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Cory Booker on criminal justice reform. TRANSCRIPT: 2/12/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Cory Booker

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  And Jesse and his colleagues at "ProPublica" have taken a deep look into how Republicans, conservatives, anti-tax activists and Republicans in Congress have all undermined the ability for the IRS to do the thing it actually has to do, which is to collect taxes for the American people so as to fund the U.S. government. 

That`s all on the scandalous story.  Make sure you download it wherever you get your podcast.  Do not forget to subscribe.

That is ALL IN for this evening. 

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.  Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thank you, my friend.

HAYES:  You bet.

MADDOW:  And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. 

By the rocket`s red glare.  Every year, Fourth of -- for the Fourth of July, communities large and small across the country, they set off fireworks, of course, to celebrate the Fourth of July.  These are some of the fireworks that were set off for the Fourth of July celebration in our nation`s capital this past Fourth of July.  D.C. every year puts on a great huge fireworks display. 

And, you know, it looks like nowhere else in the country.  There is the Washington monument, right?  It`s on the national mall. 

As the nation`s capital, Fourth of July is kind of a meta holiday, right?  It`s a bigger deal than it is everywhere else in the country, and it`s a pretty big deal everywhere in the country but it`s the nation`s capital.  Every Fourth of July, there is big fireworks thing in D.C.  There is a parade through downtown with the, you know, bands and the Uncle Sam guy and the pipe and drum and all the rest of it. 

Today, President Trump told reporters at the White House that he is considering a new idea that has just occurred to him, a new idea for America.  Which is that he is thinking over, he is considering that maybe from here on out there should be a parade and fireworks in Washington, D.C. every year on July 4th.  How about that? 

He mused about this idea to reporters today.  He said, quote, we`re thinking about doing something that will perhaps become a tradition, proposing fireworks for the Fourth of July.  Even in D.C., it`s a bold idea from the president today.  Presumably this will be followed by an executive order proclaiming that from here on out, we`re going to start a whole new calendar year every year on the first day of January.  What? 

Also, he`s going to declare that we`re going to start a new American pastime, a ball game where one person holds a stick and that person runs around a series of bases to come home if the person with the stick hits the ball well enough and hard enough, a lot of people try to catch it and prevent the batter from rounding the bases and get home. 

The president will soon announce a name for that and announce that he has invented this game.  Also, he`s invented rap music and the idea of taking a vacation in the summer if you`re a school kid.  I mean, I kid you not, the president proposed to reporters from the White House in all seriousness from the White House that he`s thinking there should maybe be fireworks and a parade on the Fourth of July in Washington, D.C.  It could catch on.  It could become a tradition. 

I mean, the best news about this is that it`s not actually a terrible idea to have a parade and fireworks in Washington, D.C. on the Fourth of July, as evidenced by the fact that we do always do it every year and nobody minds.  People sort of like it. 

But what`s going on in the head of the president of the United States that he thinks this annual celebration should henceforth be attributed to him as if he dreamed it up?  I mean, I try not to get caught up in this stuff and, like, generally in stuff he says, but, like, the weird vagaries of this presidency are honestly really weird.  I mean, one of the stories that we are covering tonight, that we`ll have an update for you later on this hour, is the question of whether or not we`re about to have another shutdown of the federal government as of the end of the this week because of the president`s demand that we should build a wall between U.S. and Mexico. 

In the lead to that shutdown deadline at the end of this week, the president last night just started declaring overtly that he has, in fact, built this wall between the United States and Mexico.  He has already built it.  He`s just finishing it up now. 

See, he got what he wanted.  He won.  Eventually he will presumably just give tours on the border showing reporters and maybe his supporters what looks like a normal section of the border with no wall and he`ll insist that actually it`s there because he built it, and the reason you think you cannot see it, well, he meant that on purpose because he`s so good, he not only built the wall, he built an invisible wall. 

Oh, and also, he said it was always going to be invisible.  Don`t you remember?  You don`t remember that? 

I mean, it`s just -- it is -- it`s -- it is easy enough, I do it most of the time, to just ignore what he`s saying, particularly when it`s patently not true, but it is just bewildering, right?  I mean, this isn`t a dumb movie.  This isn`t, you know, an old TV show. 

This is actually our president now in our lifetimes.  This is actually our government.  It`s our country.  And this stuff, it does put us in sort of a weird position as citizens. 

Also for the president`s political competitors and his opponents, right?  It puts them in an odd situation, too.  Just around this latest shutdown threat, do you point out that he actually has not built any wall at all since he has been president?  Do you let him claim that he has even though he hasn`t? 

