Cory Booker stood on a platform with eight other senators, holding back his desire to hug them all.
The New Jersey Democrat was gushing with joy as he and many members of the Judiciary Committee announced a major overhaul to the criminal justice system, particularly on sentencing and recidivism reduction. The effort uniting senators from across the political spectrum, as well as disparate interest groups, is particularly notable in a Congress known more for hyper-partisanship.
Booker said there were times throughout the process he was discouraged and disheartened about Congress, but Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., encouraged him to stay at it, saying, "This day would come."
"I just feel, it it was appropriate — I know it's not senatorial — I'd like to hug all the people behind me," Booker said of Durbin and fellow Democratic Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Charles E. Schumer of New York, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Mike Lee of Utah and Tim Scott of South Carolina. (Booker and Scott are not members of the Judiciary Committee.)
Durbin Touts Sentencing Overhaul
It was Scott, speaking at the press conference after Booker, who ultimately granted Booker's request.
"Cory, I want to give you a hug, but it would probably not be good for your re-election," Scott joked as he reached for a handshake, which was reciprocated and then morphed into a hug by Booker — a moment that drew laughs and "awwwws" from the crowd.
Everyone thanked Grassley, the committee's chairman, who supports the bill despite previously being seen as the primary roadblock for his tough-on-crime platform and general opposition to the reduction of mandatory minimums.
Asked what it was that got him on board, Grassley said it was other senators' willingness "to look at things other than just cutting [mandatory] minimums in half."
Grassley also pointed to public comments he's made over the past few months that showed a willingness to work on the issue, and recalled his work on the Finance Committee with former Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., as evidence of a history of trying to find common ground.
Asked why Grassley's support was so important, Durbin asked, "Have you noticed he's the chairman?" to laughter.
Senators said the deal was essentially finalized Wednesday morning on the Senate floor with a handshake agreement between Booker and others.
Booker said the key provision was on juvenile sealing and expungement — that if a young person is tried as a juvenile it should not follow them for the rest of their lives.
"It's just a tribute to Sen. Grassley who was willing to compromise and find common ground," Booker said.
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