Editor's Note: Cory Booker dropped out of the race on Jan. 13, 2020.
We asked presidential candidates questions about a variety of issues facing the country. This is what Democratic candidate Cory Booker had to say about climate change, gun control, health care and other issues.
Do you believe the earth’s climate is changing? If yes, do you believe it is caused by humans?
Scientists could not be clearer on the challenge we face; now it’s time we listen. Human-caused climate change is not some distant threat — it’s happening now: July 2019 was the hottest month on record for the planet, towns are seeing so-called “hundred-year” floods every few years, and millions around the world are fleeing climate change-related drought and famine. I have put forward a plan to transition to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030, and a 100% carbon-neutral economy by no later than 2045.
If you could unilaterally make one change, or enact one policy, that would affect the climate, what would that be? And why?
I would enact my plan to address the threat of climate change, which includes a direct investment of over $3 trillion to fund the transition to a 100% carbon-neutral economy by 2045, spurring economic activity, creating millions of jobs, and empowering communities to have control over their energy systems and local environments. My plan also includes a sweeping investment in environmental justice to focus resources on the communities impacted by pollution and climate change, including the replacement of every school, daycare, and residential lead drinking water service line in the country.
How would you engage foreign leaders to work with the United States on issues related to climate?
The U.S. has never hesitated to lead the world in the advancement of our values and priorities. But first, we must lead by example, which is why I have put forward a plan to achieve a 100% carbon-neutral economy by 2045 — ahead of the 2050 timeline for global emissions laid out by international scientists. As president, I will:
- Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement on Day 1 in office.
- Refocus international aid toward clean technologies.
- Dramatically increase U.S. funding commitments to the UN Green Climate Fund.
- Prioritize progressive environmental and labor standards in all free trade agreements.
Should the U.S. explore additional use of nuclear power as an alternative energy source? Why or why not?
Today, nuclear energy makes up more than half of our carbon-free electricity. I believe that in order to get to zero-emission electricity by 2030 and a carbon-neutral economy by 2045, we must use all avenues available and dedicate ourselves to research and development. That means partnering with the private sector to demonstrate next-generation nuclear technologies, investing in the development of next-generation solar and wind technologies, and building the batteries and energy storage systems that best compliment renewable energy.
Should the U.S. government offer subsidies for renewable energy, such as wind energy or ethanol? Why or why not?
Yes. If we are serious about combating climate change, we must phase out fossil fuels and scale clean energy sources as quickly as possible. This administration has done the opposite — propping up fossil fuel companies and granting small refinery exemptions to massive oil companies. My plan would end subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and increase and extend tax credits for renewable energy and energy efficiency. My plan also includes grants for local governments to buy electric vehicles or install clean energy technologies, as well as grants to invest in regional high-speed rail projects, and electrify public transit and school buses.
How would you address gun violence in America?
When I am president, we won’t wait for more thoughts and prayers for communities that have been shattered by gun violence. I have put forward the most sweeping plan to combat gun violence of any candidate for president — perhaps ever. It starts with a federal gun licensing system, because if you need a license to drive a car, you should need a license to own a gun. I would also work to ban assault weapons, implement universal background checks, and finally bring accountability to the gun industry. I will bring a fight to the NRA like it has never seen before.
How do you propose making schools safer from acts of violence?
Gun violence has devastated our schools, places of worship, community centers and more. We need an all-of-the-above approach to make Americans safer, and that starts with a federal gun licensing program, and includes evidence-based interventions like extreme risk protection orders that empower family members and law enforcement to petition for a court order to temporarily remove guns from dangerous situations, required safe storage of firearms, and universal background checks.
What role, if any, should the government have in regulating large technology companies?
Unchecked corporate concentration is a crisis that’s touching everything from tech to our food system. And it’s being aided and abetted by lax and narrowly focused federal enforcement and policies that exacerbate regional and income inequality, leaving millions of Americans behind. Tech companies that have amassed tremendous corporate power and influence have the power to undermine our democracy and main street businesses and consumers. We need to strengthen our antitrust agencies’ enforcement laws, empowering them to take aggressive action in cases where corporate concentration is hurting consumers, small businesses, and communities, including by reviewing the effects of past mergers.
If you are elected, how would you interact with North Korea? What relationship would the U.S. and North Korea have?
A nuclear North Korea is among our greatest national security threats and we must use every tool available to pursue peaceful denuclearization. I would work closely with our allies to develop and execute a thoughtful strategy to denuclearize the peninsula and address international concerns with the DPRK’s missile program and proliferation activities.
Would you re-enter the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran? Why or why not?
While I strongly support a nuclear deal with Iran, we cannot pretend the damage that President Trump has caused hasn’t happened. The 2015 deal was premised on continued negotiations with the Iranians so that we could work towards a longer-term solution. We will have had four years wasted under Trump, and the sunset clauses, after which key provisions will phase out, are now that much closer. We must take stock of facts on the ground, including Iran’s recent breach of its enrichment limit, and negotiate an updated agreement to stop the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.
