With no tough primary opponent, his path to the U.S. Senate and beyond just got easier.
A fundraiser hosted by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie generated headlines and speculation that the billionaire could ultimately bankroll the Republican's rumored presidential campaign. But one of Christie's peers and rivals got a major boost to his own rumored presidential hopes this week: Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
Veteran New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg announced his retirement from politics, saying that his current term will be his last. In doing so, he paved the way for Booker to run for Senate. Booker had already announced that he would seek the seat before Lautenberg's plans became clear -- a move that, according to sources, irritated the 89-year-old senator.
By retiring, Lautenberg will help both Booker and the national Democratic Party avoid what could have been an ugly and costly primary fight -- costly in money but much more costly to Booker in terms of image. Some believe that Gov. Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential hopes were dashed long before he ever faced off with President Obama, thanks to a brutal and long Republican primary in which he suffered endless attacks. Booker is now likely to avoid that morass and garner the support of most serious political donors and political players.
Now the real test for Booker begins.
Booker has long been far more famous and politically prominent than usually makes sense for a local mayor. There is no mayor in America more famous than he, except perhaps the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, who is a generation older than Booker and a billionaire.
Booker's fame has, in many ways, existed beyond the limitations of his title because everyone accepted that he was not going to stay in that position for long. The question of Booker's political ascension has always been when he would move to a national political role, not if. This perception has aided Booker in many ways, affording him opportunities that few mayors enjoy. (Quick question: How many other mayors can you think of off the top of your head who have appeared on Meet the Press?) For a time, he was predicted to be the first viable black candidate for president, before anyone had heard of a guy named Barack Obama.
But lately this perception has proved to be a political liability. The New York Times published what was largely seen as an extremely unflattering profile of Booker, which gave credence to critics who have long insinuated that he is merely using Newark as a stepping-stone to his real goal: the White House. Booker took the criticism very seriously and, some thought, personally. But what was notable about the fracas is that it was Booker's first real taste of the pitfalls that go with finally becoming a bona fide national political player, not simply a local figure who occasionally gets to play one on TV.
Should Booker win Lautenberg's Senate seat, which isn't unlikely, he will be, in the eyes of many, one step closer to the White House, but that largely depends on how he weathers being under the national spotlight full time. Plenty of onetime future presidents have wilted under the national spotlight, from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. Granted, both of them had complicated personal lives, but that raises another complication that Booker now faces as he ascends: Little is known about his personal life, something that experts say presents a challenge for aspiring presidents.
But first things first: Booker has to win his first nonlocal campaign. Thanks to Lautenberg, that just got a lot easier.
His tribute to gun-violence victims and the Desilene Victor shout-out made our list.
(The Root) -- If you missed the State of the Union address, not to worry. We pulled out the most important moments from the 6,443-word speech. Below are the highlights.
1. His Call to Action on Climate Change
Though the president has referenced climate change sparingly in the past, in his most recent State of the Union he devoted minutes to laying out the case for why it will be one of his priority issues in his second term. The passion he displayed in doing so, particularly while referring to disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, gave hope to progressives and all Americans that this is not just an issue he is planning to pay lip service to, but one he intends to make a key part of his legacy.
2. Declaring Preschool a Human Right, Not Just a Privilege
When the president said he wanted to "make high-quality preschool available to every child in America," it was probably the most profound commitment he made to ending poverty in this country in his speech. Battling America's dropout rate, as well as its sky-high incarceration rate, doesn't begin during the high school years but long before.
Funding more preschools will ensure that we fund fewer prisons in the years to come. The president acknowledged this reality, saying, "And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives ... Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than $7 later on -- by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime." In doing so, he forced Congress to confront this reality, too.
3. Holding Colleges Accountable
A great deal has been written about how to address America's growing student loan crisis. While the president has accomplished more on this issue than just about any other, truly solving the crisis requires holding colleges accountable in a meaningful way.
The president committed to doing so in his speech. By releasing a White House scorecard to help families deduce which academic institutions are the most cost-efficient -- a new initiative that he announced in his speech -- he may ultimately do more to drive down the cost of college than any piece of legislation could. Sometimes shame can be a more effective incentive to do the right thing than the law.
4. Calling Out the GOP on Women
If the GOP thought that the "war on women" narrative that the president and other Democrats used to win in 2012 would be retired now that controversial Republicans such as Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock (aka the GOP Senate candidates who couldn't shut up about rape) were out of the way, the party was sorely mistaken. When the president urged the House to follow the Senate's lead and pass the Violence Against Women Act, it's possible that he landed the first attack of the 2016 presidential campaign. The reason? Because likely GOP 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida voted against the VAWA, a move that pundits have spent much of today speculating will haunt him with women on the campaign trail. That haunting apparently began just after the State of the Union -- Rubio was delivering the official GOP response.
The president also used his address to advocate for pay equity for women, saying, "I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts, and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year." That sounds hard to disagree with, but the president likely expects that some Republicans will, and he called them out in his speech.
