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Transcript: Newark Mayor Cory Booker's exclusive interview with Rachel Maddow

The mayor's first interview since statements he made on NBC's Meet the Press turned the political world upside down

Cory Booker: You and I talked earlier and I told you I was doing no interviews, and it wasn't until the GOP went across that line that I said forget it I've had all I can stand and I can stand no more, so thank you for giving me a chance to be on tonight.

Rachel Maddow: What is the line that they crossed that made you feel that way? What is it about the way that they reacted to this that made you change your mind about talking about this issue again?

CB: Anybody who watched the entire Meet the Press saw not only was I defending Obama's positions on numerous issues, but I also talked about super pac money and the negative campaigning and my outrage and really my frustration was about the cynical negative campaigning, the manipulating of the truth and so here they are plucking sound bites out of that interview, to manipulate them in a cynical manner to use them for their own purposes, and that slogan is really what had me, and basically my entire staff, really fit to be tied.

In the beginning I think I used the metaphor my staff is going to have to hold me back, because to say I stand with Cory Booker, I have not seen a Republican National candidate, with maybe the exception of Jack Kemp a long time ago, be willing to stand with me in places like Newark, NJ, Camden, NJ, Patterson, places that they seem, often the GOP seems to want to imagine doesn't exist.

And so what I feel really very strongly, is anybody in the GOP who wants to stand with me, please stand with me, stand with me for marriage equality as Barack Obama stands up for, stand with me for not turning the back the clock on women in terms of medical issues and other things like Barack Obama is standing against.  Stand with me on making healthcare more accessible to all, stand with me for making college more affordable as President Obama is doing.

If anybody listens to the entire Meet the Press and they want to stand with me, they'll see that I stand firmly with the president.

And what really, really, unfortunately has me frustrated, is not only does the GOP tend to overlook urban areas like the one that I've been standing for and working in for my entire professional career, but the one time they do seem to pay attention to it, they just want to exploit and manipulate a mayor who for my entire career has been standing for something different. 

And I'll tell you this, I've been standing for Barack Obama before most people were standing for Barack Obama, as one of his earliest supporters in New Jersey if not his first major political endorsement, and this is a president, that in my opinion, rejects so many of the things, the tired rhetoric the distractions, the kind of things that get America not focused on the problems we need to solve.  So today to the GOP I say: I welcome you to stand with me, stand with me for moving America forward, don't stand with me for the kind of things that Mitt Romney is advocating that are gonna further bankrupt our city, close off opportunity, discriminate against gays and women and do the kind of things that I think are sending America in the wrong direction.

RM: Cory the Republican Party's hook for saying they stand with you is that you have been a victim of the Obama campaign.  That you are not being allowed to say what you really say.  That you only issued that clarifying response after Meet The Press because of pressure from the Obama campaign.  What is your response to that and are you being pressured by anybody to say something that you don't believe or to take back something that you do believe?

CB:  Well for anybody that knows me and really knows my career, I've been an independent Democrat for a long time standing up on issues and actually have been comfortable to say I disagree with the president before on marriage equality and now he stands for that issue.  But the reality is the Barack Obama team and the White House and their political team have been good to me for many, many years.  I've worked with them early in the primaries in the last election.  They have never pressured me to do anything.  They've done nothing but encourage me and in this case in particular, I certainly did talk with campaign officials.  But they didn't force me to do anything.  They had good conversations with me.

And after having conversations with them, especially after hearing the President's remarks on this issue where he was not condemning all of private equity, he was not condemning any particular firms, he was focusing in on a guy who's bragging about his job creation record, to me, I think that's fair game. All of those things made me say, you know what? I need to go on and clarify because obviously I did things in the Meet the Press interview, as I told you, that did not land the points that I was trying to make and in some ways, you know, frustratingly I think I conflated the attacks that the Republicans were making with Jeremiah Wright with some of the attacks on the left and those can't even be equated. The noxious nature of some of the attacks that we've seen to be going on our president, where you even poll many people in the GOP who still believe he's a secret Muslim and these other things... It's gotten so ridiculous, you can't even equate the negativity on the right with what's happening by some sectors in the Left.

And so, at this point, I'm grateful for the President, who came out today and said very kind words to me. Many more cynical folks in his camp probably wanted the President to go on the attack on me. God bless him because I think his team listened to the totality of what I was doing, heard me defend the president on Meet The Press on health care, heard me defend him on job creation and heard me defend him on doing tax reform to actually help people in my community in Newark, New Jersey and it's a partnership I'm going to continue to have no matter what role they want me to play. I play it proactively, not reactively, to them.

RM: Cory, when you say that when you hear the President's remarks today talking about the substantive matter of discussion on Meet The Press that started all of this, when you heard him talking about private equity and you say now that you want it to be clear that talking about Mitt Romney's record as a self-proclaimed job creator is 'on the table,' what exactly are you saying ought to be part of the political discussion and what ought to be off the table? Where is the line for you in terms of what you think is appropriate?

