AJC INTERVIEW: Cory Booker calls for Kemp election probe, talks Southern strategy

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker called on Gov. Brian Kemp to launch an investigation into his election victory over Stacey Abrams last year, and told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he would seek to codify the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion to halt the “heartbeat” bill that the Republican is set to sign into law.

In an interview Thursday, the New Jersey lawmaker said he would do the “opposite” of Democratic presidential candidates who traditionally ignore the South, calling the region his “pathway to the nomination and to winning the election.”

“Obviously my presence here shows you that you’re going to see me a lot more in Georgia,” he said, a day after his first campaign stop. “This is a state we’re going to be investing in and building a team up that I hope will allow us to earn the support of Georgians.”

And he also cautioned against “politicizing” the report from special counsel Robert Mueller, which was released shortly after the interview. He criticized Attorney General William Barr for releasing a “filtered version” of the report weeks ago.

“I don’t need a CliffsNotes version written by a Trump appointee.”

He also talked fondly of Abrams, who is considering whether to run for the U.S. Senate, governor or join the race for the White House later this year. He said she would make a “great presidential candidate” but would also “truly change” the Senate if she’s elected.

Here’s a transcript of several questions with the AJC during the interview:

On Georgia’s “heartbeat” anti-abortion measure, which he criticized at his first campaign stop in Georgia: 

"There are many people trying to do a full-frontal assault on Roe v. Wade ... I think House Bill 481 is something that is a reflection of having an undemocratic election, and these types of right-wing attacks have to stop. 

"We can stop them by codifying Roe v. Wade into law. And we can stop them by saying we are going to firmly establish protections for women so they can access healthcare services that are essential for their health and wellbeing. And we need to become a country that says, once and for all, says these very personal decisions are best made not by politicians but a woman and their doctor."

On whether calling last year’s Georgia gubernatorial vote “undemocratic” undermines faith in democracy and Kemp’s legitimacy as governor: 

"He should lead investigations into his own election. They should be fair. He should convene folks to come together to analyze what happened. Because I think if there was a Justice Department investigation going on, they would find a tremendous number of problems. 

"I have a family member who was stopped at the polls from voting. To me this is just unacceptable. You want to try to create faith for everyone? Don't deny that there was wrongdoing. Investigate in an independent fashion so you can restore confidence that's needed. 

"This should not be a Republican or Democratic thing. The voting process should be sacrosanct in our country, and the legitimacy of the process should be something we all should be working to affirm. And there should be rules that the referee in a game should not be a player in the court."

On the political infighting over the Mueller report:

"We have an attorney general that seems to be acting more like the personal attorney of Donald Trump as opposed to someone who's committed to restoring faith in the system and not de-legitimatize it by the kind of comments I think that he said that have called a lot of people to question his independence. He should have released the report right away, and the public has a right to see the report and I'm waiting to see it myself and hope that their redactions were not unjustified."

On his advice to Abrams, who will announce this month whether she’ll challenge Sen. David Perdue:

"Stacey and I have been close friends for a long, long time. I've known her since her law school days. She's anointed. She has incredible gifts and an incredible experience – a record of getting things done.

"She would make a great presidential candidate. She would make a great governor and as a senator, she would truly change that body. I wait to see what she does, and I'm going to be somebody that's always supportive of her."

On the increasingly competitive Atlanta suburbs, where his mother once lived:

"There's an awakening going on in this country, where you're seeing, as we saw in the midterms, an incredible surge in voter engagement here in this state and across the country.

"The leaders that you all see being elected now really represent America better because it's a democratization of our country: more engagement and more activism. 

"My caution in all of this is we had a lot of challenges and trends that were hurting this country far before Donald Trump was elected: disinvestment in infrastructure and public education. And if we make this activism and engagement hinged upon Donald Trump alone, I think that's problematic … 

"Let's not make this about one person and one office, but the larger ideals of our country, because we have work to do to get this nation back to leading the planet earth on infrastructure on education, in job training, apprenticeship programs and the kind of things we know that build the kind of economy that expands the middle class and ultimately creates more justice for all."

On his approach to winning voters in the South:

"My strategy and focus is really going to be southern states: Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee. We're going to be focusing a lot of attention and resources here ...

"We've seen an erosion in the South of workers' rights; voting rights since Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has been taken away by the Supreme Court; womens' reproductive rights, and a lot of these things that most southerners, as you saw in the state of Georgia, don't agree with these issues. 

"I think that gives us more of a chance to reach out to people and say we're going to create a place where unions can thrive, where middle class jobs are stronger, where we raise minimum wage, ensure that Medicaid is expanded, all the things that a lot of southerners of all different backgrounds would benefit from regardless of what party."