CHARLESTON, S.C. – Days after his appearance in a Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, where he sparred with front-runner Joe Biden over criminal-justice reform, Senator Cory Booker widened his focus at a town hall Monday at the start of his ninth sweep across South Carolina.
Fielding questions from audience members keen to learn more about the candidate at the meeting at the International Longshoreman’s Association, Booker explained his positions on health care, education, immigration and gun reform.
The senator from New Jersey, who is polling around 2% nationally, according to various polls, opened the discussion by addressing the weekend’s mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.
“America is bleeding right now. This is the time we need to come together,” he said.
Booker claimed that he grew up hunting and said that Democrats do not want to disarm Americans or repeal the Second Amendment, but he also endorsed certain restrictions on gun ownership.
“If people need to hold licenses to drive automobiles, they should be required to have a license to own a gun,” he said. “The reforms we want will not impact law abiding gun owners.”
Health care was also a major topic of discussion at the town hall meeting, where attendees’ grilled the candidate on how he would address rising prescription costs and corruption in the pharmaceutical industry.
“The high cost of prescription drugs is one of the sickest things going on in this country,” Booker said. “I want to end corporations profiting from people’s pain. It’s not right that people are forced to choose between something like insulin or rent.”
Booker told the audience that he has purposely lived in low-income neighborhoods for the past 20 years and understands that one of the many challenges his constituents face is affordable health care.
He said taxpayers fund pharmaceutical companies’ research, and then companies charge Americans “50 to 100 times more than what they charge people for the same drugs in other countries.”
“When I’m president, if a pharmaceutical company is found to be charging Americans more for drugs than they charge others, I will take away their patents,” Booker said.
Turning to education, the candidate claimed that Republicans are attempting to dismantle public education in an effort to re-segregate schools in states such as South Carolina. He believes the privatization of schools degrades the level of education available to America’s students.
“I’m the only one in the race that is taking on a system that is failing our children’s genius,” Booker said. “I want to focus on the issues of poverty, paid family leave and nutrition for pregnant women. Every American child should be equipped and ready to begin their education before they set foot in pre-K programs.”
The senator said that children are America’s most valuable natural resource, and he promised to invest in education and increase teachers’ salaries so that they no longer have to pay so much out of pocket to educate their students.
On the issue of immigration, Booker said President Donald Trump created the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“What is being done is not cost effective,” Booker said. “There are ways we can be sure we are not letting in people who are a threat to America. As it is people are afraid to report crimes to police out of fear that family members may face deportation. This is actually making the situation in America more dangerous”
South Carolina state Senator Marlon Kimpson, who hosted the town hall, asked the audience to show up to the primary and general elections.
“We are going to take the presidency. We are going to take the Senate and the state house back. Local elections count,” he said.
Booker encouraged attendees to stand behind the nominee regardless of which Democrat prevails and appears on the 2020 ballot.
“It’s important that we stand united,” Booker said. “I hear people saying they just want a candidate that can beat President Trump. Beating President Trump is just the floor, we as Democrats need to have much higher aspirations that reach the ceiling.”