Democratic presidential candidate and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said Monday he would continue making criminal justice reform a centerpiece of his campaign, but, in an interview with PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff, he stopped short of endorsing a plan first proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to restore voting rights to currently incarcerated felons.
“If Bernie Sanders wants to get involved in a conversation about whether Dylann Roof and the [Boston] Marathon bomber should have the right to vote,” Booker said that his “focus is liberating black and brown people and low-income people from prison.”
Sanders jump-started the debate during a televised town hall event for 2020 candidates last week, when he said even “terrible people” should be allowed to vote because voting rights are “inherent to our democracy.”
Booker just wrapped up his two-week “Justice for All” tour in Florida, where he pushed back on the Florida state legislature’s efforts to roll back a bill overwhelmingly approved by voters last November that expands voting rights to an estimated 1.5 million convicted felons who have finished serving parole and probation.
The Florida referendum is similar to a bill Booker sponsored in the Senate this year that would see voting rights restored nationally. An estimated 6.1 million Americans were unable to vote in the 2016 presidential election because of felony convictions, according to a study by The Sentencing Project.
“My focus is tearing down the system of mass incarceration so that we don’t even have to have the debate about people’s voting rights because they’re not going to prison in the first place,” Booker said.
Other highlights from the interview:
- On taking on Trump: Booker said the crowded field of 20 Democratic candidates can’t “fight fire with fire” in competing to replace President Donald Trump in the Oval Office. “This is a time where our nation needs a revival of civic grace,” Booker said, adding that the moment requires a call “to our higher angels, not the low road fighting Donald Trump on his own turf and his own terms.”
- On helping struggling Americans: As part of his “Justice for All” tour, the New Jersey Democrat unveiled a plan to double the income eligibility for the earned income tax credit. He said the plan would help 154 million Americans and lift nearly 15 million people out of poverty. According to Booker, he would pay for his economic proposal by undoing the “toxic” tax cuts signed into law by Trump in 2017, and by taxing capital gains at the same rate as income.