How Cory Booker is wielding newfound Senate power

Even though his own White House bid did not go as he’d hoped, Booker says he’s at “a strange moment in my life” where he can finally count close ties to Joe Biden’s team, good relationships throughout the Senate, and a personal friend-plus-former colleague in Vice President Kamala Harris. He’s also wielding the gavel on an influential Judiciary Committee subpanel.

“People are starting to see Cory for who he is,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a longtime friend. “In this building, people often think that you have to pick your path: you’re either the workhorse or the show horse. And I think he’s demonstrating he’s here to get something done, not just to be world-famous. He was already world-famous before he showed up.”

Unlike Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who also mounted a failed presidential campaign, Booker says he doesn’t know if he wants to make another run for the White House. He noted that Biden is likely to run for reelection and that Harris “by all measure is on deck.” Those close to Booker confirmed the presidency is not on his mind.

“I’m happy I did and I’m a much better senator because I did” run in the 2020 primary, he said. “I’ve now sort of conceded to the truism that my life speaks to — and I think most people’s lives do — that the best way to make God laugh is to make plans for yourself.”

First elected to the Senate in 2013 after serving as mayor of Newark, Booker played a central role in shepherding 2018’s bipartisan criminal justice reform law, which eased strict sentencing practices and improved prison conditions. But that work was different than this year’s talks on overhauling American policing after years of brutal encounters between officers and people of color. Policing bill negotiators say they’re making steady progress and keeping the outside groups they need in the fold, while also keeping discussions closely held to a small circle of lawmakers.

The New Jersey Democrat put the odds of reaching an agreement as “far more likely than not” but acknowledged the process is grueling, often lasting into the weekends. Major sticking points remain, including addressing differences on qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that shields police officers from being sued by brutality victims and their families.

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