Cory Booker Says He’s ‘Frustrated and Disappointed by This Reparations Conversation’


New Jersey Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker weighed in on the debate over reparations for slavery, saying he is “frustrated and disappointed” because the conversation is being “reduced to just a box to check on a presidential list.”

At a CNN town hall event Wednesday night, moderator Don Lemon asked Booker about the issue, which has received a lot of attention thus far in the Democratic primary race.

“Would you be in favor of direct monetary payments to black Americans who are descendants of slaves?” Lemon asked.

“Can I tell you why I’m frustrated and disappointed by this reparations conversation?” Booker said. “It’s because it’s being reduced to just a box to check on a presidential list when this is so much more of a serious conversation.”

“So do I support legislation that is race conscious about balancing the economic scales? Not only do I support it, but I have legislation that actually does it,” Booker said. “In fact, I’ve got the only legislation, I think, in the entire Congress that Columbia University says would virtually eliminate the racial wealth gap in our country.”

Booker explained his “baby bonds” bill, which gives “every child born in America” a $2,000 bond at birth, and additional amounts every year thereafter based on income. As Booker mentioned, a Columbia University analysis found that the program would reduce the wealth gap between white and black children significantly.

Booker went on to explain his frustration further, telling the crowd that “Since slavery in this country, our nation’s original sin, we have had overt policies fueled by white supremacy and racism that have been oppressing African Americans economically, but it didn’t stop with slavery.”

“Reconstruction period, it went even beyond the reconstruction period into the Jim Crow period,” he continued. “Many of the best ideas we’ve had in America that have ushered millions of Americans into the middle class, blacks were systematically excluded from the G.I. Bill to — even Social Security is written to try to exclude the professions that African Americans were in.”

Booker cited redlining and other forms of housing discrimination, as well as the “persistence of racism” that permeates the media and politics.

“How do we talk about black protesters? They’re thugs,” Booker said. “You see it in our politics. Willie Horton and welfare queens, these tired tropes that still show up and allow things to happen like mass incarceration, which has implicit racial bias in our criminal justice system that hurts blacks.”

Booker concluded by saying that he supports HR 40, which would create a commission to develop reparations policies and proposals, and which Booker says “would bring together the best minds in America to deal with this issue, not only trying to right economic scales from past harms, but to make sure we are a country that creates a more beloved community where all dignity and humanity is affirmed of every single person in our country.”

“It’s a complicated question,” Lemon said. “What are reparations? And I think that’s part of the conversation.”

“Right,” Booker agreed.

That final point by Lemon is central to the debate over reparations that’s occurring in the Democratic primary right now. No candidate has come out explicitly in favor of direct payments, but Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and now Booker have come out in favor of HR 40, which includes a provision to determine “What form of compensation should be awarded, through what instrumentalities and who should be eligible for such compensation.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg have each explicitly come out against direct payments, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) expressed skepticism without ruling them out. All of the candidates who have responded to the question have suggested policies that are not race-specific, but which they say will impact racial disparities.

The political implications of the reparations debate are still unclear. National polling on the issue has consistently shown that only around a quarter of Americans support cash reparations, including a very recent Survey Monkey poll. But that poll also showed 54 percent support for reparations among “moderately or very liberal” Americans, versus 13 percent among conservatives.

These polls, however, may not reflect the expanding definitions of “reparations” that are being floated by the candidates, nor do they necessarily measure the intensity of the issue among Democratic voters.

Former Vice President Joe Biden‘s early and extensive lead in the polls, despite his problematic past statements on issues like reparations, suggest that other factors are more important to those voters right now. In the most recent Quinnipiac poll, Biden leads by ten points with all Democratic voters, and a whopping 27 points with black Democrats.

And Bernie Sanders, who has been panned over his statements about reparations, is in second place with all Democrats, as well as with black Democrats. Beto O’Rourke is in third place with both groups, and he has come out against “traditional reparations,” and for race-neutral policies to address “systemic” racial disparities and discrimination.

Watch the clip above, via CNN.

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