The federal government ends the week facing fallout from the declassified Nunes memo, immigration reform and and another government shutdown. New Jersey’s U.S. Sen. Cory Booker will likely be at the center of those debates. He spoke with Senior Correspondent David Cruz.
Cruz: The big news this week is this so-called Nunes memo that was released today. I assume that you have read it, or at least know of it. What was a, your biggest concern about its release, and what’s in it now that is going to hurt the country?
Booker: First and foremost, there’s always been vicious partisanship in our American politics going back to our founding. Clearly Democratic and Republican Parties have a hard time coming together, but the one area that was sort of sacrosanct happens to often be when it comes to national security, protecting our country. I see it on the Foreign Relations Committee. I saw it on the Homeland Security Committee. This was a real break to that to the point that even us in the Senate were looking, OK, what is going on over there in the House that you have such a clearly partisan effort led by someone who already been discredited and is trying to protect, the way he’s gone about protecting Donald Trump. And it just was the wrong way to go about this and have national security become so politicized. And also the real thing that I think people should be concerned about is this was not a too-well veiled attempt to undermine the Mueller investigation, which everyone has to remind themselves, this is not a Trump investigation. That’s an ancillary part of a larger investigation about collusion around a Russian attack that a Republican on my committee, in the Foreign Relations Committee, called tantamount to the Pearl Harbor attack.
Cruz: You called it tantamount to treason. I didn’t see anything in there that was.
Booker: Whenever you undermine those people who are securing our country, who have this sacred obligation and you undermine their job, you, I said potentially, treasonous if they are exposing sources and methods. This is the way that we are getting information about our enemies. To undermine that is indeed tantamount to treason. Now, again this memo has just come out. People are digesting it and we’ll find out more over the coming hours.
Cruz: And we should say that there’s going to be a Democratic response, or a Democratic version of the events described in this?
Booker: Well, they silenced the Democratic version, which really kind of showed the larger context on a lot of other issues.
Cruz: Well, they’re saying that it’s got to go jump through the hoops that the Republican version did.
Booker: I agree, but again, this is a sad moment in American history where you have such a boldly obvious partisan attempt to undermine an ongoing investigation to the United States being attacked. By the way, attack not past tense, the ongoing attacks of the Russians against our most fundamental institutions like our electoral process.
Cruz: Let me bring it back to Jersey a little bit. Regarding immigration, right after the shutdown there was the sense that we’re going to take these three weeks, everybody take a breath, the government’s running, now there’s going to be a deal on DACA. But after the State of the Union with the president saying things like ‘Americans are Dreamers, too’, there’s this sense that nobody is going to be able to make a deal in this environment.
Booker: It’s unfortunate because, again, the overwhelming majority of American people support what the Democrats are fighting for, which is more money for opioid treatment. We see the devastating impact here. We’re leaving those people behind without access to treatment. More resources for disaster recovery. We went through Sandy; why should Puerto Ricans right now, 40 percent of whom still don’t have power. The DACA recipients, who in New Jersey, I brought somebody to the State of the Union, Liz, who is a New Jerseyan who started a tech startup that now is employing over 800 people part-time. I mean, this is somebody that is sourcing our economy. All these folks should not be left behind or used as political pawns in a larger Republican game which the end is what? Building a wall on the border, which even border security people say we just don’t need? That’s crazy.
Cruz: Is there less likelihood now that there’s going to be a deal?
Booker: I’m hopeful that the president will actually live up to what he said he wanted, which was a bipartisan deal which Lindsey Graham, Dick Durbin brought him one already. That’s what led to his outrageous, demeaning, bigoted comments about Haiti and Africa. But there’s a deal here. We know it in the Senate. The question is is the president ready to embrace a bipartisan pathway forward?
Cruz: When people talk about 2020 to you, you say, ‘Oh, it’s irresponsible to be talking about 2020, let’s talk about 2018.’ Let’s talk about 2018. Does it look to you as if this, I mean it looks to a lot of people as if there’s a blue wave coming, particularly in New Jersey. But I point you to 2016, when Democrats thought they thought they had it all sewed up. Is there a danger here for Democrats, who do this every once in a while, to just drop the ball at the one?