Because, I mean, maybe that is just easier.  Maybe if he says it enough, that he has built a wall, maybe he`ll believe that he has built a wall or at least he`ll believe it enough that that will become enough to stop the next shutdown of the federal government, that that will allow the government to stay open based on a weird hallucinogenic lie that we have bothered not correcting because may be it`s easier.  I mean, if we -- if we choose to apply that strategy, even to him saying he`s already built the wall this week, I mean, do we -- do we apply that strategy to everything? 

Do we smile and nod and let him believe what he wants to believe and say what he wants people to believe is true?  Yes, sir, you won the popular vote, sir, by a record.  Your poll numbers are sky high and North Korea gave up its nuclear weapons just like you said they would.  And campaign finance felonies, those aren`t really crimes.  Michael Cohen probably doesn`t know anything about what you did, nor does Paul Manafort, nor does your accountant, Allen Weisselberg, nor does David Pecker, your friend at the "National Enquirer." 

Nor does anybody else who`s been granted immunity by federal prosecutors in exchange for their testimony that definitely, probably has absolutely nothing to do with you?  Everything is fine.  I mean, do you just say it? 

I mean, the president flatly proclaims alternate universe things all the time.  Because of that, you have the option to ignore it, but that doesn`t change the fact that he`s president.  When he says stuff that isn`t true repeatedly and you have to reckon with that strategically as to whether or not it should be corrected, it can be hard to get your bearings as to what we must insist is true, right?  And what you might just let go because everybody knows it`s fake but the president is saying it anyway and who is going to stop him? 

I mean, here`s another one about the Trump inaugural committee.  As you know, the Trump inaugural committee was subpoenaed last week.  Federal prosecutors sent a subpoena seeking detailed records and information on donations to the inaugural and spending on the inaugural and whether the twains shall meet.  It has been this puzzling thing about the Trump presidency from the very, very beginning. 

President Trump, of course, followed into office an immediately previous president who had the largest swearing in festivities ever in U.S. history by a mile.  President Obama brought an absolutely unprecedented sea of people to the nation`s capital to see him sworn in.  It was literally the largest assemblage of human beings in the history of the District of Columbia. 

And to handle those giant festivities, that giant inaugural event, the Obama inaugural committee raised and spent a huge new record amount of money, just over $50 million.  As inaugurations go, that was mammoth.  It was absolutely unprecedented.  But you can see why they maybe need to raise and spend that much money.  It was something like we`d never seen before. 

Then the next president was elected, our current president, and his swearing in was smaller.  And it was small, actually not just compared with his immediate predecessor.  Trump`s inauguration was small compared to most other recent presidents` inaugurations as well.  I`m not saying that to be mean.  I`m not saying it to be insulting.  I fully believe if I were sworn into anything in any city in the country, less than half of my own family would show up for the swearing in, let alone the parade. 

I mean, I don`t mean to say this says something bad about him as a president or I guess a candidate soon to be president at that -- president- elect soon to be president at that point.  I don`t mean it in a mean way.  What I mean is that mathematically there was something weird about the Trump inauguration.  The numbers, whether or not you have feelings about them, they just didn`t make sense. 

I mean, for the giant inauguration for Obama, the biggest ever, they raised and spent, again, about $50 million.  For the comparatively tiny one that happened after that, they spent twice that amount.  They spent more than twice that amount.  I mean, given what actually happened at the Trump inaugural, how on earth do they account for raising and spending over $100 million on this?  I mean, if you take President Obama out of it, because that was such a historical anomaly. 

For comparison`s sake, you can also take the George W. Bush inaugurals.  Those are sort of normal size.  Nothing all that unusual about them. 

But the person who ran George W. Bush`s second inaugural told "ProPublica" about the Trump inauguration, quote: They had a third of the staff we did and a quarter of the events we did and they spent at least twice as much as we did?  So the question is, the obvious question is, where did it go? 

Obvious question.  Good question.  And now, the Trump inaugural committee has been broadly subpoenaed by federal prosecutors who presumably will get answers to those questions.  And if you regularly watch this show, you`ll remember that we have reported on this Trump inaugural story for a long while.  Just because from the very beginning, it seemed like something was mathematically wrong, something was fishy with the Trump inauguration, and the numbers that we could observe around it. 

One of the things we noticed in our own early reporting on the Trump inaugural is that some of the inexplicable and ultimately unaccounted for money that flowed into the Trump inauguration came in late, came in after the fact, and that`s not necessarily a sin, let alone a crime, but it is a little funny because by the time the Trump inauguration was, you know, an hour into it, let alone over, anybody who donated money to that thing clearly would have realized they just paid 50 bucks for a $2 jaw breaker. 

I mean, it was clear as soon as the tractors rolled down the parade route and deejay Ravi Drums kicked off the concert of Random Buskers who they brought to the national mall.  It was clear that they had over-raised, right?  They had raised way, way, way more money than this thing could have conceivably cost to put on. 

