed criminal justice bill MORE (D-N.J.) told The Hill Thursday that he did not intend to compare himself to Spartacus during last week’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings — a moment that put him squarely in the political spotlight but also led to some mockery. 

Booker, who is widely seen as preparing for a White House run in 2020, says he has no regrets about his “Spartacus moment."

“It doesn’t take away from the larger point and, again, all of this is about the larger point. We have documents that have been hidden from the public, that shouldn’t have been hidden from the public,” Booker said Thursday of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation proceedings. 

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Booker certainly gained attention with his theatrics. A film crew with Showtime’s “The Circus” camped in the hallway outside Booker’s office on Thursday to shoot an impromptu interview with him. 

“After I was threatened with expulsion and had my character challenged, I was very happy that colleague after colleague after colleague stepped up,” Booker said.

“In fact I think Durbin said, 'If you throw him into the pit, I want to be in the pit with you,'” Booker added, referring to Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinVeteran industry lobbyist to leave American Petroleum Institute Senate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill Harris announces support for White House-backed criminal justice bill MORE (Ill.), the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate.   

The moment came after Booker released documents related to Kavanaugh’s confirmation that had once been deemed "committee confidential." Booker did so under threat from Senate Republicans, who said he was breaking Senate rules by releasing the documents.

“This is about the closest I’ll probably have in my life to an ‘I am Spartacus’ moment,” Booker said during the tense Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, seemingly drawing comparison with the slave who led an uprising against the Roman Empire. In the famous movie in which Kirk Douglas portrays Spartacus, rebel slaves all claim to be Spartacus to shield their leader from punishment.

Booker has been teased by conservatives for the comparison, in part because a lawyer representing the George W. Bush administration, for which Kavanaugh worked, had already released the documents in question.

Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the most tight-lipped members of the Supreme Court, complained that the senator’s theatrics undermined the dignity of the confirmation process. 

Speaking in an interview aired by C-SPAN, the conservative justice faulted Booker and other Democrats on the Judiciary panel for trying to score “points,” look “cute" and earn television time. 

Booker has been a bit of a punching bag for the media, with John Kass of The Chicago Tribune calling the “Spartacus bit” an “epic fail” and New York Times columnist Gail Collins writing that “Booker demonstrated that it was possible to go too far in being fearsome when he made some allegedly confidential Kavanaugh records public and compared himself to Spartacus for his daring.” 

Asked if he intended to compare himself with Spartacus, Booker replied pointedly, “No."

Booker declined to respond to Thomas’s criticism about his Spartacus remark. 

“It’s not even important to me. I haven’t seen it. I’m not going to comment on that,” Booker said when asked about Thomas’s comments while the Showtime crew was filming him outside his office. 

He said he was instead trying to shine a light on the bravery of Democratic colleagues who stood with him in solidarity. 

“I’m very grateful that my colleagues in that committee hearing stood up and said, ‘Whatever becomes of Cory, I’m doing this too,’” he added. 

He shrugged off the mockery of recent days: “I can laugh along with other people.”

“Senators say things all the time that are funny, whatever,” he said. 

A Senate Democratic aide, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about Booker, said there was some eye-rolling among Senate Democrats over Booker’s dramatic rhetoric.

But the aide praised Booker for “breaking through” in a hearing where not much news was made.

Asked about Booker’s “Spartacus moment,” Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate votes to overturn IRS guidance limiting donor disclosure Senate confirms Trump's pick to be deputy Treasury secretary O’Rourke is fireball, but not all Dems are sold MORE (D-Mont.) said “the theatrics of all this doesn’t matter to me.”

“More of it is are we getting material marked classified because they don’t want the public to see it?” Tester said. 

Democrats have been fighting an uphill battle on Kavanaugh, both to obtain documents related to his government work in the Bush administration and to stop his confirmation. They are likely to fail on the latter, as Republicans hold a majority in the Senate; it is also possible a handful of Democratic centrists will vote for President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate MORE’s nominee. 

So far, Booker has released 75 Kavanaugh-related documents that were at one point deemed committee confidential. 

“I continue to release confidential documents and will continue because keeping them from the American public is unmerited and it’s partisan and is trying to hide things from the American people,” he said. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill Five takeaways from the court decision striking down ObamaCare The Year Ahead: Tough tests loom for Trump trade agenda MORE (R-Iowa) on Thursday said it’s unclear if Booker broke committee rules but argued he flouted precedent. 

“I made pretty clear that just because [documents] initially are labeled confidential doesn’t mean that they’re really confidential. It just means they’re confidential until you get a second or third or fourth look at them,” he said. 

Asked specifically about a possible of violation of committee rules, Grassley said “it would be more precedent.” 

A Senate GOP aide said an ethics investigation could look at whether Booker violated the Presidential Records Act. Grassley concurred with that analysis.

“It’s more a question of the Presidential Records Act. Did he break that?” Grassley said. “I’m going to leave that to some lawyer. That’s a question for other people to make a judgment on.”

Asked about the possibility of a Senate ethics probe, Booker said, “This is where I stand and I’ll accept whatever consequences come along with it.”