WASHINGTON – Sen. Cory Booker has come to Julián Castro's defense, after the former Obama Housing and Urban Development secretary took heat for his attacks on former Vice President Joe Biden.
Booker said although "tone and tenor" are important when critiquing candidates, Castro had every right to criticize Biden.
"Look, I think that we are at a tough point right now, because there's a lot of people who are concerned about Joe Biden's ability to carry the ball all the way across the end line without fumbling,” Booker said during a post-debate interview on CNN late Thursday.
"I think that Castro has some really legitimate concerns about, can he be someone in a long grueling campaign that can get the ball over the line? And he has every right to call that out," he continued.
Booker also noted that candidates at times would look on stage at each other when Biden would go on long-winded answers, noting that at one point the former vice president mentioned the current use of record players.
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"There are definitely moments when you listen to Joe Biden and you just wonder," he said.
When asked whether Booker was suggesting Biden was too old to be president, the New Jersey Senator said: "I’m definitely not saying that, because I’ve listened to Joe Biden over the years, and often felt that there are times when he’s going on, or meandering in his speech."
Booker noted that he wouldn't be running for president if he thought Biden was the best option as president, saying he wants "someone that can excite and energize."
Castro is taking heat for the testy exchange in which Castro claimed Biden said Americans would have to "buy in" for health care coverage under Biden's proposal.
When Biden denied it, Castro replied: "You just said two minutes ago that they would have to buy in."
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However, Castro seemingly mischaracterized Biden's plan on health care. Earlier in the night, Biden said: "Anyone who can't afford it gets automatically enrolled in the Medicare-type option we have." Biden did also say several minutes later that under his health care plan, if Americans lose their insurance, "you automatically can buy into this."
A number of Castro's Democratic presidential opponents criticized Castro for his attacks.
"I just thought this was not cool," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., in a CNN interview after the debate. "I thought that was so personal and so unnecessary.”
Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke said he doesn't believe attacks Castro made will "defeat Donald Trump."
"That won’t bring this deeply divided country back together again," he said during an interview on CNN Friday morning. "That kind of personal attack I don’t think is what we need right now and is insufficient to the challenges we face."
Booker did warn that candidates shouldn't make comments that would make it difficult for Democrats to "unify" after the primary season is over.
"We shouldn't do things that at the end of this, when you demonize somebody and create bad blood, it's hard to unify afterwards," Booker said.
Castro has defended his attacks on Biden, saying that he wasn't trying to take aim at the former vice president's age, just his health care plan.
“I wouldn’t do it differently. That was not a personal attack," Castro said Friday morning on CNN. "This was about a disagreement over what the vice president said regarding health care policy."
Castro's campaign also sent an email to supporters Friday morning with the subject line: "Joe Biden"
"I spent every second on last night’s debate stage fighting for you -- and now I’m being viciously attacked for it," the email begins, linking to Castro's fundraising page.
The former HUD secretary went on to write that he had two choices Thursday evening, "play it safe and give Vice President Biden a free pass like everyone else" or "speak up, challenge the conversation, and demand answers."
"I’m not in this race to play it safe," Castro continued. "This fight -- our fight -- is too important to me to stay quiet when what I hear doesn’t add up."
Contributing: Nicholas Wu
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cory Booker defends Julian Castro on Biden attacks at Houston debate