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Booker: Impeachment inquiry is about patriotism not popularity

Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker, D-N.J., says he isn’t playing politics when it comes to impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

“Politics be damned, I just want to get to the truth,” Booker told PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff on Monday. “It’s right to investigate this president, not just to wipe your hands and say, ‘Well, we’ll see what happens in the next election.’”

Trump is the first sitting president to face an impeachment inquiry while running for reelection, but Booker said he wants to separate the ongoing campaign from the investigation, which he emphasized should remain objective and bipartisan.

“Look, I’m out there on the stump every day talking about taking the fight to Donald Trump,” Booker said, “but that does not mean this sacred obligation that we have right now to follow this impeachment proceeding where the evidence goes and to make an objective decision based upon that. These are two separate matters, they should be handled that way.”

The launch of a formal impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives came as Booker’s campaign was in dire straits. Nine days ago, the campaign said it needed to raise $1.7 million by the end of the month in order for the senator to stay in the race.

On Monday morning, Booker announced he hit that target and would be able to stay on the trail for at least a few more months, but said the campaign still needs more donations to last until the Iowa caucuses in February.

“We’ve got a lot to grow on,” Booker said, adding, “we got tens of thousands of supporters in this last 10 days, and it’s got to continue if we’re going to keep in this race.”

More highlights from the interview

  • On allegations against Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter: Booker strongly defended Joe Biden against what the senator called “absolutely wrong and unfortunate” allegations by the Trump administration. “Many people have investigated this and come up with nothing.”
  • On the Democratic National Committee debate qualifications: “I don’t argue with the ref,” Booker said when asked if the DNC rules were unfairly winnowing the large presidential field. Still, he sympathized with concerns from other candidates, saying, “I understand people that might have some issues with the polling thresholds that are being set, especially when it doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s actually going on on the ground.”

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One candidate who raised his own bar, saying publicly that, if he didn't make fund-raising goals, he would drop out, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, met his goal.

    And he joins me now.

    Senator Booker, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    So you did raise the $1.7 million you said you needed to stay in the race. How far will this take you?

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.:

    Well, it's going to give us what we need to start growing in the fourth quarter.

    We have already run a campaign now where we're leading in Iowa, New Hampshire in endorsements from local elected officials, and have a really good, competitive team. But we have got to keep building.

    And so it's going to definitely get us through the next debate or so, and — but we have to keep this pace going now. We have got a lot to grow on. And I hope that people will continue to go to CoryBooker.com. We got tens of thousands of supporters in this last 10 days.

    And it's got to continue if we're going to keep in this race.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Some of the candidates, Senator Booker, have said that the Democratic National Committee rules for who can be on the stage in terms of how many people you have to have donating to your campaign, where you have to be in the polls, that those rules are too tight too early, that they're — it's too far away from the first votes cast in February.

    What do you think?

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.:

    Well, look, I don't argue with the refs. I took that rule a lot when I was playing football in college.

    But we do have a real issue here, that we have never, ever had a president come from our party since I have been alive that was leading in the polls this far out.

    People like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were not really registering that much at all. And, remember, this far out, we have seen everybody from Giuliani leading, to Rick Perry in other — in the Republican Party.

    We're still four months out. So I understand people that might have some issues with the polling thresholds that are being set, especially when it doesn't necessarily reflect what's actually going on, on the ground.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me turn you to what's going in the Congress right now. And that is the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

    Democratic candidates for president, you included, seem to be all in on this. But what about the point of view out there that that's something that the voters should be deciding, and not members of Congress?

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.:

    Well, I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.

    And Congress has an obligation to provide checks and balances and accountability, oversight, to the president of the United States. If he violates his oath, if he violates the Constitution, there has to be consequences.

    And so this is not about popularity. This is about doing our job. It's not about politics. Really, it's about patriotism.

    And I think that the long arc of history is going to look back on this moment and say, when you saw a president use — literally using his office to pursue his own personal ends, at the — contrary to national security interests, that's a pretty serious violation.

    We need to investigate this. And that's why impeachment proceedings mean that we're going to get to the truth. And the public deserves to know the truth. And the more that's coming out, as we have seen breaking news today, it's more and more concerning.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are you worried at all, though, Senator, as some are pointing out, that this could end up helping the president, galvanizing his base, motivating them, donating to his campaign, in other words, see what happened to President Bill Clinton when the Republicans went after him when he president?

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.:

    President Bill Clinton, the impeachment proceedings that were surrounding his activities in a White House Oval Office, as opposed to this president, what we're talking about here — I have been to Ukraine.

    I have seen the crisis there. I have met with soldiers, Ukrainian soldiers, who have lost their fellow soldiers. This is a very serious betrayal that is being accused here.

    And, again, politics be damned. I just want to get to the truth. I want to do my job. And I think the time is right to do what is right in this case. And it's right to investigate this president, not just to wipe your hands and say, well, we will see what happens in the next election.

    This is too serious, too grave.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    If it's — it's a hypothetical now, but if President Trump were impeached, if he were convicted by the Senate, removed from office, would the Democrats have an easier or a more difficult time running against Vice President Pence, who would then be president?

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.:

    I caution Democrats, as well as Republicans, to not let concerns about the election 13 months from now enter into any of your thought process here. That's an unfair calculus.

    I just think this needs to be done in a sobered way. It is a sad thing to have a president of the United States have impeachment proceedings began. And we need to deal with this in a sober, objective, nonpartisan way.

    I plead with folks to approach it that way. Let the politics and the campaigning and going — look, I'm out there on the stump every day talking about taking the fight to Donald Trump.

    But that doesn't mean the sacred obligation that we have right now to follow this impeachment proceeding where the evidence goes and to make an objective decision, based upon that. These are two separate matters. They should be handled that way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One other part of this Ukraine story, Senator, which the White House is focused on is Joe Biden.

    Did he do anything wrong?

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.:

    No.

    I — again, to make this about Joe Biden is absolutely wrong. It's unfortunate. He's a statesman. He is somebody that — many people have investigated this and come up with nothing.

    This is an attempt upon the Trump administration to distract from their massive exposure from the tremendous implications and to distract by trying to besmirch the reputation of Joe Biden.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Senator Elizabeth Warren, she's the Democrat who's moving up significantly in the polls, drawing big crowds.

    What are your main disagreements with her?

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.:

    Well, again, I just want to remind everybody about the polls. Never have they been predictive of who would be the next president of the United States.

    I am running my campaign every single day, about the highest ideals of our country, that this time, especially, we need a revival of civic grace. We need to have a nation that can pull together and heal, not just our party.

    I warn Democrats all the time, this election can't be about what we're against. It has to be about what we're for. And what we're for is not the short-term political ends of beating Republicans. This moral moment calls us to unite Americans.

    This is the theme that I'm bringing. If we're going to bring more justice to this country and deal with really serious issues, we need to build new American majorities, not partisan ones, but new American majorities that can take on tough problems, from climate change, all the way to the urgent issues with gun violence.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, this is unfair, but in just a few seconds that we have, what would you say is the main thing that separates you from Elizabeth Warren?

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.:

    Again, I'm not in this to talk about her campaign.

    And I think people who read our policies can find that. I'm talking about the spirit that I'm trying to bring to the presidency, one that can unite our party, all factions of it, and also can unite this country.

    That's why I got into this race. And that's the theme of my campaign. And folks can look to hers and compare us on their own. But I'm going to be working every day to let people know my vision for this country, not just my head, but also my heart and the kind of leader that I will be as president of the United States.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Cory Booker, running for the Democratic nomination, thank you, Senator.

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.:

    Thank you very much.

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