5. Asking Fathers to Step Up
When the president said, "What makes you a man is not the ability to conceive a child but the courage to raise one," it was one of the most honest, most powerful, least partisan moments of his entire speech. After all, who could dare disagree with that?
6. Paying Tribute to Hadiya, Gabby Giffords, Newtown, Aurora and Others
When the president began calling out the names of victims of gun violence, from Hadiya Pendleton's family to former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and solemnly proclaimed over and over, "They deserve a vote [on the issue of gun control]," there were few dry eyes in the house. It is hard to fathom that gun control won't at least get a vote -- and some traction -- after seeing the powerful bipartisan response.
7. Giving Props to Desilene Victor
President Obama may have had the microphone, but Florida's Desilene Victor stole the show. When the president introduced Americans to Victor, who was sitting in the audience, he made the case for comprehensive voter reform more effectively than he ever could have on his own. He recounted her story of waiting hours to vote on Election Day, despite being 102 years old.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and the picture of a black woman -- born long before many black Americans enjoyed the right to vote in the South -- still struggling to do so in the age of a black president shamed America and will hopefully move it to action.
Talking to The Root, black lawmakers gave it high marks, and NAACP's Ben Jealous praised "the president's swag."
(The Root) -- In his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour and guaranteeing that preschool is provided to every child in America. He emphasized the right to vote without long lines, and the right to earn a decent living. He urged Congress to address gun violence -- not just to stop mass shootings, but to stop inner-city violence like the shooting that killed 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton.
And African-American leaders liked what they heard. After the speech, The Root caught up with NAACP President Ben Jealous and members of the Congressional Black Caucus to get their take on the content of the president's message. Pleased, inspired and in some cases surprised by the bold content, these leaders -- who aren't at all shy about expressing when they're unimpressed with Obama -- gave the president high marks across the board. Here's why.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous: A
I give the president a solid A tonight. He took on the gun lobby; he called for us to end voter suppression. He stood up for the long-term unemployed and women in the armed forces. He made it clear that we must pass comprehensive immigration reform. That's a lot to take on ... In one night. In one year. It speaks to this president's resolve. It speaks to his confidence and commitment to having a progressive and inclusive legacy for his presidency. Tonight, you saw the president's swag. We saw him step out there with the confidence of somebody who has won by a wide margin twice and who understands he has a mandate from the voters of this country to force this Congress to embrace commonsense reforms to this nation's most vexing problems.
Rep. Bobby Rush: A
He talked about poverty, and he talked about domestic violence and gun violence, and he really spoke as I expected him to speak on these issues. It was a very moving speech as it relates to issues we're struggling with in our communities ... Also, he spoke about educational initiatives. He said every child in America should have a right to go to preschool. I give him an A. It is one of the better speeches I've heard him make.
Rep. Karen Bass: A+
[I give him] an A+ with high marks for mentioning poverty in America. I was particularly pleased with the president's call to increase the minimum wage.
Rep. Barbara Lee: A
He did not pull any punches. It was an inspiring speech that hit a lot of ... policy initiatives that we've all been working on for years. I was very happy to hear him talk about the minimum wage and targeting resources to the hardest hit communities. He talked about a thriving middle class but also that those who are poor and low income should have a chance at the American dream.
Rep. Gregory Meeks: A
I give it an A. A big A. Maybe even an A+ because he was talking to average, everyday Americans. He talked about how every child needs to get an education so they can get a job; that if you're poor, that shouldn't prevent you from getting an education. He talked about bringing manufacturing back to America, ensuring that hard work would lead to a decent life. And he was balanced. He talked about cutting the deficit in a balanced way, not just on the backs of poor and middle class. I thought it was a strong speech for the middle class and a strong speech for America.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton: B+
I would give the president a B+, and let me tell you why. I thought the president's address on the overriding national issues was excellent, because he told the Republicans something they needed to hear -- that he was through with spending cuts unless they did it by comprehensive tax reform ... [and it] called them out because they continue to say that the deficit is driven by spending. So I was very pleased that he was bold about that, about climate change, and there was this really fresh new thing that he said: that every child must have access to preschool. That's big.
Here's where I was disappointed. The president put "No taxation without representation" on his cars, and we thought that was a signal that he was going to speak to the more than 600,000 mostly African-American residents who live in District of Columbia who don't have equal rights as other Americans, even though we pay taxes ... I was particularly disappointed because he had pointed remarks about people who weren't able to vote in the last election. It would have tied in, but somehow it didn't happen. And I'm going to call the White House and find out why not.
A shootout with an alleged murderer mugs the spotlight from the president's speech.
(The Root) -- It's the never-ending debate that many minorities have privately with each other, but dread having with anyone else: How much does the bad behavior of someone from our community reflect on the rest of us?
