Is America ready for a president who is single and a vegan? Cory Booker, New Jersey’s junior senator, certainly hopes so. The fifty-year-old former Rhodes Scholar would be the first bachelor elected president since a never-married Grover Cleveland won back in 1884 and just the third ever. (James Buchanan, who makes every list of America’s worst presidents, was the first bachelor to make it to the White House.) No sitting U.S. president has ever been a vegetarian, let alone a vegan, though Bill Clinton adopted a mostly vegan diet after he left the White House. So the jelly beans, cheeseburger pizzas, and pork rinds that made their way to the Oval Office in past presidencies aren’t likely to be found in the White House during a Booker presidency.
Name: Cory Anthony Booker
Date of Birth: April 27, 1969
Place of Birth: Washington, DC
Religion: Baptist (Raised Methodist)
Political Party: Democratic Party
Marital Status: Single
Alma Mater: Stanford University (BA, MA); Oxford University (MA); Yale University (JD)
Career: Lawyer; Member of the Newark City Council (1998-2002); Mayor of Newark (2006-2013); U.S. Senator (2013-present)
Campaign Website: https://corybooker.com/
Twitter Handle: @CoryBooker
Booker announced his presidential run back in April at a rally in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey. He touched on a wide range of subjects in his thirty-minute speech, including stagnating wages, the decline of family-owned farms, and legalizing marijuana at the federal level. Foreign policy got two brief mentions. The New Jersey senator complained of “decades of unjust policies that have destroyed our economy and extracted money from our commonwealth and plowed into tax cuts for the wealthy and wars overseas we didn’t have to fight.” He also vowed “to meet the crisis of climate change because we have no other choice.”
Booker also released an announcement video titled “We Will Rise.”
The video draws a distinction between Booker and everyone in the race. He lives in Newark, so he is "the only senator who goes home to a low-income, inner city community." The announcement video doesn’t mention foreign policy at all.
Cory Booker was born in Washington, DC. His parents—Cary and Carolyn—were civil rights activists and executives at IBM. They moved to Harrington Park, New Jersey, just months after Cory was born. They succeeded in buying a house in the overwhelmingly white suburb only by arranging for a white couple to bid on the property. When Booker’s father showed up at the closing with a lawyer, the seller’s real estate agent punched the lawyer and sicced a dog on the elder Booker.
Booker was a great student and star football player in high school. He made USA Today’s All-USA Team his senior year. Coaches from around the country, including legendary Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, traveled to Harrington Park to recruit him. Former President Gerald Ford called to urge him to become a University of Michigan Wolverine. He opted to attend Stanford and play for Jack Elway, father of Hall-of-Fame quarterback John Elway.
Booker’s college football career didn’t meet the expectations that many people had for him. He never started a game and didn’t play in one until he was a junior. He finished his career as a tight end with just twenty catches and one touchdown. His best game, though, came when it mattered most. In his senior season, he caught two passes as Stanford upset number-one ranked Notre Dame in South Bend.
While Booker didn’t shine on the college gridiron, he excelled in the classroom and on campus. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1991 and was senior class president. He added a master’s degree in sociology in 1992. He was awarded a Rhodes scholarship and earned another master’s degree in history. He then attended Yale Law School, graduating in 1997.
After earning his law degree, Booker moved to Newark where he provided legal services to low-income families in the city. He was elected to the city council in 1998 when he was twenty-nine. While a councilman, he went on a hunger-strike to protest living conditions in a Newark housing project. He ran for mayor for the first time in 2002, but lost to a longtime incumbent. The documentary Street Fight tracked that unsuccessful election bid. Booker ran again for mayor in 2002 and won. He was thirty-seven.
Booker’s mayoral style was defined by his social media savviness and his rapport with the city’s historically underserved communities. His policy priorities were bringing investments to the city, education reform, and fighting crime. He was also a hands-on mayor. Among other things, he shoveled an elderly man’s driveway, took in a dog left outside on a frigid night, and carried a neighbor out of a burning house.
