Why Did Cory Booker Testify Against Jeff Sessions?

Examining the senator’s precedent-shattering decision

Sen. Cory Booker (left) and Rep. John Lewis of Georgia testified against Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions.
Sen. Cory Booker (left) and Rep. John Lewis of Georgia testified against Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

On Wednesday, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker gave a plea to his fellow senate members in hopes of keeping President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general and his fellow senator, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, out of the position. Booker’s move was an unprecedented one: a sitting senator speaking boldly against another sitting senator. Booker was the first to do so at a cabinet confirmation hearing.

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So why did Booker do it?

Trump's nominee for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions. Kevin Hagen/Getty Images

While it may be easy to jump to the conclusion that Booker’s motivation stems from his name being an early Democratic Party contender to challenge Trump in 2020, according to the Director of the Rider University Rebovich Institute for Politics Ben Dworkin, it is still too early to look at Booker’s move through the lens of a Trump challenge. Instead, Dworkin said, Booker’s decision to testify against his fellow legislator may stem from a Democratic Party floundering to gain footing ahead of a shift in power from their party to the Republican Party.

“The United States Senate is an institution that values deference to one another,” Dworkin said. “For a sitting senator to go against another sitting senator who is being nominated, not just to vote against him but to testify against him, is pretty much unprecedented. The Democratic Party is looking to find it’s way after losing an election that virtually every member in leadership expected them to win.”

According to Dworkin, while Booker’s potential for candidacy in 2020 is still unknowable, the freshman senator for New Jersey will likely play an important role in the future of the Democratic Party.

“Cory Booker is going to be in the conversation about who is going to carry the mantle in 2020. Having a very high profile testimony like this is the kind of move that will certainly put you on record. If Sessions is ultimately confirmed as most people expect and then does something to validate Booker’s testimony, he will be seen as the one who presaged these events. He will be seen as the person who was out front of this issue,” Dworkin said.

Booker’s testimony against Sessions isn’t the first time the New Jersey senator has bucked Trump and his supporters. During the July 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Booker made a surprise appearance in Ohio to speak against Trump and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Trump supporter and RNC speaker. He has also recently been one of the elected leaders challenging Trump and Republicans on their decision to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.

According to Dworkin, Booker’s decision to testify against Sessions and confront other issues head on is likely a byproduct of him “deciding that someone should speak up.”

“The Democratic Party—as often happens in these transitions when an opposing party is challenging the President-elect’s nominations—is not thinking they are going to stop them but rather that the opposition can create a narrative about who these people are, the values that say the new administration will represent. That builds a base upon which the Democrats are going to message for the next year, two years, four years,” Dworkin said.

Trump will be sworn in as the next president on January 20.

Why Did Cory Booker Testify Against Jeff Sessions?