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Newark Mayor Cory Booker made headlines for comments he made on the Meet the Press on May 20, 2012, about Obama campaign ads attacking Mitt Romney over his record at Bain Capital. Booker called recent campaign ads "nauseating to me on both sides. It's nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity, stop attacking Jeremiah Wright."
The notion that Booker, a campaign surrogate for Obama, had undermined one of the Obama campaign’s highest-profile arguments against Romney -- his record at Bain, which included layoffs and bankruptcies -- prompted such media attention that within a few hours, Booker posted a response video on YouTube.
In the video, Booker acknowledges the Obama campaign’s right to question how Romney is portraying his record at Bain. Booker said the line of attack is valid because the Republican candidate "has made his business record a centerpiece of his campaign" and because Booker believes that "Romney in many ways is not being completely honest" about his time at Bain.
However, the transcript below shows that Booker’s backtracking was limited. While Obama’s ads bluntly take Bain to task for its overall approach to acquiring and running business, Booker had explicitly and aggressively defended firms like Bain on Meet the Press, saying "I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity. … I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital's record, … they've done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses, And this, to me, I'm very uncomfortable with."
In the web video, Booker did not back down on -- or even address directly -- his support for private equity on Meet the Press.
The Meet the Press discussion
Meet the Press host David Gregory: So Gov. Romney says this is character assassination. This is not about economic record, it's about saying he's a bad guy.
Booker: Well, two points I want to make real quick. First of all, I think it's a race for President Obama to remind the American public the kind of things he's been doing and stop letting the other side steal his narrative. He's a guy that's cut taxes on small business, the lowest discretionary spending we've had in decades in the United States. Start telling the truth about the Obama record to let people know that not only is he doing the kind of things, cutting taxes on the majority of Americans, but he's also doing things to stimulate the economy, the economy's getting better. As far as that stuff, I have to just say from a very personal level, I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity. To me, it's just this -- we're getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know. I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital's record, it ain't -- they've done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses, And this, to me, I'm very uncomfortable with. ...
I talk to the White House quite often. I'm a surrogate for the Obama campaign. The messages that they're sending me out to do, out to talk about is nothing about this. They're talking about very clearly, the average American, middle-class Americans, in fact, over 90 percent of Americans have seen tax cuts under this president. Small businesses, like the ones that are in my city, have benefited tremendously from incentives for investment, rewards for creating jobs, rewards for hiring, hiring veterans. So on the issues that matter in the communities, I see the Obama administration having stepped up and just needing to get their voice out more. Even … Obamacare, … when you pull Obamacare (in poll questions), it doesn't do well. But when you start polling the aspects of it, people in this country support that legislation.
But the last point I'll make is this kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It's nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity, stop attacking Jeremiah Wright. This stuff has got to stop because what it does is it undermines, to me, what this country should be focused on. It's a distraction from the real issues. It's either going to be a small campaign about this crap or it's going to be a big campaign, in my opinion, about the issues that the American public cares about. …
You're going to have two campaigns that are not always going to be pious choirboys on what they're doing. But that's not the issue. To me, the issue is you have these super PACs that are going to take this fight into the gutter and try to leave it there, where they're going to be the dominant voices because they're going to be spending millions of dollars on ads. Those super PACs are the one--because at least if the Obama campaign and the Romney campaign do something, their fingerprints are on it.
This unbelievable amount of campaign cash that's eroding, in my opinion, the democracy, but more important, pulling our campaigns in the gutter, this is the problem. And the second point I, I want to make is, you know, maybe this should be entitled "Hot Tub Time Machine" because you've got a, a cesspool of, of a petri dish that's pulling us back to re-deal with issues from the past. Jeremiah Wright is 2008, women's rights, voting rights, all these things that we seem to be revisiting now in this campaign which are distracting us from moving forward as a nation and keep wanting to pull us back.
Booker’s web video
Booker: Good afternoon. I’ve seen so much feedback from my Meet the Press appearance, I thought I would take a moment to talk directly to my social media followers. I made it clear on Meet the Press this morning how I believe President Barack Obama has done such a strong job as the leader of our nation that he more than deserves reelection.
Here in my community, we see the impact of this president in profound ways, from the tax cuts he’s given to working Americans to the incentives he’s given for small businesses to expand and start hiring more people. Even to the things he’s done during the bottom of our economic crisis to stimulate the economy have brought real, tangible benefits. And now his focus on other issues going forward to me provide the best hope for our nation moving forward.
I also expressed on Meet the Press my profound frustration with the kind campaigning that I think is becoming too much of the norm in our nation, which is generally negative campaigning. And this campaigning is about to become an avalanche, and in many ways I believe could potentially risk muting out the important voices of the candidates themselves talking about the issues that matter.
And this of course I’m talking about the Supreme Court case that allowed hundreds of millions of dollars of Super PAC money to flow in, and that Super PAC money has as I’ve seen been wholly negative. I was very frustrated this past week when I saw people dredging up the Rev. Wright, an already-discussed issue from many, many years ago, and trying to bring it to the center stage as a way to undermine and attack our president. I’ve also expressed some frustration of attacks in other areas as well.
I used the word 'nauseating' on Meet the Press because that's really how I feel when I see people in my city struggling with real issues and still feeling the challenges of this economy and still looking for hope and opportunity and real specific plans. I get very upset when I see such a level of dialogue that calls us to our lowest common denominators and not the kind of things that can unify us as a nation and move us forward.
Let me be clear, Mitt Romney has made his business record a centerpiece of his campaign. He’s talked about himself as a job creator. And therefore it is reasonable, and in fact I encourage it, for the Obama campaign to examine that record and to discuss it. I have no problem with that. In fact I believe that Mitt Romney in many ways is not being completely honest with his role and his record even while a business person and is shaping it to serve his political interest and not necessarily including all of the facts of his time there.
My biggest concern right now, though, gets back to what my job is here in leading the city of Newark, N.J., and working with my residents. My concern is we’re about to go into a significant political campaign that will affect the destiny of our nation and that the voices that are important -- that of the candidates, but more importantly, that of the concerns of the American people -- are not going to be heard. I am indeed upset. I am indeed frustrated.
But I believe the American public, working together, we can begin to more and more denounce this type of campaigning and more and more focus on the issues that count and the issues that matter. And ultimately my hope is that this election will not therefore be about the small things, will not be about divisiveness, will not be about denigrating, will not be about painting with a broad brush, but ultimately can be about unifying our country around ideas. I believe Barack Obama has the right ideas to move this nation forward, and it is my hope that as this campaign continues, that voice will not only be heard, but ultimately, by hearing that voice, our nation as a whole will be elevated.