In 2013, Booker won a special election for the Senate after the incumbent officeholder died. The victory made Booker New Jersey’s first African-American senator. He won a full term in 2014. Booker is the only one of the seven Democratic senators running for the presidency whose term ends in 2020. If he fares poorly in the first formal nominating events, he will face the decision of whether to drop out of the race to pursue a second full term in the Senate. Booker sits on the Environment and Public Works, Foreign Relations, Judiciary, and Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees.
Booker had his last non-vegan meal on Election Day 2014. For the previous twenty-two years he had been a vegetarian. He stopped eating meat when he was at Oxford. He says that he simply felt much better eating a vegetarian diet. Although many meat-eaters seem threatened by vegans, he doesn’t think being a vegan will hurt him at the polls. “I remember somebody teasing me when I was getting ready to run for mayor in Newark: ‘There’s no way a black city is going to elect a vegetarian!’ But people did.”
Booker is a big Star Trek fan. He particularly liked The Next Generation. He also likes The Big Bang Theory.
Booker’s campaign slogan is “We Will Rise.” He stresses the importance of working together. He says “The lines that divide us are nowhere near as strong as the ties that bind us. When we join together and work together — we rise together.” He is calling for a “revival of civic grace.” He says he has experience bringing people together: “I grew up knowing that the only way we can make change is when people come together.”
Booker’s Foreign Policy Views
Booker believes that climate change is, along with nuclear proliferation, the greatest geopolitical threat to the United States. When President Trump announced he would be withdrawing from the Paris climate deal, Booker said that the decision “is a vicious blow to American leadership in the world and to our future. When it comes to addressing an issue as urgent as climate change, President Trump is just plain wrong.” He pledges to rejoin the Paris agreement during the first hours of his presidency. But he worries that people expect presidents to be “saviors.” The reality is that “it’s not going to be one person in one office” that solves the problem. “We need to do it in partnership with others on the planet.”
One of Booker’s chief foreign policy complaints is that the United States has overused its military in recent years, and as a result, made itself and others less secure. Unlike many of his Democratic rivals, however, he refuses to set deadlines for withdrawing U.S. troops from combat zones overseas. He says that “we cannot have forever wars.” However, he thinks that “it is a mistake in presidential campaigns to start putting timelines on our military.” He supports having “a debate and vote on an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIS.” The challenge, of course, is coming up with authorization language that satisfies a majority of both houses and the White House.
The flip side of Booker’s concern that the United States has overused its military is that it has underused its diplomats. Booker opposed the Trump administration’s effort to slash the State Department’s budget, saying, “It is outrageous to me that you have an administration on one side of their mouth want to talk about being tough against ISIS and against terrorism,” adding “I would say, if you're looking at a toolbox, one of the most critical assets we have is the activities being done to diplomacy, to USAID and through other CVE (countering violent extremism) efforts that are not about a military.”
Booker has criticized the Trump administration’s policy toward Saudi Arabia, saying “We need to reexamine that entire relationship.” Booker said of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder last October, “I’m worried that this has been skewed from the start. I’m worried about efforts to cover this up and I’m worried about our administration willing to just go along and get along because of a lot of the financial interests that we might have,” adding, “I hope that whoever ever holds that presidential office stands as a moral leader nationally and globally and not somebody that would compromise for arms sales.” He also connected Khashoggi’s case with the “humanitarian disaster” in Yemen. Booker has long cited Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen as the reason he opposes U.S. arms sales to Riyadh. “There are better ways for America…to fight for peace and security in that region…and I fear that what’s happening now is contributing to the crisis in the region, contributing to an environment that creates fertile ground for terrorists to thrive.”
Booker has criticized U.S. policy toward Syria. He argued that the April 2018 U.S. airstrikes against Syria for using chemical weapons were taken “without any comprehensive strategy or the necessary congressional authorization.” He called Trump’s December 2018 vow to withdraw U.S. troops quickly from Syria as “reckless and dangerous.” However, like all of the other senators running for president except for Michael Bennet, Booker voted against a sense-of-the-Senate resolution that Mitch McConnell offered expressing concern that a “precipitous withdrawal” of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and Syria “could put at risk hard-won gains and United States national security.”