Booker: Again, there are people right now in congressional districts, from District 11 in Northern New Jersey to southern districts that are organizing. Every congressional district, I’ve seen grassroots organizers collecting names, building lists, knocking on doors, so we’re putting in the work now and it’s only going to build over these next 10 months leading into November.
Cruz: Do you see that being different than 2016?
Booker: Absolutely. There is an anger, I’m meeting people that have not been involved in the process who are saying, ‘I’m getting involved.’ They’re seeing their reproductive rights at stake in these elections. They’re seeing their health care at stake. Look at what just happened in New Jersey. We had a president that literally said, I’m going to take a, excuse me, figuratively said, ‘I’m going to take the financial sledgehammer to our knee caps’ by taking away our state and local deductions. Republican congresspeople were against this. He’s taken on our state, undermined our financial well-being, and what I think you’re going to see is a response to that in New Jersey. People are angry and people now realize that if I don’t vote, if good people don’t vote, bad things happen.
Cruz: I know you had a lot of “gov love” for the previous governor. It’s just been a few weeks, two or three, and it’s early, but do you think you’ll be able to have some “gov love” for the new governor?
Booker: Well, I had love for the new governor for years. He’s been there for me at the very beginning of my political career. You remember those days, I was up against the state party machine and everybody. He was one of those guys that stood with me. Him and the first lady are friends of mine, so I’ve got a deep love, affection.
Cruz: How do you think he’s doing?
Booker: I think he’s great. He’s doing what he said he would do in the campaign and things that might not be sexy, they may not be catching headlines. Just take for example, putting us back in Regional Greenhouse Gas agreements. The number one reason why New Jersey kids, health reason, kids miss school is asthma, so getting back into these agreements that help us to stop the pollution coming into our state from coal-powered plants and the like, this is a guy that is starting to rack up a lot of wins, but maybe not make headlines, but make a difference for families and kids in the state of New Jersey. So, I’m just happy that he’s a guy that is hard-charging. I’m telling you right now, I can call him at almost anytime, he’s up working and still taking calls. And now I have a partner in New Jersey to take on Donald Trump, and to take on the bad things that are happening. I wish I had him earlier on some very key moments and I’m just excited about his gubernatorialship.
Cruz: I’m going to ask you for a short answer, which I know is difficult for you.
Booker: This is what we’ve been doing for years, go ahead.
Cruz: Infrastructure, the president said initially a trillion dollar plan. Now it’s closer to a $200 billion plan. Now New Jersey has lost the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, or will be losing him. What are the implications for the Gateway Project?
Booker: Look, I’m discouraged by a guy who says one thing, does another. He said he would expand health care and make it more affordable. He’s taken more health care away. Health care costs are going up. The middle class tax plan, I told you already, New Jerseyans are going to be paying more under this Republican tax plan. So now he’s giving rhetoric in his State of the Union address about infrastructure. We’re New Jersey, not Missouri, but this should be the show me state. Mr. President, you’ve talked time and time again, the number one ranked infrastructure project in the entire United States of America, according to the Department of Transportation in the last presidency, was the tunnels under…
Cruz: Can it happen?
Booker: I put it in the legislation with a Mississippi Republican. I got it done to fund the project, to put the loan programs there. All he has to do now is follow through on the prioritization we had under the other presidency and make that commitment. It stalled in the Department of Commerce, they’re not even re-approving basic approvals and he’s been a lot of rhetoric and not a lot of action. The best infrastructure dollar, a lot of infrastructure needs around this country, the best infrastructure dollar you can invest in America right now to grow our economy, grow our jobs, is in one of the most economically productive regions on the planet Earth. They call it the Greater New York Metropolitan area, I call it the Greater Newark Metropolitan area, but either way, we should be investing in these tunnels. Give New Jersey Transit riders some relief, get rid of this clog. Here’s a stat for you. To go from Boston to D.C., because of the chokes in the Northeast Corridor right where we live, you could go 30 minutes faster in 1960 than you can now. That’s how much this infrastructure’s crumbled. So the president of the United States, put up or shut up. This is not Missouri, but we’re now the “show me state.” Make the investment.