On January 15, 2017, there were simultaneous rallies planned across the country to protest Donald Trump and the Republicans’ threat to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Many protesters, myself included, showed up at the Save the Affordable Care Act Rally in Newark, NJ to speak out against one of the featured speakers, US Senator Cory Booker. We were outraged at the Senator’s recent vote against a Bernie Sanders’ amendment to import affordable drugs from Canada that would have reduced costs by up to ninety percent. Booker joined 12 other Democrats in voting against the amendment; this included the other New Jersey senator, Robert Menendez. Thirteen Republicans voted in favor of it, including Ted Cruz and John McCain. The resolution failed 52-46. How could a bill that would help millions of Americans go down in defeat? How can a liberal Democrat vote against something Ted Cruz supported? Follow the money — the Big Pharma money. It just so happens that, like many others, NJ Senator Cory Booker takes large sums of Big Pharmaceutical money. We were there to let Senator Booker know we were on to him.
Many of the protesters had signs with messages like “Menendez & Booker – Big Pharma Puppets.” There were chants of “sell out” peppered throughout Booker’s very short speech. These actions seemed to work. He appeared to be uncomfortable and cut his speech short. The rally ended somewhat abruptly. Surprisingly, a group of the protestors, myself included, were asked directly by Senator Booker’s staff if we would like to speak to the Senator regarding our concerns.
We were told not to tape the meeting. At least one of us present was in the middle of livestream, as we assembled to meet with the Senator, but turned it off when the meeting began. About twelve people were present during this meeting, including two of Booker’s staff members. The meeting lasted for more than an hour.
Well, it turned out one of the participants present in the meeting did record the meeting; this was only recently brought to our attention. Since another of those present at the meeting has been trying to follow up with Senator Booker’s office, regarding his promises to return the Big Pharma money, and received no response, we decided it was appropriate to release these recordings to the public so that people can have a chance to hear for themselves.
A fully close-captioned video of this audio transcript can be found at the bottom of this article.
During the meeting, we attack Booker over his vote on the drug bill, pointing out that he receives donations from the pharmaceutical industry. Booker offered to give back the money and stop taking it:
. . . how would you feel if I gave back all of the pharmaceutical money that I have in this cycle, would you feel better?
I’m sure we would feel a little better. At this time; however, it seems that the Senator has not followed up on this commitment.
Booker was a typical politician, slippery and sly. He danced around his No vote on the drug bill, bringing up safety concerns, a common dodge in DC. We tried to pin him down, countering that he was not concerned with safety because he just helped gut the FDA.
Booker: So, I will continue to fight for streamlining the FDA . . .
Yes, our liberal, democratic senator from New Jersey borrowed that one straight from the neo-con handbook. Streamlining = We’ll cut the budget, loosen regulations, and everything will get better. Listen to the rest yourself.
Senator Booker really seemed to have a problem with Bernie Sanders. He criticized and downplayed Senator Sanders’ career and legislation on several occasions: definitely some ‘ego’ leaking through. Regarding Sanders’ Health Care Bill:
. . . and I think Bernie took my idea . . .
When asked why he voted against Bernie’s bill: “Bernie’s amendment, he put it there as a messaging bill. So please don’t make more out of what he did than he’s doing.” Also, raising the question of why he voted against a mere ‘messaging bill.’
There is more to hear. Booker is revealed as another corporate owned Neoliberal who liberally borrows from the Neo-Con handbook. It’s clear where his interests lie and it ain’t with you, voters of New Jersey.
Below is a full transcript of leaked audio from private meeting between Cory Booker and protesters after #OurFirstStand rally in Newark, NJ, 1/14/2017. The audio was provided by a female participant who wishes to remain anonymous.
In the transcript, Diane refers to the author of this article, Diane Moxley of Real Progressives. Jeff refers to Jeff Epstein of Citizens’ Media TV. Both are New Jersey residents and attended this meeting as constituents, not journalists. Jeff experienced some issues with Booker’s staff in not initially properly disclosing he was a journalist, despite honoring their off-the-record request. Real Progressives personally received this audio file from the person who recorded it. The person gave us permission to say it was one of the female participants, but she otherwise wishes to stay anonymous.
Summary: Some important moments
All the quotes in this section were said by Senator Booker unless otherwise stated.
Booker floats the idea of both giving back his pharmaceutical donations and refusing them going forward.
…how would you feel if I gave back all of the pharmaceutical money that I have in this cycle, would you feel better?
Although Booker does not directly state this in the audio, participants respond to an idea that was apparently up by Booker at some earlier point, to also refuse pharmaceutical money going forward:
Jeff: So if you did what you said you give back a lot of money you give back money and don’t accept it going forward, that would be nice. That would be nice.
Booker sure is critical of Bernie Sanders!
- “On my bill, and I think Bernie took my idea….”
- “Bernie’s amendment may have had three, four, five sentences. That is not legislation. Bernie’s amendment, he put on there as a messaging bill. So just please don’t make more out of what he did that he’s doing. So we saw Bernie’s legislation, which was wholly incomplete. They’re still working on it.”