Iran is another issue where Booker parts from the Trump administration. Booker agrees that Iran threatens the United States and its allies. He cosponsored a 2013 bill that toughened sanctions on Tehran. He had reservations about the deal that President Obama struck to constrain Iran’s nuclear program, but ultimately supported it. He explained his decision this way: “It is better to support a deeply flawed deal, for the alternative is worse.” The same reasoning explains his opposition to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal.
Booker staunchly supports Israel, especially when it comes to self-defense: “I support Israel’s right to defend itself. Full stop.” He was one of the few Democrats in 2017 to support the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which bars U.S. companies from joining an international boycott of Israel. However, he created a stir in August 2018 when he was photographed holding a sign, created by a group that supports the boycott, divest, and sanctions movement, that said: “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go.” Booker’s spokesman said that the senator “didn’t realize it had anything to do with Israel. He hopes for a day when there will be no need for security barriers in the State of Israel, but while active terrorist organizations threaten the safety of the people living in Israel, security barriers are unfortunate but necessary to protect human lives.” Booker joined with all other Senate Democrats in opposing the nomination of David Friedman to be U.S. ambassador to Israel, saying that Friedman “would damage the prospects of finding a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians, the only path to a lasting peace that would bring true security and Middle East stability.”
Booker believes that the Trump administration has it exactly backward with its hardline approach to the migrants coming to the United States from the Northern Triangle of Central America—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. “Donald Trump isn't solving this problem. We've seen under his leadership a surge at our border. We solve this problem by making investments in the Northern Triangle to stop the reasons why people are being driven here in the first place, and we make sure we use our resources to provide health care to affirm the values and human dignity of the people that come here, because we cannot sacrifice our values, our ideals as a nation for border security. We can have both by doing this the right way.”
Polls may show that Democratic voters favor free trade. Booker, however, isn’t pushing a free-trade agenda. He wants “to be known as a pro-fair trade Democrat” and has tweeted that trade deals need to be “much more fair to U.S. companies.” He voted against the fast-track legislation that authorized Obama to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). When pressed recently on whether he favored renegotiating TPP or doing away with it, he declined to give a clear answer. He instead said: “I’m saying that if we are going to win in Asia, we need to bring together the allies that we have there, and do a deal that works for us to counter and check China in a substantive way.”
More on Booker
Booker has written one book, United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good. It was published in 2016.
Booker is good friends with fellow 2020 contender Kirsten Gillibrand. When Booker entered the race, Gillibrand tweeted “Congratulations and welcome to the race to one of my closest friends, @corybooker! I'll be cheering you on—just, you know, not TOO hard.” Booker said running against Gillibrand and Kamala Harris will be like a “sibling rivalry.”
Booker sat down with the Atlantic last December for an interview on why he talks so frequently about love. His answer? “My faith tradition is love your enemies. It’s not complicated for me, if I aspire to be who I say I am. I am a Christian American. Literally written in the ideals of my faith is to love those who hate you.”
Jonathan Van Meter wrote in New York Magazine that “Cory Booker’s got a lot of love to give, and he’s betting that’s what it will take to win in 2020.”
Vogue profiled Booker in 2012 when he was the energetic, tweeting mayor of Newark, saying “His heroics aren’t merely expressions of physical courage—though they certainly are that. They’re applications of a theory of civic revitalization, which says that a single leader, visibly doing the right thing, can influence a whole community’s behavior.”
POLITICO Magazine asked “Is Cory Booker for Real?” and argued that he “has wrestled throughout his career with what it means to be a black politician who came of age in a white-dominated world, and how to extrapolate his unique experience in Newark with the larger concerns of the nation.”
Booker sat down with the New York Times in June to answer eighteen questions. One of the questions was where he would take his first international trip. His answer? “I’ve given a lot of thought to that, and it’s not something I am going to be telling the New York Times about right now.”
CFR asked Booker twelve foreign policy questions. He offered up the “peaceful spread of democracy around the world” as America’s greatest foreign policy accomplishment since World War II. The Iraq war was his choice as America’s greatest foreign policy mistake.
Corey Cooper, Brenden Ebertz, and Elizabeth Lordi assisted in the preparation of this post.