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Booker: Trump the One 'Playing the Race Card from the Very Start'

Cory Booker speaks at the Center for American Progress Ideas Conference

WASHINGTON – Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, pushed back against critics who have told him he’s “playing the race card” when speaking out against racial injustice.

“You said to me before that I'm unapologetic in talking about injustice, racial injustice. I am unapologetic and I still remember being in one moment where somebody was talking to me like ‘you're playing the race card’ and I'm like ‘it's not playing the race card when you're pointing out a reality that is existing.’ What playing the race card is is when you begin your campaign talking about Mexicans and Muslims, that's playing the race card from the very start. [Trump’s] campaign was started with playing to those fears. It was a fear in demagoguery, playing to fears, and being a demagogue,” Booker said recently during a discussion with Steve Phillips, founder of Democracy in Color.

“It's hard to talk about the Trump phenomenon without acknowledging his – and I wouldn't even call it a dog whistle; it is a bullhorn – that he does to those streams within our larger societal waters that exist. And I've seen it change in my community, and I've just seen it and I really lost my temper,” he added. “It was so hurtful to me when he made those comments about s-hole countries and then even the people in the room, which I think is even worse, who want to lie about that. I mean, to me the opposite of justice is not injustice – it's silence, it's indifference. It's not having the courage as we saw many people do, ranging from the Holocaust to, as you said, conscientious objectors and even slavery.”

Booker said one of the best ways to tackle racial injustice is to have an “honest conversation and dialogue.”

“What folks need to understand, and we saw this recently from Canada to a recent shooting, the shooting we just had in the Waffle House, is we've had about over 80 terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11,”  he said. “The majority of them have been right-wing organizations, the majority of those white supremacist, folks who subscribe to that philosophy. And so we need to speak to this and we need to call it out unapologetically and that's not playing the race card; to me, it's playing the justice card.”

Booker explained why he supports removing about a dozen Confederate statues from the Capitol building.

“So I had a bill to take down the Confederate monuments in the Capitol. This powerful public space, hundreds of thousands of Americans come there and these are hurtful, painful symbols that were often put up, in my opinion, in reaction to advancements and gains towards equality in this country,” he said. “You go to Germany, you're going to see monuments to people who died in the Holocaust all over that country. But here we've covered over that history and put on top of it people who were many ways trying to defend that horrific evil and fight for it.”