In what is being described as an unprecedented move, Booker, the junior senator from New Jersey, is set to testify against Sessions during the second day of confirmation hearings on Wednesday.
This is Cory Booker’s moment. But what will he do with it?
With the 2016 election behind us and the Democrats licking their wounds and regrouping for 2020, Booker has been named as a possible presidential contender in the next election.
The current and soon-to-be former occupant of the White House, President Barack Obama, had his day in the sun in 2004 when he addressed the Democratic National Convention, then as a candidate for U.S. Senate. While that was one black man’s introduction to the national stage — with talk of uniting people from red states and blue states — Booker has an opportunity to make an impression under much different circumstances. That is, America is making an abrupt transition from its first black president to a white successor who would destroy the gains of the civil rights movement and any progress made in racial and economic justice, women’s and reproductive rights and LGBT equality.
Sessions, who has a 7 percent rating or “F” rating from the NAACP and a 20 percent rating from the ACLU, also has a perfect 100 score from the National Right to Life Committee, and a zero percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Human Rights Campaign. A foe of civil rights and voting rights, his long record of racist comments and actions doomed his nomination to a federal judgeship in 1986, a fact he used to propel himself to higher office.
Meanwhile, Booker, the former mayor of Newark, is the highest-ranking lawmaker to emerge among the strongest critics of Sessions’ nomination. A Stanford and Yale Law School graduate and a Rhodes Scholar, Booker vehemently opposes the GOP scheme to repeal Obamacare. And he has expressed “serious” concerns about Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pro-charter school choice to head the Department of Education, even as he has faced criticism for being an education reform advocate who favors school choice.
“I’m breaking a pretty long Senate tradition by actually being a sitting senator tomorrow testifying tomorrow against another sitting senator,” Booker told MSNBC on Monday. “Please understand I think these are extraordinary times and they call for extraordinary measures.” According to Booker, the Republican lawmaker “has a posture and a positioning that I think represents a real danger to our country.”
This is the first time in the history of the federal legislative body that a senator has testified against one of his or her colleagues. After all, the Senate is viewed as a collegial club. But now, we’re living in Trump’s America.
“I do not take lightly the decision to testify against a Senate colleague,” Booker told CNN. “But the immense powers of the attorney general combined with the deeply troubling views of this nominee is a call to conscience.”
“This is one of the more consequential appointments in American history right now given the state of a lot of our challenges we have with our policing, a lot of challenges we have with race relations, gay and lesbian relations,” Booker added, citing Sessions’ opposition to criminal justice reform, immigration reform, the Voting Rights Act and a “failure to defend the civil rights of women, minorities, and LGBT Americans.”
Meanwhile, Booker faces criticism from Trump supporters on Capitol Hill, including Rep. Chris Collins (R-New York), who told CNN that “What Cory Booker is doing is nothing but self-serving grabbing headlines,” adding that “If you remember what he did when he was mayor in New Jersey, the first thing he does is he tries to grab international headlines.” And Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) called Booker “disgraceful” and accused him of using the confirmation hearing as a “platform for his presidential aspirations.”
“I’m very disappointed that Senator Booker has chosen to start his 2020 presidential campaign by testifying against Senator Sessions,” Cotton noted.
Further, some black conservative figures have lent their support to Sessions’ nomination, including Condoleezza Rice, Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), and former Bush-era Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson. A group of black pastors held a press conference in support of Sessions at the Family Research Council, which was designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Also joining Booker in providing testimony against Sessions are civil rights icon, Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), and Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-Louisiana), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
It is good to see Cory Booker stand up to Jeff Sessions at this moment in history. This is no time for Democrats to go along to get along, pretend everything is normal, and allow Trump to throw our civil rights down the toilet. Nothing about any of this nonsense is normal.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove.