When Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-N.J.) lashed out against Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenHillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Sen. Kennedy slams acting DHS secretary for lack of coronavirus answers The ‘accidental director’ on the front line of the fight for election security MORE this week, he became the latest potential 2020 presidential candidate to use a high-profile Senate committee hearing to amplify their stature.
Booker mostly got what he wanted: his fiery questioning of Nielsen at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday played on loop across the cable networks and fired up the conversation around his would-be candidacy.
Booker, 48, tore into Nielsen for saying she did not recall President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE using the term “shithole” to describe certain countries in a White House meeting on immigration last week.
“Your silence and your amnesia is complicity,” Booker said, raising his voice and clenching his fists. At the same time, his moment in the spotlight carried some risks.
Republicans used the opportunity to lambast him for “mansplaining” — taking a page from the playbook Democrats have used against Republicans in recent months.
For the rest of the week, the Republican National Committee (RNC) referred to Booker as “Derogatory Cory.”
National Review, the conservative publication, said Booker’s “rant exposed the left’s gender hypocrisy.”
Still, the rewards of the viral moments can outweigh the risks, strategists say. And with more than half a dozen Senate Democrats potentially wading into the 2020 waters, senators have tried to use whatever moments they can to insert themselves into the national conversation. Nearly every week, those considering runs for the White House use the well of the upper chamber and televised committee hearings to boost their profiles and secure name recognition beyond their home states.
While Booker attempted to get his name in television lights this week, his colleagues have also had their moments — each trying to get further to the left to appeal to the Democratic Party’s base.
Last month, Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Warren, Pressley introduce bill to make it a crime for police officers to deny medical care to people in custody Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE (D-N.Y.) was at the center of the national conversation after she became one of the first female senators to call for former Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenPolitical world mourns loss of comedian Jerry Stiller Maher to Tara Reade on timing of sexual assault allegation: ‘Why wait until Biden is our only hope?’ Democrats begin to confront Biden allegations MORE’s (D-Minn.) resignation on the heels of sexual assault allegations. She only gained favor with Democrats when she went after Trump, saying he should also resign from office amid sexual assault allegations by more than a dozen women.
Last year, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.) made headlines when she was shushed by Republican senators at two different hearings after a bold line of questioning. Her moxie immediately got the attention of some Democratic donors.
Early last year, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.) took to the floor of the Senate to read a letter from Coretta Scott King — only to be interrupted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote GOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases No, ‘blue states’ do not bail out ‘red states’ MORE (R-Ky.).
McConnell said he had warned Warren that her remarks about past statements by then-Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsMcCabe, Rosenstein spar over Russia probe Rosenstein takes fire from Republicans in heated testimony Rosenstein defends Mueller appointment, role on surveillance warrants MORE (R-Ala.), who Trump had nominated to be attorney general, had breached Senate rules.
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,” McConnell said, in effect creating a rallying cry for Democrats tailor-made for a 2020 bumper sticker if Warren decides to run for president.
“It’s not a bad strategy,” Democratic strategist Christy Setzer said of Democrats seizing the spotlight.
“Our last Democratic president was known for his inspiring oratory, so why not follow in those footsteps?” Setzer continued. “It’s too early to start giving lofty speeches in Iowa though, and the Senate floor is as good a place for national attention right now as any.”
Tobe Berkovitz, a professor of communications at Boston University, agreed.
“The Senate is the perfect forum for shiny moments, and if the cable networks pick it up, you can get some leverage with it,” he said. “And if you’re really lucky you’ll be the topic of conversation on Anderson Cooper or you’ll be invited to ‘Morning Joe.’ ”
“The Senate is historically where political greats make great speeches,” Berkovitz added. “The secret is, can you deliver a political campaign warmup speech without it becoming overtly a political campaign warmup speech? It’s easy to overplay your hand.”
Even Democrats acknowledged that Booker was playing for the cameras at the hearing. “You’d have to be blind not to see it,” one Democratic strategist said. A website from the Garden State, NJ.com, mentioned the appearance as part of their story on “7 Signs Cory Booker is Getting Ready to Run for President.”
All week, the RNC made the point that Booker’s performance was contrived.
“He got his 15 minutes of fame from his Razzie-award worthy performance on Tuesday,” Michael Ahrens, a spokesman for the RNC, said in an email to reporters.
In a separate email to The Hill, Ahrens called Booker “a self-promoting showboat.”
“No one took him seriously a week ago, and no one is taking him seriously now,” he said.
Booker’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Democrats largely felt Booker did what he needed to do and scored some political points for his heated remarks.
Democratic strategist David Wade, who served as former Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe Memo: Trump’s troubles deepen as voters see country on wrong path The continuous whipsawing of climate change policy Budowsky: United Democrats and Biden’s New Deal MORE’s (D-Mass.) chief of staff, said each senator who is contemplating a run should “use all the tools they have.”
Still, “you can’t force the moment,” Wade said. “It demands purpose. Purpose is knowing what a senator’s desired profile is and what lane they occupy. Democrats want to see who can stand up to Trump and who knows how to fight.”
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