I mean, by that point, even the Trump inaugural was promising they would give some of the leftover money to charity because it was so obvious there should be tons of leftover money.  Still though, even despite that, some really big fat donations to the Trump inaugural came in way after the inaugural was over, weeks and months later.  Like, for example, this donation of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the CEO of the largest coal company in America, Robert Murray, who runs Murray Energy, directed this donation in mid-March after the inaugural had happened in January.  Same guy later also gave $1 million to a super PAC supporting Trump. 

There`s been so scandal, some public scandal associated with Mr. Murray and his company and what he has received from the Trump administration since making those big donations.  "The Washington Post" was first to report that within weeks of the inauguration, but interestingly even before he cut that $300,000 check to the inauguration, Bob Murray had drawn up a detailed action plan for what he wanted the Trump administration to do.  Everything from slashing the number of people who work at the EPA to scrapping anti- pollution rules. 

By the anniversary of Trump`s inauguration, the one-year anniversary, "The New York times" was reporting that, quote, the White House and federal agencies have completed or are on track to fulfill most of the detailed requests in Mr. Murray`s action plan, this coal baron`s wish list of like 14 or 16 different detailed requests that he was demanding the Trump administration perform.  They just did them all. 

And if that story, that little scandal about Murray rings a bell or at least doesn`t come as a surprise, it`s because we expect that to be the way of the world a little bit.  We certainly expect that to be the way of this presidency.  But in a democracy, in a republic where our elected leaders are accountable to the people who give them their jobs, namely the citizens, we the voters, in a real functioning democracy, of course, investigative reporting is a sacrament. 

Constitutionally enshrined concept of a free press doesn`t just mean you`re free for say what`s on your mind, it also protects the freedom of us and our fellow citizens to figure things out, to dig stuff up, even when what you dig up is unflattering or scandalous material about the people in charge.  Especially if that is what you dig up.  So credit to where credit is due to the enterprising reporters who have just dug up this new jaw- dropping scandal about this White House and the government being put up for sale. 

This is the Tennessee Valley Authority, TVA, dates to the 1930s.  It`s a federal agency that operates as essentially a gigantic mega utility in Tennessee and parts of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia.  Well, now enterprising reporting has turned up the fact that the president personally has secretly weighed in with that agency, with the Tennessee Valley Authority, that federal agency, to tell them that despite the agency`s existing plans, despite that agency`s own internal assessment of what`s right for that agency, what`s right for the states that agency serves, despite all that, the president has told them to not do what they otherwise intended to do, and instead he has intervened personally and directed them, told that agency that they got to use a coal plant, a coal-fired power plant that they were otherwise going to phase out. 

But he`s telling them to keep that coal-fired power plant online.  Keep using it despite what`s happened at your agency that made you decide to stop using it.  Keep using it now because that`s plant buys its coal from Bob Murray, from Murray Energy, from the president`s gigantic donor, both to his super PAC and the mysterious late donation to the inaugural. 

This is like the platonic ideal of simple corruption, right?  Murray pays Trump, including after the fact those slush fundy shenanigans were at the inaugural, now under scrutiny by federal prosecutors, Murray pays Trump, then Trump uses the presidency to direct a public agency to pay Murray, to prop up Murray`s business.  Use federal resources.  Use the taxpayers` resources.  Use the country`s assets to reward the guy who gave him money. 

And if what I just described is the way that we had learned about that scandal, if it in fact had been some enterprising digging investigative reporter who had turned that up as a secret deal, that would be a Pulitzer Prize winning scoop for that investigative reporter who uncovered that scandal.  But in our morally bewildering current environment, in fact, the way we learned about that scandal is just from the president`s public statements on Twitter.  It was the president himself who just broke the news of this scandal, because he`s just doing it all out loud on his Twitter feed. 

This is his tweet last night directing the TVA to use this one particular power plant, Paradise #3, that gets its coal from his campaign donor.  There`s the tweet from last night.  There`s the headline response, agog that this is happening in the open. 

And, yes, this is the story of another destructive tributary of presidential corruption that is flowing through U.S. government policy out of this White House.  But it is also another element in this age of sort of moral bewilderment we are now in as citizens, right?  Because you can`t run that story about what Trump just did with the TVA and his donor and demanding that they use this donor`s coal plant, you can`t run that story as an expose of the president`s shocking behavior if the president is happy to commit things like this in public.  I mean, there is no way to embarrass somebody for doing something like this if they`re happy to be seen selling the government in exchange for cash. 

If you can`t embarrass or shame anybody about it and you increasingly can`t shock anybody about it, then what do you do with it?  I mean, how do you stop specific government actions like this, if there is no shame from public officials who are doing it?  But also, how do we become the kind of country where that kind of thing would at least be a scandal?  If this doesn`t get fixed, by the next Trump inaugural, presumably they`ll distribute a menu. 

