HARTFORD, CT — U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said it wasn’t a tough sell to get him to headline the biggest Connecticut fundraising dinner of the year.
He said he would do anything for U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.
In introducing Booker, Murphy read for the first time publicly a text Booker sent him last year when he was still deciding whether to move forward with what ended up being nearly 15-hour filibuster until Republicans agreed to hold a vote on two measures.
Murphy said the text was so thoughtful and gave him the extra push he needed to move forward with the filibuster just days after the mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando.
“I will meet you on the floor and be with you for the duration. It may not work out this way, but I believe this could be a powerful moment in time. I hope you will err on the side of being daring,” Booker texted. “America needs that now. Don’t just think of this through the Senate view, but what our nation needs amidst a very difficult time and during an ongoing national tragedy. Be that voice, cautious and courageous, tactical and bold.”
Murphy said he had the confidence to start the filibuster because he had Blumenthal by his side and Booker.
“He is a true American original,” Murphy said.
In a 42-minute often meandering speech Booker spoke about his visit earlier in the day to Danbury Federal prison. He also spoke about mental health and criminal justice.
He said he asked the warden how many of the women inmates are victims of sexual assault and was told 95 percent.
“Shame on us as society,” Booker said. “Since 1980 alone the federal prison population has increased 800 percent. We are taking huge potential and throwing it in prison at rates that have never before been seen.”
He said government is spending billions of dollars putting the most vulnerable people in society in prison.
“When I was growing up at Stanford I saw a whole lot of drug use,” Booker said. “But they didn’t have sting operations at universities. No one was getting stopped and frisked on the way home from fraternity parties.”
But the young people in the inner cities are going to prison for doing things “that two of the last three presidents admitted to doing,” he added.
Booker largely steered clear of focusing on Republican President Donald Trump, but he did say he misses Obama.
“I miss Obama,” Booker said. The crowd roared and he waited for them to fall silent before finishing his through. ”I miss Obama and I miss her husband, too.”
Booker and Murphy have both been mentioned as possible challengers to Trump in 2020.
“I am sick and tired of turning on my TV and watching a president of the United States evidence everything but honor,” Booker said toward the end of his remarks.
He used it to pivot back to his thoughts about America.
“If you are here and your heart has not been broken by America. If you’re here and you haven’t felt pain for your country and you just feel like you’ve gotten body slammed, like what Republicans are doing to reporters these days,” Booker said to laughs. “If you haven’t looked at your country and hurt because it’s fallen short.”
He then went back to his time in Newark where in 2004 there was a shooting in his neighborhood and he ended up helping a gunshot victim before paramedics arrived. The boy died.
“I was so angry,” Booker said as he described having to wash the victim’s blood off his hands. “We allow injustice to reign on streets.”
He said the tenant president saw him the day after the shooting and hugged him while repeating two words: “stay faithful.”
He implied that’s what the Democratic Party must do.
The Connecticut Democratic Party said about 1,100 attended the Saturday dinner. The average ticket went for $185 per person so the party raised more than $203,000.
Last year, upset with Democrats who voted in favor of a state budget that cut spending and laid off more than 1,000 state employees, labor leaders protested the dinner. This year, faced with selling their members a $1.5 billion concession package, many public sector union members and officials didn’t show up. However, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, a local from the International Union of Operating Engineers, and the New England Regional Council of Carpenters purchased ads in the ad book and many attended the event.