How do you plan to address the threat of extremism in the U.S.?
Dr. King once said that “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me [...] It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless.” That’s why I have released an entire plan to combat hate crimes and white supremacist violence. As president, I will create a White House Office on Hate Crimes and White Supremacist Violence to bring together federal agencies and community organizations to improve upon and coordinate the federal response and provide resources to help victims and impacted communities.
Do you believe there is equal access to voting in the U.S.? If not, how would you go about expanding access to voting?
If every American had equal access to the ballot box, Stacey Abrams would be the governor of Georgia. As president, I will protect and expand every American’s right to vote by fighting for a new Voting Rights Act that will:
- Immediately restore section 5 of the Voting Rights Act;
- End partisan gerrymandering;
- Prevent voter suppression and voter roll purging;
- Ensure universal automatic voter registration and vote by mail;
- Make Election Day a national holiday;
- Ensure that ballots are available in different languages;
- Make our elections more secure from foreign interference;
- Put an end to felon disenfranchisement.
Do you believe voter fraud is a problem in the U.S.? If yes, how do you plan to you address it?
Voter fraud is extremely rare. Even Sen. Mitch McConnell said that we should not "spend any federal money investigating" voter fraud. Rather than engaging in distracting conspiracy theories put forward by President Trump, we should address the far greater problems of unchecked voter suppression and discrimination, like those that occurred in places like Georgia and Florida last year. As President I will work with Congress to pass a new Voting Rights Act.
Should it be a crime to enter the U.S. illegally?
An unlawful crossing is an unlawful crossing, whether we address it in the civil courts, or in the criminal courts — and I believe that unlawful crossings should be handled as civil matters. Prior to the current administration, criminal prosecution of improper entry was very rare, but the Trump Administration changed that and has used it as a basis for cruel family separation policies, stoking a larger humanitarian crisis at the border, without making us safer. Using the civil system affirms human rights and human dignity, saves taxpayer dollars, and allows more resources to be devoted to actual public safety threats.
Should the U.S. expand or limit legal immigration?
We need to reform our broken immigration system by expanding legal pathways for those seeking refuge or work in our country, and provide a pathway for the millions of immigrants currently living in America as our family members, colleagues, neighbors and friends to become citizens. I would also expand pathways for refugees and those seeking asylum by removing the unnecessary barriers put in place by the Trump Administration including the Remain in Mexico policy, asylum metering, the asylum ban, guidance that makes it more difficult for gang and domestic violence victims to obtain protection, and the Muslim and refugee bans.
In many areas of the country, there is a critical shortage of affordable housing. What would your administration do to address it?
I have put forward a comprehensive plan to ensure every American has access to safe, affordable, and accessible housing. My plan would cap rental costs at 30 percent of income, up to the neighborhood market rate, increase the supply of affordable units by requiring localities to eliminate overly restrictive zoning rules in order to qualify for billions of dollars of federal transportation and housing funding, fully fund the Housing Trust Fund with $40 billion each year to build, rehabilitate, and operate rental housing for low-income individuals, and put us on a path to end homelessness in America.
What is your plan to address the growing national debt?
I have put forward comprehensive plans to reform our tax code — from repealing the Trump tax cuts to changing the way we tax investment income. But we also must rethink our approach to federal budgeting: rather than spending endless taxpayer money to fix problems on the back end, we should invest in evidence-based policies that improve outcomes, ensure broadly shared prosperity, and are less costly in the long-run. Early childhood education, for example, offers a return on investment of $8 for every $1 spent. Yet, we chronically under-invest in this and other policies even though we know that they work.
Do you think our national debt is a national security issue? Why or why not?
Our next president will be pressed to meet the enormous challenge of keeping Americans safe after President Trump’s disastrous foreign and domestic policies that have made the world more dangerous for Americans. From cutting foreign aid, to breaking alliances, to nearly $2 trillion tax cuts that have contributed to rising national debt and gone overwhelmingly to the wealthiest, to doing nothing to address climate change, which has cost our country more than $450 billion in the past three years alone, and could cost $54 trillion worldwide by 2040.
Is capitalism the best economic structure for the United States? If yes, why? If no, what is better and how do you believe it will benefit Americans?
Our economic strength lies in our people and our promise that if you work hard, everyone can share in the American dream. For too long, that promise hasn’t been realized for most Americans. Capitalism has been a force for tremendous prosperity, but due to problems like increasing corporate concentration, rising inequality, declining power for workers, and a broken campaign finance system, our economy isn’t working for the vast majority of families. An economy that leaves no one behind is good for everyone, and as president, I’ll bring people together to tackle these problems and restore economic justice and opportunity for all.