They`ll have a U.S. taxpayer funded calligrapher draw up a pretty menu where they`ll just offer you, you know, what you need to pay for what type of presidential tweet or proclamation or policy you expect in return.  Then they send somebody out like with the beer tray from the ballpark to go collect your funds.  I mean, if it doesn`t matter anymore, if we`re not surprised and nobody`s embarrassed, how do we not just become that? 

And this is a day in the life of what`s going on in this presidency, right?  This is a day in the life of this country in which we are citizens.  At a time when a bunch of new leaders are competing to become the Democratic Party`s nominee to run against this president, to try to make him a one- term president and replace him in the White House.  And none of the candidates who are declared thus far are exactly alike. 

If you want my take on it, I think they all have a lot to offer.  I think broadly speaking Democrats have to be pleased with the depth and the capability and the charisma and the ideas of the various contenders in this field that is starting to take shape, even if the sheer number of them is starting already to get a little bit daunting.  But out of everybody who has said formally that they are running, in this age of bewilderment and moral despair, I think it is fair to point out that none of these able contenders approach politics and the issue of morality and despair in politics quite like and quite as directly as the presidential contender who is going to be our guest tonight, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. 

Senator Booker started life -- started off life in public as a contender to become Mayor Booker of the great city of Newark. 


CORY BOOKER, THEN-NEWARK MAYORAL CANDIDATE:  I have a philosophy campaigning, which is I walk every street that I want to represent.  All I`ve been doing is in the evenings is walking the streets and talking to people like you. 

I can`t even see you.  I`m talking to a screen, but I`ll just let you know, I`m running for mayor, and the reason why I`m running.  Three reasons real quick, okay? 

Newark faces real challenges.  We have a murder rate that is twice the Bronx.  We have almost 1/3 of our people living below the poverty line and we graduate only about 40 percent of our kids from high school. 

There`s no excuse for this.  This city can be doing so much better for the people that live here. 

UNIDENTIFIED KID:  What are you doing? 

BOOKER:  I`m trying to get people to vote for me.  Are you going to vote for me? 

UNIDENTIFIED KID:  Yes, I`m going to vote for you. 

BOOKER:  Are you going to vote for me? 

UNIDENTIFIED KID:  What does vote mean? 

BOOKER:  What does vote mean -- it means participating in democracy, trying to make your community better. 


MADDOW:  That`s a clip from a documentary called "Street Fight".  Really good documentary made about Cory Booker`s run to become mayor of Newark, New Jersey, to try to oust a corrupt, entrenched, shameless forever mayor of that city, someone who really felt like he was going to be there until he was dead.  A mayor named Sharp James. 

And Booker initially lost to James and the James machine in Newark, but he came back and he won.  And he became mayor and Sharp James ended up serving a long term in federal prison. 

In Newark, Cory Booker as mayor, he faced all of the challenges of a big city mayor in a working class city and then some.  But in a way you had never really seen before from any mayor of any city of any size, Mayor Cory booker also ended up making national news over and over again, not necessarily for the stuff that he was like, announcing that he was doing for mayor, the things that he was trying to shape his candidacy around, but literally for being a guy who seemed committed to just personally fixing stuff on a day to day basis, especially when there was like, a snowstorm or something else that puts citizens out in a way that they weren`t necessarily used to. 

For example, the case of the shivering dog.  Dog left outside in Newark at night in cold weather.  Don`t just tweet about how sad it makes you to see that.  If you really did see that, give up the address because the mayor will go get that dog personally and he did. 

You complaining online about how much snow got dumped by the storm at your family`s house and your family can`t dig out.  It`s too much to deal with.  Here comes the mayor personally.  He will help you. 

You better not be complaining about something you yourself will not do.  This is from the "New York Daily News" coverage of that incident.  Quote, Booker also responded to a call from assistance from Newark resident TaJuan Bonds.  Bonds tweeted an expletive-laced post about the amount of snow he needed to shovel.  The agitated citizen tweeted skepticism that Mayor Booker would show up like he said he would. 

Booker not only showed up to help the snowed-in family to shovel out personally, he responded online to the guy who had been complaining and swearing at him about the snow. 

Quote: Wow, the mayor said.  Wow, you should be ashamed of yourself.  You tweet vulgarities and I come out to help and it`s your mom and sister digging?  Where are you? 

Then he responded, word, he`s really here #can`t front.

Then they apparently met because the mayor tweeted next, quote, thank you for coming to talk to me face-to-face.  You`re a good brother.  We need to be positive in the face of outrageous negativity. 

The man responded online, you`re correct.  I got to channel my emotions. 