- “There was a piece of Lautenberg legislation that would have allowed drug imports that Bernie voted against about five or six years ago because he said the safety precautions were too much.”
- “We are going to see if we can partner with Bernie. We had a lot more progress with his legislative people than him on the books going into the weekend.”
Booker: —without being interrupted, because your points are really, really solid. So first of all, how would you feel if I gave back all of the pharmaceutical money that I have in this cycle, would you feel better?
Everyone: Yes. Because—
Diane: —Democrat, I don’t care who you are because I am not loyal any more. I Dem-exited. And I was a Democrat for 30 years. I have a life long family — family of Democrats who were, who were— My dad was Democratic committeeman, loved going to all the conventions every year. You guys didn’t even have a convention this year because you guys wanted to block delegates — Bernie delegates out. I mean it’s a war and I’m not going to stop.
Woman: Rutgers students won’t stop either. It’s a fire, man.
Booker: [?] That’s the most patriotic statement I’ve heard in a long time.
Diane: I am— I am not an exception. I am not an anomaly. I am a Gen-X-er who has, I have nothing in my retirement account, because we have been draining 403b and get taxed up the wazzoo.
Diane: This is real for so many of us. I am not an anomaly. This is my peer group. We are suffering.
Booker: And so the best thing that you can do is exactly what you just said.
Diane: And we will.
Booker: Fight on every front.
Diane: And I ask you not to take big money. I ask you — and I am saying this human to human. I don’t care what your label is. I know I threw out the Neoliberal but… For me, what — seeing welfare reform and what it did for people I see on a daily basis. You know we have people that have to shower in our bathrooms everyday, and they sleep in our waiting rooms all day long, because the crisis we have in Newark shutting down shelters and all that. You know. Go to Newark Penn any night. You know. You know what I am talking about.
Booker: That’s where I was living the last [?] years.
Diane: Yeah. So I am saying this person to person, like, don’t take the money. Don’t take the PAC money, don’t take the big pharma money. Do the — Do something like a Bernie, because that’s what—that— We know why Trump got in. He was the dark side of the anti-establishment. Bernie was the light side. So now, we all had a choice behind Bernie, but we all went behind the establishment. We know why we have Trump. We have Trump because of New Jersey Democrats, New York Democrats.
Woman 1: I was proud to vote for Hillary, so I’m sorry—
Diane: Well, I am sorry, but to me she represents a lot of bad that I saw in my community and with my clients. I’m sorry.
Jeff: I want to say two things. One is you’re saying we can’t unilaterally disarm. To me—
Booker: No, no, no. I can unilaterally disarm. Because I can go out and get individual contributions from people all across the country who support me.
Jeff: That would be great. That would be great.
Booker: I can unilaterally disarm. Did you see my statement on Facebook? Because you’re still on Facebook. If you see my statement on Facebook. I literally even put a paragraph there about the reality of why we lost the North Caroline senate. Do you know why? Why because unfortunately most people aren’t as engaged as we just heard. And our [?] Democratic candidates could not take down the Koch brothers.
Jeff: So if you did what you said; you gave back a lot money, you gave back money, and did not accept it going forward, that would be nice. That would be nice. But what really upsets me is talking about safety. How you’re against this because of safety. Understandable. Yet, Canadians have two—live on average of two years longer than us, and there is clearly no epidemic of them dying because of bad prescriptions. And last month on December 8th you voted for the 21th Century [Cures] act which really diminished the powers of the FDA. And I find that…fantastically hypocritical.
Booker: Really?! I mean. That, that— What, what—?
Jeff: Yeah, you are saying the safety of our drugs what’s important. The FDA is who determines the safety of our drugs, and last month you voted for a bill that dramatically reduces the power of the FDA.
Booker: So I will continue to fight for streamlining the FDA. I think it takes too long to get drugs approved. I see no difference in this. And the simple sample I am going to give you, and this is what I talked with Heinrich about—Senator Heinrich of New Mexico. Young guy who is, again, nowhere near neo-liberal. [?] something as basic as, if I use a drug in America and something happens. I have a reaction to it. My doctor who’s treating me can know the origins of that drug with certainty, with a simple safety measure called Track and Trace. All I am saying is if the [bad?] drugs come through, and I get sick. And we have people dying all the time in America because of reactions to prescription drugs. Don’t you want to know where those drugs came from?
Jeff: I think that’s perfectly fair, but I want to know — I think that’s a fair argument. But to say the argument — I want to know exactly when to expect an alternative. That not just I’m not voting for this because there’s a flaw. I want to know when is the alternative that addresses that flaw coming out? Because you say you’re for it—
Diane: People are suffering and we need action—
Jeff: You say— You say you’re for it. You say are for importing. You said that clearly on Twitter…two days ago?, yesterday?…”I am for importing drugs from Canada,”…
Jeff: …and that’s wonderful. But you didn’t vote for it because you say you…you are… You know, safety. So when is the alt— specifically, when is that alternative bill that addresses that flaw coming out? So that we know from your votes, from your legislation, that you will be fighting for importing drugs from Canada.
