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EXCLUSIVE: U.S. Sen. Cory Booker acknowledged that without Black voters Democrats “will get decimated” in upcoming reelections, adding “We can’t let people get discouraged.”
U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey assured members of the NAACP on Saturday that all hope isn’t lost on the Black agenda in Washington, and made the case as to why Black voters should not sit out next year’s midterm elections despite some growing weary of President Joe Biden, and Democrats at large, amid stalled bills critical for Black America.
Booker, who was a lead negotiator on the now failed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act along with fellow Democrat U.S. Rep. Karen Bass and Republican Senator Tim Scott, acknowledged the legislative roadblocks to police reform and voting rights in a very divided Congress.
TheGrio was present at the virtual NAACP Board of Directors meeting where Booker spoke with members about critical policy issues affecting Black Americans from voting restriction laws being passed by Republicans across the country and the lack of movement to enact police reform amid continued incidents of police brutality and racial violence.
Booker described the negotiation collapse on the Floyd bill as evidence of a “toxic culture” in the U.S. Senate.
The lawmaker said that he “will not stop” in his push for a pathway forward for a national standard on policing. Booker told the oldest civil rights group in the nation that he worked nine months on the bill and that he and Sen. Scott could not come to terms even as the Fraternal Order of Police supported the legislation.
Scott had previously said during an interview last month that he walked away from the negotiating table because, from his view, language in the bill that would withhold federal dollars from police departments that do not comply with proposed reforms was essentially “defunding the police.” Booker dismissed Scott’s refusal to support the bill, touting the transparency and accountability it would’ve created for America’s law enforcement agencies.
“If we can’t get a bill like that it’s not worth happening,” Booker exclaimed.
Now that the Floyd bill is essentially dead in the water, Booker vowed to work with President Biden to move forward on executive orders to address policing in America and do what he can on the legislative side to ensure the president’s other policy agendas are passed in Congress. As theGrio exclusively reported on Friday, the White House is now mulling over what executive actions Biden can take to enact police reform without the help of Congress.
Booker’s remarks also comes after several months of voting rights protests and demonstrations in Washington, including one right outside White House gates, that led to numerous arrests including Ben Jealous, head of People For American Way. Members of Congress and the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. were also arrested in previous demonstrations. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, there have been at least 22 laws enacted by Republican state legislators that restrict voting in ways that would critically impact voters of color.
Civil rights leaders have been sounding the alarm about these bills deemed as deliberate acts of voter suppression in attempts to stave off Black and Brown voters who were a key demographic in electing Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, and turning Georgia blue with Biden picking up the Peach State’s electoral votes and U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff winning their special run-off elections that gave Democrats a tight majority (when including Vice President Harris’s tie-breaking vote) in the Senate.
The Democrats’ slim majority in both the House and Senate is in jeopardy if enough Republicans pick up seats in the 2022 midterm elections.
TheGrio‘s White House Correspondent April Ryan caused waves last week during a press briefing when she asked Press Secretary Jen Psaki about the Black community’s growing frustration with the Biden administration’s lack of movement on key Black issues like voting rights and police reform. Ryan highlighted that Harris’s own friend and Democratic strategist, Bakari Sellers, called Biden’s portfolio for Harris “trash.”
Booker defended President Biden (and by proxy Democrats in Congress) against criticisms that he hasn’t yet done enough for Black Americans.
The four-term senator said that while he believes progress can still be made on the Hill as it relates to policing and voting rights, Black Americans can’t allow the focus on those two policy issues “distract” them from the gains for the community that have been achieved so far, including the child tax credits that Biden signed into law with the American Rescue Plan and an executive order on environmental justice equity in climate, energy and infrastructure that would ensure 40% of its spending goes to communities of color.
“This president has done more on environmental justice than any president in my lifetime,” said Booker, who also touted Biden for cutting the nation’s child poverty in half. Sen. Booker also argued that police violence isn’t the only type of violence plaguing Black communities. Gun violence and poverty, which Booker described as a form of violence, also pose as threats to Black Americans, he said.
Booker also reminded NAACP leaders that the Biden administration released in June its comprehensive strategy to address and prevent gun-related crimes in communities of color.
Much of the roadblock to achieving further key legislative wins for Black America falls on two moderate Democrats in the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have refused to support a range of bills and have expressed their objection to eliminating the Senate’s filibuster that would allow Democrats to overcome Republican opposition.
Booker argued that the key to circumventing the power of Manchin and Sinema is Black voters showing up to the polls next November to help Democrats keep Senate seats in Georgia (Sen. Warnock) and Arizona (Sen. Mark Kelly) and pick up additional seats in states like Pennsylvania and Milwaukee, which would give Democrats a 52 majority.
“Without Black voters,” Booker acknowledged, “we will get decimated” in the upcoming reelections. “We worked so hard in last year’s election … we can’t let people get discouraged.”
TheGrio’s April Ryan contributed to this report.
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