That happened as Newark was dealing with snow and ice.  I think along the same lines, when it comes to a burning building.  This was Mayor Cory Booker in April of 2012. 


REPORTER: Mayor Cory Booker rushed to rescue a next door neighbor on Hawthorne Avenue whose apartment building was on fire.  Three residents made it out of this building but flames and smoke trapped one woman on the second floor. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Two detectives went with the mayor trying to slow him down a little bit and they went through a kitchen fire.  The kitchen was fully involved and the fire was spreading with a lot of smoke.  The mayor then started calling out for the individual. 

BOOKER:  Mayor Booker and the detectives who are part of a security detail heard a woman screaming for help in a back bedroom. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The mayor immediately, initially being held back by detectives responded, look, we got to save her.  She may die.  She may die.  Went in, grabbed the woman out of the bed and carried her through the -- through the fire with the assistance of his detectives down stairs. 

REPORTER:  Mayor Booker suffered smoke inhalation and second-degree burns to his right hand.  The woman he rescued had burns on her back and smoke inhalation as well.  Both went to the hospital. 


MADDOW:  This sort of thing happened often enough when Cory Booker was mayor of Newark, New Jersey, that it eventually became something he almost had to live down.  Unless you can actually fly, in terms of people`s expectations for you, it is not necessarily a good thing in politics when people start calling you Superman. 

Cory Booker was ultimately elected to the United States Senate from New Jersey in a special election held after the death of incumbent Senator Frank Lautenberg.  He was elected to a full term in 2014, which means he is coming to the end of his first full term as a U.S. senator.  He has a national profile.  He is a progressive senator by any measure. 

He also has a notable record of across the aisle friendships and legislative collaborations, which is why we have rare pictorial evidence of Charles Grassley being hugged by another adult human.  Of course that colleague is Cory Booker.  Of course it is. 

Senator Booker was a driving force behind the major criminal justice reform legislation that was brought forth by both Democratic and Republican senators and signed into law by President Trump in December.  Senator Booker has now announced his run for the U.S. presidency. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I have known him personally since he had hair.  I knew Senator Booker when we were in college.  We overlapped both in college and in grad school.  We knew each other in school and we were friends at that time. 

And, you know, you never expect somebody you know to run for president.  Like, that`s just, I mean, maybe if you`re like born a Kennedy or something, you expect that, but, like, for normal people, it`s such a weird thing to think that somebody you know might end up being president or running for president as a serious candidate. 

And that`s true in general, but I will tell you, from my personal experience in life, honestly, now Senator Cory Booker is so different than anybody I have ever known on earth.  He is such an absolutely unique embodiment of moral energy and moral earnestness that he might be the only person I have ever met and known in a personal context over the course of my 45 years on earth for whom it might actually make sense that he`s running for president.  It`s definitely not true for anybody else I ever grew up with or knew in any other context, but for him, he might be the one for whom it makes sense. 

Since he announced he`s running, I have not yet had a chance to talk to him.  This is about to be his first cable interview since he`s declared his candidacy to become the next president of the United States.  Senator Cory Booker joins us next. 



SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We are Americans.  We are a nation of love, not a nation of hate.  We are a nation of decency and kindness.  We`re a nation of civic grace.  We`re a nation that sees each other and loves each other and works together. 


And so, I want to win the next election and I believe we will.  I want to bring the best policy ideas, I believe our party will, but I want to heal this nation with you.  I want to bring folk back together with you. 

I want to call to the common decency of a nation and have us stand and work and fight together because this nation not -- is not yet a place with liberty and justice for all, and every generation has an obligation to honor their ancestors and join the fight to make this nation more fair and more just, to make this nation a more perfect union. 

Thank you, everybody. 



MADDOW:  Joining us now for "The Interview" is Democratic Senator Cory Booker from the great state of New Jersey.  Senator Booker has been a member of the U.S. Senate since 2013.  B Before that, he was the mayor of the great city of Newark, and before that, a member of the Newark Municipal Council.  As of right now, he is running to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States.

Senator, it`s nice to see you. 

BOOKER:  It`s good to see you. 

MADDOW:  I was talking to my friend Chris Hayes today about our shows.  We met literally at the water cooler.


MADDOW:  And he was like, I think you need to break the fourth wall and talk about the fact that you know Cory Booker as a person.  I was like, I talked about that before, but I don`t know that anybody believes me.

BOOKER:  You talked about one of the most embarrassing moments of my radio interviews, about -- we have a long friendship.  And I still remember hoping those clips from radio interviews will never be found because there`s a lot of personal stuff you talked about overlapping (ph).  So let`s avoid that right now. 

MADDOW:  You realize you just directed every oppo research in country to go find that stuff. 


