At Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Cory Booker challenged Joe Biden’s plan to combat mass incarceration and his role in crafting the 1994 Crime bill, saying the former vice president was trying to evade taking responsibility for legislation that hurt minority communities by sending nonviolent offenders to prison.
“Mr. Vice President,” Booker said, challenging Biden’s stance on the issue. “There’s a saying in my community, ‘You're dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavor.’”
Booker’s retort came in an exchange after moderator Jake Tapper of CNN asked the former vice president about the New Jersey senator’s criticism of Biden’s plans. Booker recently referred to Biden’s criminal justice plan as an “inadequate solution to what is a raging crisis in our country.”
“I think he is wrong,” Biden said. “I think we should change the way we look at prisons. Right now we’re in a situation where when someone is convicted of a drug crime they end up going to jail and to prison. They should be going to rehabilitation, they shouldn't be going to prison. When in prison they should be learning to read and write and not just sitting there learning how to be better criminals.”
“And when they get out prison, they should be in a situation where they have access to everything they had before,” he continued, referring to resources such as financial aid for college and public housing.
Sen. Cory Booker
Sen. Cory Booker
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) listens to CIA Director Mike Pompeo respond to his question as Pompeo testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Pompeo's nomination to be secretary of state on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
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U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) addresses the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Legislative Conference and Presidential Forum in Washington March 9, 2015.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) speaks during a news conference with fellow Democrats and unemployed Americans to highlight their political divide with Republicans over unemployment insurance legislation, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, January 16, 2014. Efforts to renew emergency federal jobless benefits for 1.5 million Americans stalled in the Senate on Tuesday when Democrats and Republicans rejected each other's proposals. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT)
U.S. Senators' Cory Booker (D-NJ) (C), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and John McCain (R-AZ) (lowerR) are pictured in the gallery prior to U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 28, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) stands next to his mother Carolyn Booker (C) after U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden (R) ceremonially swore in Booker as the latest U.S. Senator in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, October 31, 2013. U.S. President Barack Obama's fellow Democrats welcomed a new colleague to the U.S. Senate on Thursday, newly elected Booker, and the additional vote Booker gives them in the Senate. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker delivers a speech during his campaign's election night event in Newark, New Jersey, October 16, 2013. Democrat Booker, the charismatic mayor of Newark, was the unofficial winner of a New Jersey special election on Wednesday, handily defeating a conservative Republican to fill the state's vacant U.S. Senate seat. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
Newark New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker listens to U.S. first lady Michelle Obama speaking to students during a visit to the Maple Avenue school in Newark, New Jersey, November 18, 2010. Michelle Obama was making the visit along with Booker to promote her "let's Move" initiative to reduce childhood obesity. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES)
Newark Mayor Cory Booker (R) speaks to the media outside a burned house in Newark, New Jersey, April 13, 2012. Booker said on Friday he was no superhero, only a good neighbor when he broke free from his security detail to dash into a burning house and rescue a woman. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY)
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Booker, who’d referred to Biden as “an architect of mass incarceration,” responded sharply: “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 also pointed to the crime bill Biden crafted when he was a 44-year-old Democratic senator from Delaware that increased penalties for drug crimes. “This is one of those instances where the house was set on fire and you claimed responsibilities for those laws. And you can’t just now come out with a plan to put out that fire.”
“We have a system right now that’s broken, and if you want to compare records, and frankly I’m shocked that you do, I’m happy to do that,” Booker continued, calling for “far more bold action on criminal justice reform” such as legalizing marijuana on a federal level.
Biden defended his record by criticizing the police department of Newark, where Booker had been mayor from 2006 to 2013, for its "stop and frisk" program. “There’s nothing done for the entire eight years he was mayor, there’s nothing done to deal with the police department that was corrupt.”
Booker challenged Biden “to come to the city of Newark and see the reforms that we put in place.”
“Sir, you are trying to shift the view from what you created,” Booker said. “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.”