Cory Booker Told Joe Biden He 'Can't Have It Both Ways' About Obama

The two went head to head at the primary debates in Detroit

By Lauren Rearick

Night two of the Democratic primary debates featured protestors, a condescending remark, and an epic burn of former Vice President Joe Biden provided by Senator Cory Booker.

During a heated exchange, Senator Booker questioned why Biden avoided addressing the migrant deportations that occurred under former President Barack Obama, in which the administration deported more people than any other president in modern history. The Obama administration also detained families, in fairly heinous conditions, until the courts forced them to stop. (The administration did not separate families, despite Trump saying it did.) Biden dodged blame by saying he can’t take credit for the mass deportations because he wasn’t president at the time.

Booker fired back.

“Mr. Vice President, you can't have it both ways,” he said. “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.

“And the second thing that this really irks me — because I heard the vice president say that if you got a Ph.D., you can come right into this country. Well, that’s playing into what the Republicans want, to pit some immigrants against other immigrants. Some are from shithole countries and some are from worthy countries. We need to reform this whole immigration system and begin to be the country that says everyone has worth and dignity and this should be a country that honors for everyone. Don't let the Republicans divide this party against itself.”

In response, Biden argued that “we are a country of immigrants. All of us. All of us." That isn’t true: Indigenous peoples lived on and cared for the land now known as North America for hundreds of years prior to the colonizers who landed on the country’s Eastern shores. He also claimed that “some [immigrants] came against their will,” a euphemistic way to note how Black people were forced into transport as slaves for white settlers.

It wasn’t the only time Booker and Biden parried about past policies — later in the debate, they squared off against each other’s work regarding the criminal justice system and the power given to police.

“If you want to compare records, and frankly I’m shocked that you do, I am happy to do that,” Booker said. “All of the problems that he is talking about, that he created, I actually led the bill that got passed into law that reverses the damage that your bills that you are, frankly — to correct you, Mr. Vice President — you were bragging about it, calling it the Biden Crime Bill until 2015.” He was referring to the Crime Bill of 1994, which has been thoroughly criticized over the years for directly contributing to racial inequity in the criminal justice system.

Rather than clarify his history, Biden opted to counter with Booker’s own history: “The bill he talks about is a bill that in [the Obama] administration, we passed … The fact of the matter is, secondly, there was nothing done for the entire eight years [Booker] was mayor. There was nothing done to deal with the police department. Why did you announce on the first day a zero-tolerance policy of stop and frisk and hire Rudy Giuliani’s guy in 2007 when I was trying to get rid of the crack cocaine?”

Booker then cut in, providing one of the night's most memorable quotes: “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. You need to come to the city of Newark and see the reforms that we’ve put in place. The New Jersey head of the ACLU has said that I embraced reform not just in action but in deed. Sir, you are trying to shift the view from what you created. There are people right now in prison for life for drug offenses because you stood up and used that ‘tough-on-crime,’ phony rhetoric that got a lot of people elected but that destroyed communities like mine.”

To close, the New Jersey Senator centered the discussion on those still stuck inside America's criminal justice system.

"This isn’t about the past, sir," he said. "This is about the present right now. I believe in redemption. I'm happy you evolved. But you've offered no redemption to the people in prison right now for life."