MADDOW:  Listen, I never said anything bad about you because I`ve never known anything bad about you. 

But let me -- let me ask you, coming from that place. 

BOOKER:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  When you were mayor and the possibility aroused of you running for the Senate, I remember having a conversation with you just as people who knew each other, just as friends, where we were talking about whether that would be a good job, not about whether or not you could win, not about what it meant in party politics, but maybe you wanted to be a U.S. senator.  Having gone from -- and I had two different components: number one, it meant you would be going from being the guy in charge, number one person in charge of city government, to being 100 out of 100 in terms of seniority in the U.S.

BOOKER:  Right.

MADDOW:  And number two, it meant going to Washington.  And I remember talking to you about whether or not there was anything worth doing as a human being in Washington, and you didn`t know the answer to either of those but you did decide to run. 

BOOKER:  Yes, I had a lot of doubts about being a United States senator and you were actually really good because you directed me to people that you really liked.  One of them is a guy I have a lot of respect for, another potential presidential candidate Sherrod Brown gave me his phone number, and I went down there with some skepticism because so much cynicism is surrounding Washington. 

And I -- the woman in the projects who -- I live in her building for about a decade who first elected me, the reason the map of the central wards behind me said, don`t forget where you came from where the people got you in office.  And so, I remained in that neighborhood, but more importantly, I went to work on the tougher problems that affect people in the communities like the one I live in, inner city, low income communities.

And I`ll tell you, it`s been one of the most rewarding jobs I`ve had because I`ve been able to get a lot of good things done in the last Congress, couple very big things done.  One is criminal justice reform, which literally is going to liberate thousands of people -- just the crack cocaine, powder cocaine disparities, making it retroactive will release thousands of people.  Ninety percent of them black.

If you look at the Tim Scott, who is a Republican from South Carolina, he and I sat and talked about poverty and why is it that the lowest income areas in America, rural areas or even inner cities, don`t get investment?  So, we wrote a bill that got very little attention to create incentives to invest in low income areas.  It`s historically probably going to be the largest economic development bill for low income part of our country, that will put hundreds of billions, if not tens of billions of dollars into rural areas, in places like Camden and Newark. 

So, I found a way of just buckling down, getting to work with people across the aisle, and know them and go to bible study with them and go to the gym, doing anything I could to build those relationships to get things done in an atmosphere of cynicism, where you think big things can`t be done, which is actually very similar to what I did in Newark, New Jersey. 

MADDOW:  That answers sort of both parts of that.  One, is there stuff worth doing in Washington?  You`re saying, you have found a path as a senator to do stuff that is worthwhile, that has a big impact. 

BOOKER:  Yes, and it doesn`t get the attention because people like the brawls and the fights and the like.  But very quietly, if you put your head down, you can get things done on everything from human rights issues.  I got -- I got a child, juvenile solitary confinement banned, effectively banned on the federal level by just fighting for the human rights of our children, all the way to animal issues.  I`m a big animal lover -- to massively end or and limit chemical testing on animals. 

Just very quietly, without fanfare, go to work every day, look for openings and look for ways to bring people together to fix stuff.

  MADDOW:  And bringing people together literally with your Senate colleagues.  I mean, you have been able to -- this is one of the things you`ve always done at least of course throughout the portion of your life where I`ve known you is you`ve been able to make unlikely friends and you`ve been able to start conversations with the people that might not necessarily be disposed to like you when they first met you.  You have been able to be constructive in terms of putting together legislation.

And yet, that would signal to me -- if I was reading a book about this -- that maybe you want to stay in the Senate forever and maybe you want New Jersey to keep sending you back, and maybe you want to end up being Senate majority leader.  You don`t -- you don`t have any cynicism anymore about what it means to be one of the 100 people trying to work together.

At the end of your first term, you have signaled that you`re done with the Senate and you want to be president instead.  Why that change? 

BOOKER:  Well, as a guy that led a city through crisis, we are a nation in crisis.  We have people who are losing faith in our ability to solve our problems, and more and more people in America just feel left out, left behind or that this democracy is not working for them.  And even worse than that, what speaks to my sort of sense of real crisis is that people believe the forces tearing us apart as a country are stronger than those that tie us together.  Well, I reject that.  And I know --

MADDOW:  Be specific about that, though, because that sounds -- that sounds like short rhetoric.  I mean, the -- what do people believe that is tearing us apart that`s winning? 

BOOKER:  So, look, you have a person heckling the president of the United States.  President Obama giving a -- giving a -- his State of the Union speech and you had a guy heckled him, goes out the next month, or next quarter, has one of his best fundraising quarters ever. 


BOOKER:  You have major networks who get a lot of money often by telling us to hate each other.  You have hate being spewed from the highest office in the land.  You have people in my community who just think we have a criminal justice system that treats you better if you`re rich and guilty than poor and innocent. 

