Minutes after calling for unity among the Democratic presidential candidates, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker piled onto Vice President Joe Biden.
“This is a crisis in our country because we have treated issues of race and poverty, mental health and addiction with locking people up and not lifting them up,” Booker said. “[The] vice president has said that since the 1970s every major crime bill — every crime bill, major and minor — has had his name on it, and sir those are your words, not mine. 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.”
Though Booker called for unity during a healthcare discussion early in the event — and again not long after during an immigration discussion — he did not hesitate to take shots at Biden.
“The person who is enjoying this debate the most right now is Donald Trump,” Booker said. “As we pit Democrats against each other while he is working, right now, to take away America’s healthcare.”
The two mainly sparred over their respective records on crime, but they also traded barbs over whether illegally crossing the country’s border should be a criminal offense and over Biden’s defenses of Obama’s tenure.
“Mr. Vice President, you can’t have it both ways,” Booker said. “You invoke president Obama more than anybody else in this campaign. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not.”
For his part, Biden hit Booker over police practices during the latter’s tenure as Mayor of Newark, saying the federal government had to step in to
“In 2007, you became mayor, and you had a police department that was, you went out and hired Rudy Giuliani’s guy and you engaged in stop and frisk,” Biden said. “You had 75% of those stops reviewed as illegal. You found yourself in a situation where three times as many African-Americans were caught in that chain and caught up. The Justice Department came after you for saying you were engaging in behavior that was inappropriate, and then, in fact nothing happened the entire time you were mayor.”
In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice called for federal monitoring of Newark’s police department after it found police failed to provide acceptable constitutional reasons for almost three quarters of the pedestrian stops.
While Booker was mayor, Newark homicides dropped to historic lows.
The confrontation over crime is an extension of a conflict that has been brewing between the two presidential candidates well off the campaign stage.
Biden’s attack is one he’s levelled before, and the same is true for Booker’s attack over Biden’s support of 1994 crime bill that accelerated mass incarceration of non-white offenders.
The night was dominated by similar exchanges between Biden and other candidates, each ready to pounce on the race’s frontrunner in an effort to secure a foothold in a race with no dearth of candidates.
The confrontations gave Biden 21 minutes of speaking time, the most of any the 10 candidates on the stage Wednesday.
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, whose confrontation with Biden over the latter’s four-decade-old opposition to federal busing programs gave her a surge in the polls, came second with about 17 minutes.
Booker’s 12 minutes and 35 seconds put him in third for speaking time.
New Jersey’s junior senator did keep to his brand for much of the debate, preaching peace and unity while taking jabs at Trump.
“We know who Donald Trump is, but in this election, the question is who are we as a people. We have serious problems in America. We have deep wounds and seriously deeply-rooted challenges. We desperately need to heal as a nation and move forward because we know in this country that our fates are united, that we have a common destiny,” Booker said during his opening statement, which was interrupted by hecklers calling for the firing of Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD who killed Eric Garner.
“The call of this election is the call to unite in common cause and common purpose. That’s how we will beat Donald Trump.”
Booker, Biden and Harris, among others, have qualified for the next round of debates, which will take place in early September in a yet-undetermined location.
There’s no indication the two will back off their respective criticisms when next they meet on the debate stage.