2020 Candidates

Sen. Cory Booker Drops Out of Presidential Race

The New Jersey senator talked about his plans for criminal justice reform (and that time he saved someone from a burning building) as he made his 2020 presidential run.

Sen. Cory Booker ended his 2020 presidential bid on January 13. He is the 16th Democrat to leave the still crowded primary field. NowThis spoke to Booker during his campaign. Read the interview below.

Cory Booker, 50, is a New Jersey senator who has worked to pass legislation for criminal justice reform. His focus on resolving the issue of mass incarceration is one of his goals if elected for president. We talked to Sen. Booker on his experiences with discrimination, his views on tribalism, being a vegan, and more questions you want to know. 


NowThis: What actor should play you in your biopic?
Booker: Why can I be president and then play myself? For crying out loud, I’m multi-talented.

2. What's your favorite curse word?
Bleep. [Laughs] No that's not my favorite curse word. If you want to know what my favorite curse word is, you're gonna have to ask me when the camera's not running and hear it.

3. When’s a time you felt burnt out or discouraged?
I remember the angriest I ever got at my country was in my neighborhood where there was a horrific shooting. This was a young man who had shots in his chest and foamy blood coming from his mouth, and I just remember being home that night and I just broke. And I felt so angry at my country that doesn’t seem to give a damn sometimes about the carnage you see in communities like mine. But hope is the active conviction that despair will never have the last word. This is a time in America where there are heartbreaking things happening, but you have a choice, always, to give up or keep fighting, and I come from a community of fighters and that’s really shaped me. 

4. What is something big that you’ve changed your mind about?
I became a vegan, which if you were an African-American and living in a Black community, folks look at you twice sometimes about your own eating habits.

5. Tell us about someone you love and why you love them.
I love my mom and the older I get, the more she is a wonder woman, superwoman. I mean, she raised my brother and I, two strong Black boys. My mom not only had business success, showed her entrepreneurialism, was a civil rights activist that helped to plan the March on Washington, did sit-ins. She was there at my ball games. She’s actually now out there on my campaign trail, still doing what I think parents’ job is to do, is to embarrass their kids. 

6. You rescued a woman from a burning building, are you a superhero?
Oh God, people hailed me as if as if that was some kind of heroic thing. But the reality is, when you live in neighborhoods that are more beloved communities you see that kind of everyday heroism all the time.

7. Tell us about a time you were starstruck.
I think the first time I got starstruck, when I just felt like ‘oh my gosh,’ was when I stood and met Bill Bradley.  I was just like, this is the guy from basketball to the things he talked about from the Senate floor. And he was giving speeches on race and the challenge of race in America, and I still remember meeting him. This nerd, who just so revered his policy, that I couldn't get clear sentences out and was trying to struggle to sound coherent.

8. If your presidency you could only tackle one issue, what would it be?
I think we have a real challenge in this nation that we're going from a beloved community to a level of tribalism. We need to heal this country. We need to have a revival of civic grace, a more courageous empathy for each other. And I believe the next leader of this country can't be demeaning and degrading other Americans, pitting us against each other. This is a time we need American leaders, plural, that are going to inspire us again to see with each other with a more courageous empathy that we need each other we've got to stand together. Dear God we've got to put more united back into this one nation under God.

9. What is your worst habit?
Sometimes after a long day I come home and hang out with my two best friends, Ben and Jerry. Empty carbohydrates is something I go to too often.

10. What is your hottest pop culture take?
The span of my musical interests range from Common, Jay-Z, to Chance the Rapper, all the way to, brace yourself now, Barry Manilow. ‘Oh Mandy, you came and you gave without, without taking. And then you sent me away.’ 

11. What’s something that people get wrong about you?
From the time I was an adult, I've been working in low-income, inner-city communities that have been getting the rawest of deals. I want people to know that that's my history and that is my intention in this country. Whether you're in a rural area or a factory town, if you're one of those communities where you feel like you're being left out or left behind or overlooked, this is who I've been fighting, not only for, but who I've been working with my whole entire career.

12. What is one app you can’t live without?
I used to love newspapers and now, screw newspapers. And so the two apps I love, one is just my newspaper apps and I read in the morning really, really quickly through them, and then I just love podcasts. I can listen to them even at accelerated speeds, which I really do like as well.

13. Why should voters consider electing yet another man?
This is one of those times that all of us should look at this field not with, ‘oh my gosh, so many people,’ that, ‘oh my gosh, look how incredibly diverse and talented this field is.’ I celebrate that and I am running for president, because amidst this field, I am confident that my experience being the only person that was a chief executive of a major American city and a United States senator that got major pieces of legislation passed. 

14. How many hours of sleep do you need or get each night?
I love sleep, but it is a terrible, terrible relationship that I have. My average now has gone down horribly low. Somewhere between seven and nine would be my dream. I do think we’re in a bad point in society where people are almost bragging. I’ve never seen such a lack of empathy. I hear people say ‘oh, I got five hours of sleep,’ and instead of saying, ‘hey, what’s going on there?’ People say, ‘five, you lazy bum. I got three hours of sleep.’ It’s almost like a competition, a race to the bottom. 

15. What was your first paying job?
I did work in my parents' restaurant waiting tables, and I have some very painful memories working in the restaurant and doing jobs that now make me have a lot of respect for restaurant workers. Someone who’s nice to you but not nice to the waiter is not a nice person. 

16. What’s something you worked on and saw the impact it had on people?
We have a nation now that is so over-incarcerating African-Americans. Now, there are more African-Americans under criminal supervision than all the slaves in 1850. This was an issue I went to the Senate to fight for, and I'm proud that it’s the only major piece of bipartisan legislation that we were able to get through. Comprehensive criminal justice reform is a first step in a longer journey to ending mass incarceration. The system of mass incarceration is so perverted that we have people that have served time in jail for doing things that two of the last three presidents have admitted to doing.

17. Tell us about a time you witnessed discrimination.
You grow up and you see it plainly. You know, stopped by the police, pulled over more times than my peers, followed in department stores and malls. Literally, to buy the house I grew up in, my parents had to get a white couple to pose as them because the real estate agent wouldn't sell the home to a Black family.

18. What is a question you think every candidate should have to answer?
Every single candidate in the Democratic primary should be asked to make a pledge that if they don't end up being the nominee, that they will put their full force of support, energy, and effort, as well as encouraging their followers to do the same, to support whoever the nominee is. There's an old African saying, this is, ‘sticks in the bundle can't be broken.’

19. From a previous interview, Rep. Eric Swalwell (who has since dropped out of the race) asks his fellow candidates: What can you get signed into law in your first 100 days?
One of the big things that I will see get done and fight to get done, is a massive investment in infrastructure in our country. Water quality, to rural broadband, to starting to catch up to our competitors globally. We can get roads and bridges fixed in this country, put people to work doing it. 

20. What is your go-to karaoke song?
I have this terrible problem that I love to sing and cannot do it. So I’m one of those guys that will try to sing anything, anywhere, any time. So I have no go-to karaoke song, just invite me to karaoke and let me go at it. But no recording allowed whatsoever. 

Studio Producer
Amanda Earle

Associate Producers
Foluke Tuakli
Jamison Claxton

Camera
Amaris Mitchell

Editor
Michael Lester

Senior Producers
Nico Pitney
Allan Piper
Sarah Frank

See more of our candidate interviews in our 20 Questions for 2020 series here.