Booker: So I will introduce myself, or be a co-sponsor of a bill within matter of days now—
Staffer: It depends. It depends if the Bernie pact works out, because he accepts safety measures. It’s their time table, not ours. But the point is one way or another, we’ll either do it on our own, or finding something that meets [?]—
Woman 1: So maybe we should put the word out to to to Bernie, maybe — maybe that’s the thing. It’s that there should be more viral messaging to Bernie to add safety to his measure.
Jeff: Well that’s one way of addressing —
Booker: I just want to answer the question— Sometime in the next couple months you’ll see me and some other Democrats getting on a bill. I hope it’s—
Jeff: Ah ah I can’t hear, I can’t hear. Say, say— Sorry.
Booker: Sometime in the next couple months back. Somebody’s bill is going to emerge with the number one bill. But. So I don’t know if it’s Bernie’s, I don’t know if it’s Amy Klobuchar’s, I don’t know if it’s going to be ours. But there are a lot of people now angry and working on their own bill, including me. We’re working. We are going to see if we can partner with Bernie. We had a lot more progress with his legislative people than him on the books going into the weekend. But you can — Listen to me right now. I will be on a drug import bill within the next two months at the very least.
Staffer: And by the way, pharma will not support.
Booker: Yes pharma will be against…
Booker: …and by the way— Hold on one second. On my bill, and I think Bernie took my idea. But that’s—
Staffer: Combining them
Booker: By combining them. I think my bill will combine Medicare Part D, which is the real thing — please do your research — the real thing pharma doesn’t want. Because everybody’s not going to be able to go to Canada to get your drugs and what have you. But to give the American government power to negotiate down drug prices, that’s— That is the holy grail that we want.
Booker: And my bill will —
[Lots of talking]
Booker: I want to stay right here. Because I want to satisfy [?] A couple points. Now listen, because I don’t want you leaving thinking that this young lady, that this young lady, who are concerned about drug prices. The Republicans control the Senate, and that is really important to understand.
Jeff: Twelve of them voted for this.
Woman: And thirteen Democrats voted against it.
Jeff: Twelve of them voted for this amendment.
Booker: Let me finish. Just please understand this. Because I learned this lesson the hard way with the criminal justice bill. We got that bill voted out of committee, that would have liberated thousands of Americans from prison. Wrongly imprisoned. We don’t have a committee. I am the chairman of the committee supporting the bill. But, unlike the Democrats, Republicans fight different. Mitch McConnell thought that bill would divide his caucus. He never let my bill get to the floor. So we’re going to get Republican co-sponsors probably on our bill. I don’t know if it has Medicare Part D negotiation, I don’t—
Staff: It won’t.
Booker: It may not. But I’m just trying to tell you, no matter what, the chances of a bill getting to the floor without fifty one—without fifty senate Democrats is very very hard on this issue. I just want to give you the— Not that I’m.
Jeff: I just want to be clear on what you’re saying. So I’m hearing [both] that it will have Medicare Part D [and] it won’t have have Medicare Part D. So you’re saying that there will be, basically, exactly the Bernie amendment, roughly speaking, exactly Bernie’s amendment, with the safety thing added on. Within a couple months is what you’re saying. Without Medicare D is what you’re saying.
Booker: No, no, no, no. First of all, Bernie’s amendment may have had three, four, five sentences. That is not legislation. Bernie’s amendment, he put on there as a messaging bill. So just please don’t make more out of what he did that he’s doing. So we saw Bernie’s legislation, which was wholly incomplete. They’re still working on it. Nobody knows—
Staffer: They have it back from the legislative counsel when we first—
Booker: That means nothing to them [referring to the protesters sitting around the table?]. They didn’t have — In order to do legislation, you have to get sort of, the legislative council [?] language shaping it. He was in the — They barely had the starting block to form legislation. There’s already the Klobuchar legislation on this. There was a piece of Lautenberg legislation that would have allowed drug imports that Bernie voted against about five or six years ago, because he said the safety precautions were too much. So what I am saying right is I’m your sen— I represent you. We don’t have to agree, but I represent you, and I will always try to be responsible to you.
Jeff: I agree that you represent us.
Booker: I promise you there is not another United States Senator in America who is sitting down with protesters right now at the rally and all of us have. I promise there is another one sitting down with the people that were just—
Man: —Trump is—
Woman: Bernie is probably
Booker: But nobody protests Bernie at his own rally.
Woman 2: Of course nobody crosses Bernie.
Booker: Your senator [?] need you to understand that. One, I’m going to do some things to clean up perception issues around pharma, okay [referring to returning donations and refusing them going forward]. Number two, I am going to be fighting for a prescription import—and I’ll send everyone here the language of our bill, so that you’ll have it if you want to. Three, I believe we should combine them both [?] Medicare Part D—