Some tenants in Newark who temporarily withheld rent payments to protest poor living conditions suffered negative consequences themselves. Sen. Cory Booker is proposing some protections. He joins Correspondent Michael Hill.
Hill: Senator, thank you for joining us. Let’s talk a little bit about tenant blacklisting. Attorneys for the landlords deny that it exists. What does your bill propose to do?
Booker: Well, first of all it definitely exists and it’s not called blacklisting, it’s sort of like a credit report. When you go apply to be in an apartment, they have services that they check to see who has been involved in these tenant proceedings. So it doesn’t matter, regardless if you’re involved in that tenant proceeding because you were defending your rights, because you didn’t have heat, didn’t have hot water, didn’t have sanitary conditions, you end up on that list and often tenants are told they’re being denied housing because of this. So, my bill says enough, we should have similar legislation, like we all have for our credit reports, to this. There should be transparency to it. It should be limited in time. In other words, if you’re on that list, you shouldn’t last there for your whole life. We should be able to amend it and have due process. And the biggest one is it should be contextualized. In order words, if you’re on that list for defending yourself and winning against the landlord, that shouldn’t be. Maybe you should only be on that list if you’re failing to pay the rent and you’ve been a bad tenant, that’s OK, as long as you’re transparent, can see it and it’s limited in time.
Hill: Let’s talk about the health care bill in the Senate right now, Sen. McConnell trying to push this thing through. If this effort fails, what are Democrats willing to do? What are you willing to do to work with Republicans to get another bill if that’s what everyone agrees should be done?
Booker: Well, you know New Jersey has only had me representing them in the Senate for three plus years and this is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen, where in conversations we can all say, “Hey, Obamacare did a whole lot of things we like” from ending the preexisting condition ban to having less people uninsured. I mean, so many good things that both sides agree with. Democrats and Republicans, you poll us, we all agree. And there are still stuff left that we have to approve upon it and ways to do that. And so for me, this is strange, I say because we all know the things we want to fix, but yet the Republicans in the Senate seem to be going in a wildly different direction really trying to throw out a lot of the gains, throw out access to Medicaid and Medicaid expansion, throw out preexisting conditions. So we want this to fail so we can actually get people to the table to work together to do the fixes for the Affordable Care Act that every American knows we should do. It’s a bill that did a lot of good things, but it needs to get better and we should be at the table working together to do that.
Hill: The Congressional Budget Office says delayed releasing its analysis of this. Any word on when it’s going to be released or when it’s coming out?
Booker: Yes, I heard it could be as early as today or tomorrow. And again we already know because this bill didn’t change some elements of the previous bill. We already know that New Jersey can stand to lose billions of dollars in the federal government to expand Medicaid. And so we know that this is a bad bill. It’s a craven bill because it still, even though got rid of some of the tax breaks for the wealthiest, if you’re still a wealthy American, you’re going to make out well under this bill while it’s going to hurt a lot of folks in New Jersey who are working making $50, $60, $70,000 a year, you’re going to pay more. Older Americans are still going to pay more, and so that’s what I don’t understand. This bill is nothing like the president promised, nothing like Republicans have said they support and that’s why, again, this is a bill that already among Americans is wildly unpopular.
Hill: Let’s talk about the Gateway Project, the Gateway Program. The Federal Railroad Administration about two weeks ago came out and said the estimate now for this project, instead of $7.7 billion, is more like $13 billion. How do you get a commitment from this administration for those kind of funds when it was already dragging its feet to commit to this project to begin with?
Booker: Well, there is no greater transportation artery. In fact, of all of the arteries in America, this is the jugular vein, the most important rail linkage in this country. The Northeast Corridor is the most traveled rail line in this country and this project is a choke hold on our country. And what we all have to realize is it has to be fixed, and if it’s not fixed, if you have to shutdown one of those rails, we have a lot of challenges this summer with delays, it would create a traffic Armageddon. So, this is something that has to be done, and we can either do it now when the costs are far cheaper, or we can wait until the consequences will not just make it more expensive. Remember, every six months you wait on this project, the cost is going to go up. And on top of that, if you have to shut down the Northeast Corridor, one of those rail lines, it will cost probably tens of million of dollars a day in lost productivity. In fact, they say right now if you shut it down today, we would lose $100 million in terms of the economic impact on our region. So, this is something that just common sense says we need to be running full speed ahead at getting this project done and I haven’t counted out the Trump administration. We’ve seen some good signs. I’ve been lobbying the secretary of transportation, she has shown an interest in wanting to come up and view the project. And Trump is a New Yorker, he knows the busiest river crossing in North America is the Hudson River. And if we screw this up, all of the things he talked about, about having the best transportation infrastructure on the planet Earth, will be put in peril because if you cripple this region, you cripple the American economy.
Hill: The Trump administration on North Korea has had not much success in getting China sort of reign in North Korea. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee can have some kind of say in this. What’s the committee doing in an effort like this to do something about North Korea?
Booker: Well, I hope Americans understands that this is an existential threat that you would have a regime like North Korea, who is trying everything they can do to get a nuclear tipped intercontinental ballistic missile that could actually hit the United States of America. That is an unacceptable threat and we should be doing everything possible to stop it. And so when it comes to my position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, what I’m trying to do, what we’ve seen happen and work actually, to get Iran for example, to the negotiating table, is we have sanctions already on North Korea but I think we can go a lot further to squeeze them. Even if we don’t get the cooperation of China, there are still things we can do with our allies to squeeze that regime and force them to come to the negotiation table. Right now, we see them moving fast and furious to try to get this done. We need to put more pressure on that regime.
Hill: Sen. Booker always good to see you.
Booker: Great to see you, Mike. Thank you very much.