Cory Booker: “When ignorance and bigotry is allied with power, it's a dangerous force in our country”, response to Kirstjen Nielsen amnesia about Trump’s ‘shithole’ remarks - 2018

16 January 2018, Washington DC, Senate Committee, USA

I wanna just turn, though, and you'll have to forgive me. Listening to the testimony has changed my line of questioning a bit, because this is very personal to me. I sit here right now because when good white people in this country heard bigotry, or hatred, they stood up.

Cory BookerMoving into my home community, we were denied housing because of the colour of our skin. There was white Americans from Burgon County who banded together to fight against racism, to fight against hate speech. To fight against people who had broad brush generalities about people based upon their ethnicity, based upon their origin, based upon their religion.

What went on in the White House, what went on in the Oval Office, is profoundly disturbing to me. I'll tell you this, I heard about it when I was in Puerto Rico, when it happened. Here I was, there, trying to help a community dealing with savage challenges. I can't tell you how many Puerto Ricans brought up that conversation in the White House.

I returned to Atlanta, to go to the King Centre Awards. And from the greatest luminaries from the Civil Rights Movement, down to average Americans, this was on their mind.

I returned to Newark New Jersey, and I talked to African-Americans, from Africa. I talked to Central American Americans. I talked to regular Newarkers. This was top on their mind.

Yesterday I talked to the Ambassador from Haiti. And to see all that they're doing as a result of this conversation. I've been in the Oval Office many times. When the Commander in Chief speaks, I listened. I don't have amnesia on conversations I had in the Oval Office going back months, and months, and months. I've had individual meetings with the President, and I've had group conversations where there was, as you said, crosstalk.

Why is this so important? Why is this so disturbing for me? Why am I, frankly, seething with anger? We have this incredible nation, where we have been taught that it does not matter where you're from. It doesn't matter your colour, your race, or religion. It's about the content of your character. It's about your values and your ideals. And yet, we have language that from Dick Durbin, to Lindsey Graham, they seem to have a much better recollection of what went on.

You're under oath. You, and others in that room that suddenly cannot remember. It was Martin Luther King that said, "There's nothing in this world more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." And so here we are in the United States of America, and we have a history that is beautiful, and grand, and also ugly. Where from this nation to others, we know what happens when people sit by and are bystanders and say nothing.

When Oval Office rhetoric sounds like social engineering, we know from human history the dangers of that. Our greatest heroes in this country spoke out about people who have convenient amnesia, or who are bystanders.

King said, "A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to stand."

Elie Weisel says, "We must take side. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."

Gandhi said, "Silence becomes cowardice." Cowardice, when we the occasion demands speaking out like Lindsey Graham did, and acting accordingly.

This idea that the Commander of Chief of this country could, with broad brushes talk about certain nations, and thus cast a shadow over the millions of Americans who are from those communities, and that you could even say in your testimony, the Norwegians were preferenced by him because they're so hardworking.

K. Nielsen I didn't say-

Excuse, let me finish.

K. Nielsen Happy to.

Let me just draw a connection of why that matters. I'm sure you remember the six words from our President, the six words that he said after Charleston Virginia, last summer. People marching with tiki torches and hate. When he said, "There are very fine people on both sides." "Very fine people on both sides."

When the Commander in Chief speaks, or refuses to speak, those words just don't dissipate like mist in the air. They fester. They become poison. They give licence to bigotry and hate in our country.

I know you're aware of a 2017 GAO report that found, and I quote, "Out of the 85 violent extremist incidences that resulted in deaths in September 12, 2001, far right wing violent extremist groups were responsible for 73%." When I go through the Black Belt in the south, Atlanta, black churches in Newark, they're concerned about Jihadist Islamic Terrorism. We watched the Twin Towers from Newark go down. But since 9/11, 85 violent incidents, 73% were with people that hold bigoted, hateful ideas about minorities.

One American, killed in Charleston Virginia, dozens injured. Nine Americans killed in a church shooting in Charleston South Carolina by a white supremacist. An American killed, and another wounded in Kansas after a white supremacist targeted them for their ethnicity, saying, "Get out of my country." Six Americans killed, and four others wounded in Wisconsin, where white supremacists targeted individuals for their religion.

The Commander in Chief, in an Oval Office Meeting, referring to people from African countries, and Haitians, with the most vile and vulgar language. That language festers. When ignorance and bigotry is allied with power, it is a dangerous force in our country.

Your silence and your amnesia is complicity. Right now, in our nation, we have a problem. I don't know if 73% of your time is spent on whit supremacist hate groups. I don't know if 73% of your time is spent concerned about the people in fear in communities in this country: Sikh Americans, Muslim Americans, Black Americans.The fact pattern is clear of the threats in this country.

I hurt. When Dick Durbin called me, I had tears of rage when I heard about this experience in that meeting. And for you not to feel that hurt, and that pain, and to dismiss some of the questions of my colleagues, saying "I've already answered that line of questions," when tens of millions of Americans are hurting right now, because of what they're worried about would happen in the White House. That's unacceptable to me.

There are threats in this country. People plotting. I receive enough death threats to know the reality. Cond receives enough death threats to know the reality. Maisie receives enough death threats to know the reality. And I've got a President of the United States, whose office I respect, who talks about the country's origins of my fellow citizens, in the most despicable of manner.

You don't remember. You can't remember the words of your Commander in Chief.