New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said that “black voters are pissed off and they’re worried” about the party’s ability to win the 2020 presidential election.
The senator, who pointed out his own black identity to the audience at Wednesday’s Democratic debate, joined Sen. Kamala Harris of California when he said black voters are tired of politicians stumping for their votes but failing to deliver on promises to end poverty, racism and unfairness in the justice system.
Their remarks, made in Atlanta, a majority black city that was home to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., came in a series of testy exchanges on race that pitted them against two of their white counterparts, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Harris pointed to Buttigieg’s troubles building support among black voters as a reason that Democrats should look to a candidate who has an “authentic” connection to that community. Buttigieg, referring to the challenge of building trust among black residents in the city he leads, agreed that he needs to do better.
Booker attacked Biden for his recent statements opposing the national legalization of marijuana, a stand the senator said perpetuates racial inequities in the criminal justice system by disproportionately putting black men in prison for low-level drug offenses.
“I thought you might have been high when you said it,” Booker said to Biden about his comments, drawing laughter from the audience.
“Marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people, and the war on drugs has been a war on black and brown people,” Booker said.
In response, Biden said marijuana should be decriminalized, although he did not specify whether that should include recreational marijuana. Previously, he said he supports legalizing medical marijuana but he needed to see more research on the long-term effects of using the drug.
Harris and Booker also criticized Biden’s effort to play up his deep support within the black community, a key bloc in the Democratic base that the eventual nominee will need to mobilize during the primaries and in the general election.
“I’m part of that Obama coalition. I come out of the black community in terms of my support,” Biden said, seizing on Harris’ plea for the Democrats to reconstitute the diverse base the former president assembled to win in 2008 and 2012.
“They know who I am,” Biden said of black voters before stumbling in his description of his allies among black lawmakers in Washington.
“Three former chairs of the black caucus, the only African American woman that’s ever been elected to the United States Senate, a whole range of people,” he said before he was cut off by both Booker and Harris.
“No, that’s not true,” Harris said, correcting Biden.
“That’s not true,” Booker interjected.
Sen. Carol Moseley Brown, an African American from Illinois, previously served in the U.S. Senate from 1993 to 1999.
“The other one is here,” Harris said, referring to herself before breaking into laughter.