In many parts of the country, there is a skilled worker gap. How would you close that gap to get more people employed in the industries that need them?
We need an education and training system that ensures that all Americans are able to gain the skills and education they need to secure good jobs and help America compete in the global economy. In the Senate, one of the first bills I introduced was the LEAP Act, which would provide tax incentives to enable more Americans to participate in high-quality apprenticeship programs.
I have also co-sponsored the STEM Opportunities Act, which is focused on expanding access to STEM for women and other under-represented groups, in addition to providing grants to institutions that facilitate opportunities for women in STEM.
Should the government forgive student loans? If yes, why and for whom? If no, why not?
Choosing to pursue higher education shouldn’t mean a lifetime of crippling debt. Student debt is holding millions of Americans back from financial security, buying their first home, starting families, and starting new businesses. We need to expand public service loan forgiveness programs that cancel student debt after a period of work in public service like teaching, in addition to expanding loan forgiveness for lower-income borrowers. I would also help all Americans struggling with student debt by allowing student loan refinancing and by creating new programs that help more Americans cover basic costs like child care, health care and housing.
Should community college be free to anyone who wants to attend? Should other colleges and universities be free to attend?
I support a number of approaches to ensure that the decision to pursue higher education does not entail a lifetime of crippling debt, including free community college for all students, and debt-free four-year college--including tuition and fees — to help students who otherwise would not be able to afford it.
Is more funding needed for mental health care in America? If yes, what amount and how should it be allocated? Where should that money come from?
Absolutely. I am a co-sponsor of Medicare for All, which would ensure that everyone who needs mental health care is able to get it, with universal access to mental health professionals. I will also ensure that school systems and universities have the resources they need to implement effective treatment, as well as evidence-based suicide prevention plans and practices. We also need to eliminate the stigma around mental health. As president, I will direct my HHS Secretary to launch a campaign focused on combating the mental health stigma and ensure that adequate resources are provided to mental health care in America.
How would you address rising prescription drug costs, specifically for medications that are necessary for people to live, such as insulin and mental health medications?
Americans spend more on prescription drugs than anyone in the world, about $1,200 a person on average. We need to take immediate action to lower the cost of prescription drugs. That starts with allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prices and import drugs from Canada and other countries. I would also take on the drug companies that profiteer off people’s pain, including by taking patents away from companies that sell the same medication for less in other countries and by imposing a tax on companies that excessively raise the prices of their drugs.
What do you believe is the biggest health care issue facing Americans? How would you solve it?
No American should be forced to choose between groceries and prescription drugs, between paying their rent and seeing a doctor. Health care is a human right. I believe Medicare for All is the most efficient way to get to quality, affordable health care for every American. But I also know that we can’t wait to take action to increase access and improve affordability. That’s why as president, on the path to Medicare for All, I would take action to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, drive down drug prices, and introduce real competition to lower costs and improve outcomes.
How would you address the opioid crisis?
I live across the street from a drug treatment facility in Newark — I approach this problem as someone who sees my neighbors struggling with addiction every day. As president, I would fight to pass the Comprehensive Addiction Resources (CARE) Act into law, which would authorize $100 billion over 10 years to combat drug addiction and provide funding to cities, counties, and states to boost spending on addiction treatment, harm reduction services, and prevention programs. I would also sign into law my Humane Correctional Health Care Act, which would increase justice-involved individuals’ access to Medicaid, including treatment for substance use disorders.
Should marijuana be legalized federally for medicinal use? Should it be legalized for recreational use?
I am proud to have led the effort to legalize marijuana at the federal level. My bill, The Marijuana Justice Act, wouldn’t just legalize marijuana at the federal level and incentivize states to do the same, it would also expunge the records of anyone who has previously been convicted of a marijuana-related offense. There are now seven Senate cosponsors of my bill, and I believe we have meaningfully shifted the conversation on marijuana policy in this country.
Do you support a public health insurance option for all Americans? If yes, do you support the elimination of private health care in favor of a government-run plan, or do you support an option where Americans can choose a public or private plan? If no, why?
Our health care system is broken. We pay more for health care than any other wealthy country and see worse outcomes by many measures. I believe that health care is a human right, and believe the path to Medicare for All — my ideal — starts with strengthening the ACA, reducing drug prices, and providing a public option to ensure guaranteed, affordable health care for every American. Other countries with government guaranteed health care have allowed citizens to purchase private insurance, and I believe we can achieve universal coverage while retaining choice and private insurance options for Americans.
Should the federal government re-institute the death penalty? If yes, for what crimes?
In our nation’s history we have seen how the death penalty is not only ineffective and immoral, but also fraught with biases against people of color, low-income individuals, and those with mental illness. Our government must represent the best of who we are, not the worst.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cory Booker shares views on gun control, immigration and more