Ex-Rival Sen. Cory Booker Endorses Joe Biden For President
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Well, six more states hold contests today in the Democratic presidential race. The top prize is Michigan, where former Vice President Joe Biden was campaigning last night.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOE BIDEN: Folks, there's nothing we've ever failed to do when we set our mind to it. Everybody knows who Donald Trump is. Let's let him know who we are. We choose hope over fear. We Americans choose unity over division.
GREENE: We should say Biden was joined at his Detroit rally by Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, two former rivals who have now endorsed the former vice president. Senator Bernie Sanders was also pushing for victory at a rally in Michigan.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BERNIE SANDERS: We are capable of making sweeping change if we have the courage to do it.
GREENE: I want to begin with NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid, who is covering the race. She's in Columbus, Ohio, which is a state that votes next week. Hi, Asma.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there.
GREENE: So two clear front-runners now - Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders. What is at stake for them today?
KHALID: You know, well, there are six states voting, as you mentioned, and there are some places out west, like Washington state and Idaho, where Sanders is expected to do well and then some places like Mississippi, which has a larger percentage of black voters than even the state of South Carolina, where Joe Biden is expected to do well.
But David, I would say, really, what we're at right now is a kind of critical pivot point. Biden won 10 states on Super Tuesday last week, and it gives him now the lead in delegates. Our last count shows he's now up by 96 delegates. He needs to solidify that front-runner status and essentially prevent Bernie Sanders from showing that he has a path to a comeback. And Sanders needs to show that he has that path. And really, it comes down to Michigan. Michigan has the largest number of delegates at stake, but it's also symbolically important because Bernie Sanders defied the polls in 2016 and beat out Hillary Clinton there.
GREENE: Has Sanders changed his strategy or done anything to change the momentum after going from, you know, front-runner to fighting to stay in a two-person race here,
KHALID: Yeah very much so. My colleague Scott Detrow has been out with the Vermont senator, and he said that for so long, Sanders' campaign felt really confident in its strategy of bringing out new voters, and now it feels a bit like it's scrambling, canceling events to make sure it could have more time in Michigan. He's also been focusing a lot on trade, specifically issues of NAFTA. But really, David, this is going to come down to being able to chip away at Biden's strength with black voters, and that's going to be a challenge for him.
GREENE: NPR's Asma Khalid in Columbus, Ohio. Asma, thanks so much.
KHALID: You're welcome.
GREENE: All right, I mentioned that one endorsement that the former vice president got was from Democratic Senator Cory Booker, who was, of course, running in this presidential race himself. He is with us this morning. Senator, good morning. Thanks for being here.
CORY BOOKER: Good morning. Thanks for having me on.
GREENE: So you were, we should say, part of the most diverse group of presidential candidates ever. Now we are down to two white men in their 70s, both vying to take down another white man in his 70s. What is your reaction to that reality?
BOOKER: Well, look - the big reaction I have right now is that all voters of all backgrounds know that we've got one shot to make Donald Trump a one-term president. And being with Joe Biden yesterday, I think he knows that this diverse voting base is what's really propelled him forward.
GREENE: But are you disappointed that there aren't more diverse candidates still left?
BOOKER: Look - I'm - you're asking a guy who poured his heart out for over a year run as a black male, and I'm disappointed I'm not still in the race. And yeah, I'm a person that really knows. And when I got to the United States Senate, I was surprised - and I got there in 2013 - how little diversity there wasn't even on - there was even on Senate staffs and went to work not only trying to help Chuck Schumer recruit more diverse candidates but forcing every Democratic senator to publish the diversity statistics on their staffs. And now we have a lot more women, a lot more minority - minorities hired in the Senate and in the room when policy is being made. This is a value we have to be committed to.
And what excites me about Joe Biden now is I don't think there's ever been a Democratic president or a nominee heading towards the nomination who has had more of an intimate understanding of the importance of diverse voters. And as we were together yesterday, to hear him getting even deeper into the details with me in a private setting - obviously one-minute, two-minute answers on a debate stage - but hearing him talk about diversity on the Supreme Court, diversity in his Cabinet, doing things to empower African American and Latino Americans, it was just really empowering to me to know that this is a person, when he becomes - God willing - the president of the United States will understand the urgency of a lot of the issues that I was bringing up, that Kamala Harris was bringing up, that Julian Castro was bringing up.
GREENE: Well, I want to ask you - I mean, it's interesting that we are here given where you have been. There was a time when you were running when you criticized Joe Biden after he said that he got things done in the Senate, even when the body included segregationists. And during that time, the former vice president said one segregationist senator, quote, "never called me boy." And I just want to play how you responded to that on CNN.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BOOKER: I know that somebody running for president of the United States, somebody running to be the leader of our party, should know that using the word boy in the way he did can cause hurt and pain, and we need a presidential nominee and leader of our party to be sensitive to that.
GREENE: Given your feelings then, how can you now endorse him and encourage other voters to support him?
BOOKER: God, if I was against every person that showed racial sensitivities, I would be against a lot of candidates. My point in that was that we need a nominee that's going to have the humility to apologize and show the vulnerability to say, hey, I'm not perfect. But as Joe Biden is - is saying, I'm - but I'm going to do everything I can to try to make a more perfect union. And so...
GREENE: You got that apology from him?
BOOKER: Yeah, he called me directly during that period to talk to me. He showed me not only contrition but a commitment to actually work on these issues. He called me within moments of me making my national critique. And so that's powerful. To have a president in office today in Donald Trump that refuses to apologize, that refuses to ever do anything but actually double down on demeaning and degrading vulnerable people, and now to have somebody in Joe Biden who is willing to show vulnerability is to say that part of strength actually comes from showing that vulnerability.
You know, one thing I got to say about Joe, riding round with him yesterday, is, God, he knows what's at stake. He knows what's on this ballot. And he knows people are hurting out there, and people are tired of the guy that we have and that we have one shot to make him a one-term president. And that's why I'm supporting Joe is because he's the best person right now to actually unify this country, to begin to heal the hurt and the soul of our country. He's a person that can reach out to the broadest stretch not just of the Democratic Party but reach out also to independents and moderate Republicans and others and start to bring this country together, help to heal our land.
GREENE: Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who has decided to throw his support behind former Vice President Joe Biden. Senator, thanks a lot.
BOOKER: Thank you very much.
(SOUNDBITE OF NITSUA FEAT. SALEM AND TOPIX'S "NEW TOMORROW")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.