Cory Booker’s Conscience

Cory Booker is no courageous senator. He's Big Pharma's favorite Democrat.

Then–Newark mayor Cory Booker at the TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference in 2012. Kevin Krejci / Flickr

Cory Booker’s in the news. But of course he is.

New Jersey’s junior senator used to live in Newark, but these days he seems to live in some alternate cyber-reality, coursing through a circuit of cable wire that runs from news media outlet to news media outlet and social media platform to social media platform, allowing Booker to jack himself into digitized view at a moment’s notice. He’s the high-tech entrepreneur senator/superhero of the future, from the future, for the future (say, circa 2020).

He’s in the news this week for half his day’s work Wednesday. During the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Booker testified that Sessions lacks the “courageous empathy” needed for the position.

Helpfully for Booker’s media profile, Republican senators chastised him for breaking with the collegial custom of the Senate to refrain from speaking out against a fellow senator in a hearing. This allowed Booker to state publicly how seriously he deliberated on his decision to break with the Senate’s stodgy cronyism. (Booker called this, accurately, “Senate norms.”)

“I do not take lightly the decision to testify against a Senate colleague,” Booker assured us. “But the immense powers of the attorney general combined with the deeply troubling views of this nominee is a call to conscience.”

Media reactions were predictable. Fox News relied on right-wing Republican senator Tom Cotton to point out the obvious: that this was political theater, a precursor to the act to be staged in 2020. The New York Times accentuated instead Booker’s case against Sessions, which hinged on Sessions’s anti–voting rights and anti-immigrant record. Slate gushed, astonished that Booker would be so courageous as to “step into the klieg lights to talk about uncomfortable racial truths.”

Whatever the slant, coverage of Senator Booker’s stand was everywhere come Thursday morning — indeed, by Wednesday evening, before he even finished his long day by voting, past 11 at night, on an amendment “[t]o establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to lower prescription drug prices for Americans by importing drugs from Canada.” Quietly, Booker voted nay.

He tweeted many times Wednesday about his testimony against Sessions (one was simply a quotation from, yes, Martin Luther King on the importance of refusing to remain silent). But @CoryBooker was a little slower to tweet about his vote against a measure that would allow for cheaper importation of prescription drugs. And when he did, the defensiveness — the damage control — was all too apparent.

Bernie Sanders was quicker to tweet on the amendment. He wrote, “Literally, there are thousands of people who die every single year because they cannot afford the medicine they need. That’s outrageous.”

Work on your tweeting skills, senator — that tweet had 136 characters, far too long, not nearly as punchy as Booker’s feed: “In the cause of justice: never stay silent just so that others can remain comfortable.” Self-righteous, ridiculously reductive, short and saccharine-sweet.

Sanders was one of the forces behind the amendment, introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Most Democrats voted for the measure, from Klobuchar’s fellow Minnesotan Al Franken to Elizabeth Warren. Twelve Republicans supported the amendment. These were mostly the self-styled sane grown-ups of the GOP caucus, like Susan Collins and John McCain, but the yeas also included Rand Paul — and even Ted Cruz.

The amendment would have passed and people’s prescription drugs would have cost less if not for the nay votes of thirteen Democratic senators.

These included those of the Great Plains Blue Dogs Jon Tester and Heidi Heitkamp, who recently entertained the idea of joining Donald Trump’s cabinet. Joe Manchin, who entertained the same idea, voted in favor of Klobuchar’s amendment. Booker voted nay.

The amendment failed, 46-52.

Booker is a corporate liberal whose solidly pro-business economic commitments might have led him to seek a home in the GOP if it weren’t for the party’s refusal to let go of its troglodytic stances on social issues. The best evidence of this is from 2012 when he took to Meet the Press, supposedly as President Obama’s surrogate. Yet Booker used his time to attack Obama for attacking Mitt Romney’s time at the private equity firm Bain Capital.

In the most remarkable false-equivalency wizardry of the 2012 campaign, Booker said then, “The last point I’ll make is this kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.”

Perhaps Booker could now update this line for 2017: “Stop attacking the pharmaceutical industry!”

Liberals have spent this winter season shouting at the Left to remember that they are not the real enemy. And in the light of day, Cory Booker is fighting the good fight in testifying against Sessions (albeit with vague and tepid words about how “troubling” his record is). But after dark, he’s voting down Sanders’s and Klobuchar’s attempt to provide some shelter for the sick against the wolves from the pharmaceutical industry.

After-hours extra work is the least Booker could provide the pharmaceutical industry. According to the nonpartisan nonprofit MapLight, the only senators who receive more of the industry’s largesse are Orrin Hatch and Mitch McConnell. Cory Booker’s Big Pharma’s favorite Democrat; he’s just about its favorite senator.

Certainly, his favor with the pharmaceuticals must have never been better than Wednesday night. However, one wonders how fearful are the pharmaceuticals now, after Booker has tweeted some words of noble defiance? Thursday, he explained on Twitter that, really, he voted with McConnell and Hatch because Sanders and Klobuchar hadn’t gone far enough. After one sympathetic Twitter user questioned Booker about his vote, he assured her: “We need much more action than this.”

Then he assured her: “I will fight for this.”