You have kids in my neighborhood who say, hey, I`m -- you see people being arrested in my town for doing things that two of the last three presidents did.  You have entire families who raised their kids to do everything right and then they find out their kids have lead poisoning. 

And we have more jurisdictions, thousands of places in this country where it`s easier to find unleaded gasoline than unleaded water, and nobody seems to care about it. 

And so, when I go around, I still remember campaigning for Secretary Clinton and going to communities and often African-American communities, and folks pulled me aside and said why?  They just lost their faith that this system could work --

MADDOW:  In despair. 

BOOKER:  In despair. 

MADDOW:  And what I learned from -- what I learned from that same woman I mentioned before, my tenant president, I was taking my B.A. with you from Stanford and my PhD on the streets of Newark, is that her -- she taught me that hope is the active conviction that despair will never have the last word. 

And so, in the face of most despairing moments as my evolution into adulthood where more and more people are rightfully, understandably despairing about a country that what could do the kinds of things we do to our people -- people who are senior citizens work their lives and literally are living below poverty line, the Social Security checks are too meager, or people who have fear, shackled to fear because they worry if they get sick, they won`t be able to afford it, or if their child gets sick, they have to lose their job to be there for their kid because they are one of the only industrialized nations that doesn`t have paid family leave. 

There are people who are frustrated, and when they look towards politics, it`s the politics of tear down and take down or pitting people as opposed to calling us to finish the unfinished business to this country.  Where is the chorus of not just outrage which we need to have.  We`re so focused on Trump. 

Most of the things I mentioned were going on before Donald Trump was elected.  Massive environmental injustice.  Massive economic injustice.  Massive race and racism embedded in our systems going on before Donald Trump.  Obviously, he`s made it worse.  He`s a crisis.

But there is a worry and fear that we`re not motivated anymore, collectively, in the way that we were to meet other morally unjust things, whether it`s Jim Crow, whether it`s child labor that got so many Americans to come together to solve them. 

So, I want to be the president that helps us again understand that across this country, there is common pain.  This opioid addiction in the inner city and in rural areas, there`s people working full-time jobs and still living below the poverty line in suburban areas and factory towns.  To let people understand again that we have a common pain but we`ve lost that sense of common purpose in this country. 

MADDOW:  Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey is our guest.  We`ll be right back with Senator Booker right after this.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Back with us live in studio is Senator Cory Booker who is running to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States. 

Senator, thank you again for being here. 

BOOKER:  Thank you.  It`s good to be here. 

MADDOW:  Couple years ago you became the first senator to officially sit down at the witness stand and testify against one of your colleagues at his confirmation hearing when you testified against Senator Jeff Sessions and his confirmation to be attorney general.  Are you still glad you did that? 

BOOKER:  It`s one of my prouder moments.  I sat next to Cedric Richmond, a young up and coming leader in the Congress, and John Lewis and felt this conviction because I don`t think Americans understand how race, especially race within the criminal justice system still punishes entire communities and Jeff Sessions is a guy that stood against constructive reforms.  It would have made a difference, not only that but against voting rights and against protecting LGBTQ kids. 

We knew and I`ve now seen it happen where the Justice Department would pull back from defending voting rights, defending civil rights, fighting against a criminal justice and broken and even just police accountability measures.  Things that are happening all around our country, holding police accountable and making sure we have a police department especially when police -involved violence that are doing --

MADDOW:  Dropping those consent decrees.  Dropping those -- 



MADDOW:  -- in the city.

Let me ask you about who is the man who is likely to be Jeff Sessions` replacement.  Am I right you voted against William Barr in committee in terms of him being confirmed as the next A.G.? 

BOOKER:  Yes, that wasn`t hard to do when he literally wrote the book.  I mean, he wrote a book called "The Case for Mass Incarceration" or something to that extent. 


BOOKER:  So, he`s originally one of the architects of that tough on crime movement that has devastated communities.  And when you say devastated communities, let`s just be clear, already, Villanova says we have 20 percent less poverty in America if we have incarceration rates the same as our industrial peers.  This nation, the land of the free, that incarcerates one out of every three incarcerated women on planet earth in America. 

What does that do when you have a non-violent drug crime for doing things that two of the last three presidents did?  Well, you can`t get a job.  You can`t get businesses licenses.  It economically devastates you as well. 

So, we have economic devastation.  Voting rights in many states taken away from people, disproportionately African-Americans because remember, the same, there is no difference between blacks or whites for using drugs or dealing drugs, but blacks are four times more likely, almost four times more likely to be incarcerated for it. 

