Democratic Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) on Wednesday testified against his colleague Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) being confirmed as the next attorney general, becoming the first sitting senator to testify against a fellow member of the chamber being considered for a Cabinet post.
CNN reporter Manu Raju spoke with Booker after his testimony. Booker noted that he and Sessions worked together to honor civil rights marchers despite telling the Senate Judiciary Committee that the attorney general nominee would not treat all Americans equally.
"I have a lot of respect for Sen. Sessions," Booker said. "He and I have even worked together on giving out a medal of freedom to civil rights marchers, something I've felt honored and blessed to be able to do in partnership with him."
Booker said in February 2016 that he felt "blessed and honored to have partnered with Sen. Sessions in being the Senate sponsors" of the Congressional Gold Medal, which they awarded to those who in 1965 marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to promote civil rights for African Americans.
Booker said after testifying against Sessions that his opposition was not personal but about the issues.
"It's just the fact that Jeff Sessions is out of line, even with the Republican Caucus. While everybody from Chairman [Chuck] Grassley to Ted Cruz, Mike Lee all working together on issues around criminal justice reform, this is somebody who's criticized those very reforms," he said.
Booker continued to say that Sessions has criticized fellow Republicans and the Justice Department for reforms to tackle police accountability and voter rights, as well as the Violence Against Women Act.
"This is somebody who clearly has told us if he is attorney general he will not be executing what is a key function of the attorney general office, which is to protect the vulnerable, to protect women, to protect minorities, to protect voting rights, to protect the poor," he said. "So, this is clearly something in good conscience I could not remain silent on."
"I believe it is more important to stand up for principles and ideals of my country than it is to stand up for Senate norms," he added.
"Are you worried that he may not be fair with African Americans?" Raju asked.
"I think it is nonsensical to call him a racist," Booker said. "I just want to say what he told us he will do, and what he has criticized the Justice Department for doing. So take voting rights right now, it's been proven that literally with, the court said with surgical precision, they disadvantaged African Americans to access to the polls. Here's a guy who's been criticizing the Justice Department doing that kind of work, bringing those kinds of cases. So he's basically saying to us that this is not the kind of thing he's going to be aggressively pursuing."
"Critics would say this is Cory Booker paving the way for 2020," Raju said.
"Well, I think anybody who takes a fair look at my last three years, if there's a space in the Senate that I've spent a lot of time working on, in fact I would challenge how many people in the last three years have worked harder on issues of criminal justice reform," Booker replied.
"Are you open to 2020?" Raju later asked.
"I am open to doing everything I can right now as the Trump administration's coming in," Booker said. "And please understand, Jeff Sessions as attorney general is counter to so many of the values and ideals that I believe in. But you've also got people like [Scott] Pruitt coming in to the EPA, a lot of other challenging people."
"So the focus is on now," he continued. "The focus is on doing everything you can to stop Donald Trump and a lot of his intentions. Somebody who ran a campaign demeaning and degrading so many Americans, who is now advocating for policies that will end up doing the same."