U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Cory Booker (D-N.J.) went after rival 2020 White House hopeful Joe Biden Wednesday, labeling the former vice president as the “architect of mass incarceration.”
“For a guy who helped to be an architect of mass incarceration, this is an inadequate solution to what is a raging crisis in our country,” Booker told reporters on the sidelines of the 110th annual NAACP convention, as reported by the Washington Examiner.
Booker was referring to Biden’s recent proposal on criminal justice reform released Tuesday that seeks to distance the former Delaware senator from his role in crafting the 1994 crime bill, which he sponsored as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Many have since blamed that bill for contributing to the exceptionally high incarceration rates in the United States, particularly among minorities.
Biden pushed back on Booker’s comments Wednesday afternoon, arguing in an official campaign statement that most incarcerated people are serving time for state and local crimes, not federal crimes. The Biden campaign also went on offense, arguing that Booker cracked down hard on crime as mayor of Newark, New Jersey.
“At his inauguration as Mayor of Newark in 2006, Booker promised a zero tolerance policy for minor infractions,” the statement reads, “which is exactly the kind of policy that enmeshed many undeserving people in a criminal justice system that cast a huge shadow over their subsequent lives.”
— Nick Corasaniti (@NYTnickc) July 24, 2019
The plan Biden revealed this week is a sharp reversal from what the tough-on-crime, Delaware Democrat so heavily pushed for in the ’90s. His proposal calls for the elimination of the death penalty, the decriminalization of marijuana, and the ending of incarceration over drug use.
Booker, however, who has made criminal justice reform the centerpiece of his campaign, has pushed back against Biden’s change of platform, saying it’s too little too late.
“We have 5% of the global population but 25% of the world’s prison population,” Booker said to reporters, according to the Examiner. “For him not to have a more comprehensive, bold plan to deal with this is unacceptable to me, especially because he is partly responsible for the crisis that we have.”
Booker’s plan includes an offer of clemency on his first day in office to more than 17,000 people incarcerated for nonviolent drug crimes and would cut mandatory minimum sentences for such crimes in half. Under Booker’s proposal, detailed in a March bill titled the “First Step Act,” the longest mandatory minimum sentence for a nonviolent drug crime would be 10 years instead of 20 years, as the law currently stands.
Many people, including the media and other Democrats, have scrutinized Biden’s record on race issues throughout the campaign. That scrutiny ramped up in June when the candidate shot himself in the foot by touting his relationships with segregationist senators as examples of his “civility.” While Biden worked to backtrack his comments, a closer examination of Biden’s history in the senate revealed Biden to be more than civil, but rather an ally to segregationists in the Senate.
At last month’s first set of Democratic debates in Miami, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) went after Biden for his opposition to busing, a policy used to integrate schools.
“Vice President Biden, I do not believe you are a racist,” Harris said standing right next to Biden in the center of the stage. “I also believe — and it’s personal, and it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. It was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.”
Biden, Booker, and Harris will each share the same debate stage on the second night of next week’s debates in Detroit, moderated by CNN.