Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker sharply panned the 1994 crime bill as “awful” and “a mistake” in an interview published Thursday – drawing a pronounced contrast with his rival Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner in the race for president.
“I use this word sincerely: I love Joe Biden,” Booker told Huffington Post during a swing through Iowa last weekend. But the crime bill that Biden spearheaded, Booker said, “was awful.”
“We should all agree with the force of conviction: That bill was a mistake,” Booker added, suggesting it incentivized mass incarceration. “Good people signed on to that bill. People make mistakes. But let’s hold them to that. That crime bill was shameful, what it did to black and brown communities like mine [and] low-income communities from Appalachia to rural Iowa. It was a bad bill.”
The bill was one of Biden’s signature legislative achievements as a US senator from Delaware and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But it has become something of a liability in the 2020 campaign, eliciting attacks from a new generation of candidates including Booker.
Biden was pressed about the bill during a campaign stop in New Hampshire earlier this month, where he told a New Hampshire voter, “This idea that the crime bill generated mass incarceration – it did not generate mass incarceration.”
“The mass incarceration occurred by the states setting mandatory sentences,” he added. “What happened is, if you go back and look, the black caucus supported the bill.”
Booker, who has made criminal justice reform a focus of his campaign, has not been shy to criticize the 1994 bill, calling it “horrible” during a CNN town hall earlier this year. He has also previously characterized it as “a mistake,” as he did again over the weekend.
But Booker’s comments in Iowa mark an unusually direct attack on Biden as Booker looks to gain ground in the Democratic presidential primary. Biden, meanwhile, has started the race as the clear frontrunner, with a comfortable lead over his nearly two dozen rivals.
“I have a great deal of respect for Vice President Joe Biden, but I disagree with him,” Harris, a former prosecutor, told CNN earlier this month. “That crime bill – that 1994 crime bill – it did contribute to mass incarceration in our country. It encouraged and was the first time that we had a federal three strikes law. It funded the building of more prisons in the states. So, I disagree, sadly.”
Buttigieg said in a Fox News town hall this month that the “bad” caused by the bill “outweighs the good.”
De Blasio told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” Sunday that the “crime bill was one of the foundations of mass incarceration in a very painful era in our nation’s history.”
“The (former) vice president and anyone else has to be accountable for every vote they take and what’s on their record, and I think that was a huge mistake,” he said.