CB: Well, again, this is my independence. I'm not going to shy away from being one of those people that says I'm tired of Presidential campaigns, the primary we just watched with Republicans talking about all kinds of issues that don't make sense for my community who struggle with foreclosures, things that Obama - excuse me - things that Romney is against helping. Not in favor of giving tax breaks to middle class families in my community. I'm not going to remain silent when people try to bring up issues and negativity that distract from the core issues that, in my community right now, there's a high level of urgency in what we're talking about and doing something about. And so I reject that negativity, I'm sorry. I'm just not going to come back from that point. But when it comes to what I think is appropriate questions -

When Mitt Romney himself says "I was a job creator", not a successful guy in private equity, that I wasn't, hey that I didn't return great investment for my people in my firm, but when he says "I was a job creator", I think that's a characterization of his record that deserves inquiry, and I think the way the President himself is talking about that is something I will defend. In fact, something I will echo. But let's just be clear. in this election, and this is why I wish if Romney wanted to pull my remarks from "Meet the Press", where I went right after Super PACs and Citizens United, and the incredible flood, tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars that are going to flow into his campaign, one of the most expensive campaigns we're going to see in terms of money spent, and the majority of that money will be negative, cynical, vicious attacks, and distracting this country from dealing with the issues and substance that we want to do with it, I'm sorry, I'm going to reject that every day.

But I'm happy and I'm proud to have been a friend of the President before he even started talking about running for President. I'm proud that we have a guy who's got the Obama cool, who's focusing on the issues that matter and I'm hoping that both sides, my side of the aisle which can sometimes go too far, and their side of the aisle which has - is bringing up stuff to me that is in many ways the dirtiest aspect of politics. I'm going to call that for what it is. But in terms of me, I'm a mayor of a city, I have to deal with urgencies every single day. People looking for jobs, people looking for access to education, people looking for hope. And right now from the cynical Right and from even this Congress on the Right, I see very little coming out that's actually going to help people in urban issues. And this is why if Mitt Romney and his campaign want to say "I stand with Booker", come stand with me in Newark, stand in Camden, stand in Detroit and talk about issues that really affect people, like the auto industry. Substantive issues like Obama is talking about and that's really what I want to continue to talk about in this campaign. And I am upset, and this is why I'm on your show, that I've been taken out of context, I've been used to support a cynicism - if there's any honor in what they were saying, Mitt Romney would have come out and said, you know what, like Obama did, Citizens United decision is gonna hurt our democracy, he would have come out and said the negativity on our side, I'm going to talk about us, has got to stop. If he wanted to come out and stand with me, he would say, you know what, I'm going to stand with Cory Booker, let's stop the Super PAC money, let's stop the negative campaigning, let's talk about the issues, and I'll meet with President Obama to talk about those. And for him to use that slogan in a way that manipulates my records, and my entire professional career working in the streets of my community with good people trying to make Newark better, I'm sorry, people have ignored Newark before, but to exploit it or its mayor, it's something I'm not going to sit still for.

RM: Cory, as a practical matter, the - you are - it's sort of weird because the idea of collateral damage is that it's unintentional but in this case I think you are intentional collateral damage - that the attack is directed at the president by using you essentially as the weapon against the President.  You as collateral damage are also suppose to be silenced in the debate.  You were effectively suppose to be rendered inoperable as a campaign surrogate and as a person who speaks on behalf of himself in support for the President. Has that aspect of it, do you think, worked?  Do you feel like you have to sit out national campaigning for now or for the long run because of this incident or are you going to keep doing what you've been doing?

CB: Well one, I'm gonna serve the President and what his team thinks is the best use for me.  Two, is with every opportunity I have in my city, wherever I go, as I've done consistently for a very long time for the White House as well as for the President, as well as for his campaign, I'm gonna continue every single day to pour my heart and soul into making sure that he gets re-elected because I've seen I've seen what happens under a Republican president. I've seen what happened under George Bush within my city. I've seen the challenges of money pouring into a war we shouldn't have been into and not into programs that could empower our community. I've seen disinvestment in education. I've seen disinvestment in middle class job creation and that's something I can't sit still for.  It hurts me, I feel personally disappointed if any way that now I'm being used to undermine the President in this kind of cynical, venal way and I'm going to work harder. If anything, they've turned me on, even, to work harder the next six months from fundraising, to whatever need be to ensure that our president gets re-elected. I'm not going to be quiet on my disappointment with the nature of campaigns, I think we as a democracy really, now, and especially after this election need to really start looking at the things we can do to get all this money out of politics and to begin to start focusing on what we can do to ensure our democracy is advanced and assure the voices of average people can be heard and not drowned out in the way they are right now by Super PAC's. 

But as far as where my heart is right now, I'm very upset that I'm being used by the GOP this way and while I thought today I was going to be quiet, I've been pushed so far that you're going to hear a lot from me to the extent possible and to the extent that President Obama and his campaign want to hear from me.

RM: Mayor Cory Booker of the great city of Newark, New Jersey - my friend I know it was a hard decision to talk publicly today, as you've just described, and i appreciate that you're willing to talk with me here, man.  Good luck.

CB: As always Rachel.

RM: Stay in touch with us over the next few days.  Thanks.

CB: Thank you.

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