So, you have a system of mass incarceration that feeds upon the poor, upon the mentally ill, upon the addicted, and among -- on communities of color.  And for me, someone who is not calling out that system that`s so broken, that wouldn`t even -- when I asked a question about implicit racial bias and policing, something that former FBI directors, big city chiefs talked about, hey, we need to do something about implicit racial bias.  He didn`t know enough about it to say it even exists. 

So for these reasons and more, I can`t support him but he did come to me.  I said to him after the hearings, would you come meet with me?  He came with others and usually its staff meet all around.  I said, can I just meet with you one on one in my office? 

MADDOW:  Uh-hmm.

BOOKER:  And I just wanted to make a heartfelt appeal to him from my own experience as a young black man growing up, my run-ins with police, on how we have this justice system that still needs people. 

MADDOW:  How did he react? 

BOOKER:  You know, he didn`t say what I wanted him to say and I felt at times I wasn`t getting through.  I gave him a book, which Michelle Alexander`s --

MADDOW:  New Jim Crow. 

BOOKER:  "New Jim Crow", and asked him to please at least read it.  It`s one of the most fact-based books, objective evidence about our bias systems. 

So, I felt it was honorable that he would come and sit with me and listen with me one on one on the issues. 

So, I`m a prisoner of hope always, but I`m ready and poised to keep fighting the Trump Justice Department as they continue to do attacks on voting rights, attacks -- or failure to defend voting rights, civil rights, and you name it. 

MADDOW:  I have something else I want to ask you about which I never heard you talk about and I have no idea what you think about it.  Will you stay for one more segment? 

BOOKER:  Yes, absolutely. 

MADDOW:  Senator Cory Booker will be back with us tonight.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  Back with us is Democratic senator and presidential candidate Cory Booker. 

Senator, thank you again for doing this. 

BOOKER:  It`s really great to be here, thank you.  This is a tremendous presidential platform to come to.  So, it`s good to be here.

MADDOW:  Yes, I didn`t ever mean for that to be -- 

BOOKER:  Yes, all of us.

MADDOW:  I have to not think about that or I can`t come to work in the day.  I can`t put it together. 

Let me ask you about the big field that you are joining.  A lot of women, and especially a lot of your women Senate colleagues --

BOOKER:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  -- are already running.  You are blessed among women -- 


MADDOW:  -- in the field right now. 

If you got the nomination, would you commit to choosing a woman as your vice presidential running mate? 

BOOKER:  I think it would be malpractice.  I`m not going to make any specific commitments, but we clearly should have -- I believe there should be a woman right now and works very hard to get one.  But we have such a great field of leaders, I think you will rarely see a Democratic ticket anymore without gender diversity, race diversity.  I think it`s something that we should have. 

So, I`m not going to box myself in, but should I come to it, you know I`ll be looking to women first. 

MADDOW:  I know that you have positive relationships with some if not all of the other people who are running on the Democratic side.  Certainly, I`ve heard that from everybody else about you and about each other. 

What do you expect the primary is going to be like?  What are you hoping for?  Can it be competitive and tough and trying while still being what you want from public life? 

BOOK:  Look, we have great people running.  This is actually an abundance of riches for the Democratic Party.  I hope that whoever wins, we all support.  It`s really important to me that we have full support of whoever that nominee is. 

But I`m just confident to tell my story, let people know I have a unique pathway to running for president, coming from an inner city, managing it during -- through crisis with great results.  So, I`m hoping that people will support me for who I am, in the spirit of -- look, it`s not just about beating Trump, it`s not just about what we`re against.  It`s got to also be about what we`re for, bringing this country together to solve seriously problems. 

And if people want to support me, here`s my plug, go to, and join the effort, join the fight. 

MADDOW:  Cory Booker, senator from New Jersey, my friend, thank you.

BOOKER:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Congratulations on taking this stuff thus far.  I can`t wait to see how this works.

BOOKER:  I`m grateful.  Thank you so much.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Thanks.

All right.  We`ll be right back.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  That pretty much does it for us tonight. 

There is a lot to stay in for tonight, though, here on MSNBC as we are continuing to follow these reports that members of Congress have reached some sort of tentative deal to avert yet another government shutdown at the end of the week.  We still don`t know the exact terms of the deal.  It reportedly does not include funding for the president`s wall.  It does include funding for 50-plus miles of new fencing. 

But the president today says that he is unhappy with the deal.  He also says that he is going to use other methods and other money because he`s going to finish the wall, which he insists he has already been building, even though he hasn`t.  There are some reports tonight that the House could be voting on this tentative deal as early as tomorrow. 

Senator Mitch McConnell is saying today that he hopes the president does sign the deal, which implies the Senate`s going to pass something, too.  At this point, it is unclear how fast we are going to proceed to the next juncture.

But watch this space, by which I mean -- now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Good evening, Lawrence.

                                                                                                                THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END