U.S. Sen. Cory Booker could barely contain himself. There was Joe Biden, former vice president, front-runner, having thrown a punch that missed. And here was Booker. Counterpunch, cocked.
“Mr. Vice President, there’s a saying in my community: You’re dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavor,” Booker said.
It was the most memorable of several comebacks by the junior senator from New Jersey and straight-up attacks that landed solidly on Biden, who was already a target for most of the candidates on stage at Wednesday night’s CNN Democratic debate. Biden drew fire from New York to Texas. The strategy that worked so well for Sen. Kamala Harris of California in the first debate paid equally good dividends for Booker.
“Mr. Vice President, you can’t have it both ways,” he said to Biden. “You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not.”
By far, it was Booker’s best night of the campaign and he has Biden to thank for it. When he wasn’t attacking Biden directly, he used Biden’s attacks on others to make himself look like the Democrat above the fray.
“The person that’s enjoying this debate right now is Donald Trump as we pit Democrats against each other,” he admonished.
He said that without a hint of irony and then went on the attack again. “Mr. Vice President has said that since the 1970s, every crime bill — major and minor — has had his name on it. And sir, those are your words, not mine. This is one of those instances where the house was set on fire and you claimed responsibility for those laws, and you can’t just now come out with a plan to put out that fire.”
Harris, whose attacks on Biden were the story of the first Democratic debate, found herself on the defensive last night as several candidates criticized her record as California’s attorney general. If Booker gets the kind of bump from this debate that his campaign is hoping for, he should expect a bit more scrutiny of his record as mayor of Newark, something Biden attempted last night before he got waylaid by the Kool-Aid comment.
“In 2007, you became mayor and you had a police department, you went out and hired Giuliani’s guy and engaged in stop and frisk,” charged Biden. “You had 75 percent of those stops reviewed as illegal. You found yourself in a situation where three times as many African American kids were caught up in that chain. The Justice Department came after you saying that you were engaging in behavior that was inappropriate, and then, in fact, nothing happened. The entire time you were mayor.”
Biden’s attack fell short for a lack of specificity and was blunted somewhat by an ACLU statement that said, in part “Mayor Booker came to see the virtues of intervention, and together we had the opportunity to begin addressing patterns of constitutional abuses in Newark.”
Booker served four years on the city council and seven more as mayor. There’s a record, and based on his performance Wednesday night you can rest assured that researchers are poring through it. Booker showcased his offense Wednesday night. Going forward he may have to show just how much skill he has on defense.