Never before has the discomfort of this dichotomy been on display more than when an African-American fugitive and alleged murderer by the name of Chris Dorner hijacked the media coverage on what was supposed to be one of the most significant media moments of the year for President Barack Obama.
Usually the hour or so before a major presidential event (an inauguration, a State of the Union address or even a major presidential campaign event such as a debate) is spent with experts and pundits discussing what we could and should expect.
That did not happen before this State of the Union address. Instead of all of the major cable networks -- CNN, MSNBC and Fox -- carrying in-depth coverage of the vision for America the president would be unveiling in what is arguably his most important State of the Union address, the networks carried wall-to-wall coverage of the manhunt and ultimately the firefight involving a party who is widely believed to have been Chris Dorner.
On Fox News, during a panel discussion with legal experts about the Dorner case, Bill O'Reilly drew comparisons to O.J. Simpson, denouncing those who have defended some of the claims of bias from Dorner, a former police officer, as a defense for his alleged rampage.
MSNBC carried live coverage of the Dorner case, anchored by one of its leading political hosts, Chris Matthews, up until just before the State of the Union was scheduled to start at 9:00 p.m. ET. Meanwhile, shortly before 9 p.m., CNN began employing a split screen to display political pundits on one side, Dorner coverage on the other, clearly striving to find a balance between what was supposed to be the night's most important story versus what seemed to become the night's most important story.
There is no question that the spotlight belonged to President Obama, but unfortunately he had to share it with Chris Dorner. The excessive coverage of a man who embodied the most negative stereotypes that have been perpetuated about black men -- on a night when a man who has done so much to defy these very stereotypes was preparing to address some of America's greatest problems -- is a disturbing statement on the state of media, and America. After all, media only gave many Americans what they want. Why waste time watching substantive discussion of some of our most pressing policy issues when you can watch the ultimate version of reality TV -- a car chase and a shootout?
In the end, Dorner will become a footnote in history. Unfortunately those he allegedly killed, including some law enforcement officers, will too, even though they deserved far more attention than the man accused of killing them did. But for one night Chris Dorner got to be as famous as the president.
He can thank his friends in media.
Beyond "Let's Move": What if the first lady took on these issues during her husband's second term?
(The Root) -- First lady Michelle Obama has already started off her husband's first term with a bang -- literally. Her husband even joked that her new hairstyle, featuring freshly cut bangs, upstaged him during inauguration week. But now that the president has begun to lay out his agenda for his new term, the question many have been left wondering is what the first lady's own second-term agenda will be.
Based on an analysis of her recent schedule, a conservative blogger posited that the first lady had abandoned her "Let's Move" health and fitness campaign. This idea was quickly debunked by a White House tweet about "Let's Move" shortly thereafter. But the speculation has left many wondering what else she will do. Well, we have a few ideas.
1. Take on the Family-Planning Fight
Though Mrs. Obama lent her name to controversial reproductive rights battles early in her husband's career, she has tended to sidestep controversial issues throughout her tenure as first lady. Now that her husband has been safely re-elected, the timing is ideal for her to wade back into the family-planning debate.
While abortion rights may remain controversial, she could follow the lead of Melinda Gates, who is using the platform her husband's wealth and power has provided her to make contraception access a human right for all women -- not just wealthy and privileged ones.
This is one issue where millions of American women would benefit if Mrs. Obama were to follow Mrs. Gates' example. The White House's ongoing battle with religious employers over contraception access for female employees, and the sky-high ratio of out-of-wedlock births among African Americans, make it clear that this is an issue where a powerful African-American female voice within the White House could make a profound difference.
2. Judge Project Runway
While the first lady has been celebrated as a fashion icon, the White House has always aimed for a delicate balance in her public image. She has to look good, but not so good that people obsess over the potential tax dollars spent on how good she looks.
While some of the president's advisers worried about her appearing on the cover of Vogue in his first term, they no longer have to worry about such matters in his second. For this reason, she can afford to have more fun with fashion, with little worry about the impact on her -- or her husband's -- image. Heidi Klum has called the first lady a dream judge for Project Runway, and there are plenty of fans who probably agree. Besides, she has already appeared on The Biggest Loser and teamed up with Top Chef for an event.
3. Help Elect the First (or Second, Third or Fourth) Female President
Despite her nondenial denials, it is a widely considered fact that President Obama's presidential-campaign-foe-turned-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be running to become his presidential successor. But even if Hillary Clinton shatters one of America's last remaining glass ceilings, the fact will remain that despite being a majority of the population, women remain woefully underrepresented in government, and women of color even more so.
That changes only if more women are recruited and encouraged to run for office -- but also, and perhaps more important, if girls are encouraged to do so as well. There are a number of organizations focused on increasing the presence of women in the halls of power, but if those organizations had a high-profile woman of color -- such as one already in the White House -- taking the lead in encouraging women to run, who knows? We might not just see a woman in the White House in 2016; there may be an African-American little girl who, thanks to a high-profile role model today, ends up in the White House in 2036.