STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Those in the room for the president's speech included Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who's on the line from his office.
Senator, good morning.
CORY BOOKER: Good morning. Good morning.
INSKEEP: I want to pick out one line from the president's speech - quote, "African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded." It appears to be true, and I also looked it up, Senator. Newark, the majority-black city where you are mayor, unemployment is way down. What do you make of that?
BOOKER: Well, I appreciate him - in many themes, from our foreign policy and successes in Iraq and Afghanistan to the economy, he's taking up a lot of Barack Obama's accomplishments. We saw unparalleled growth coming out of a horrible recession when I was mayor and tremendous success. In fact, job growth was greater in the last year of President Obama than it was in the first year of Donald Trump. But a lot of the successes we're seeing - even the family he rolled out with their successful business, as if they benefited from this tax cut that hasn't even taken effect yet - their incredible growth they had this year (unintelligible) owes to a lot of the economic plans we did under the last presidency.
INSKEEP: Oh, let's grant that the president - any president only has a certain impact on the economy, and it's early in the administration. But at least it can be said, he hasn't done anything to derail the economic growth.
BOOKER: Well, in many ways, he has. And if you go around Newark and talk to folks, it's a time of fear. It's a time of worry. The divisiveness that he's injected into our society has really affected American culture. Remember that we've had about 85 terrorist attacks since 9/11. Unfortunately, about seven - over 70 percent of those have been right-wing, the majority of them white nationalist attacks. And here's a person that seems to fuel that kind of bigotry. In fact, the people that marched in Virginia used his language as license for the kind of evil that they were perpetrating.
INSKEEP: Oh, in Charlottesville - the white supremacist rally there. But it seems the underlying message of the president is, you don't like the way that I talk, but I'm going to make you money.
BOOKER: Well, again, there's much more going on in our nation that is urgent right now. And for him to do a tax cut that cost the taxpayers, cost our country $1.5 trillion, where the overwhelming majority of that goes to the wealthiest in our country under the theory that's somehow going to trickle down is massively irresponsible. And people in New Jersey, especially - a state that relied on a critical tax cut - state and local taxes - is hurting as a result of that.
BOOKER: You have people in New Jersey that are really suffering as a result of this tax bill that...
INSKEEP: Senator, I want to ask about one other thing because you're on the Committee on Foreign Relations, and so I'm sure you're paying attention to this news. President Trump's administration has decided not to impose sanctions on Russia at this time for its interference in the presidential election. They say that the pressure or threats - implied threats - are enough for now, not imposing sanctions even though Congress overwhelmingly passed a law requiring them. What, if anything, are you going to do about that?
BOOKER: Well, first of all, it's stunning that the United States of America was attacked with - one of my Republican colleagues on that committee called akin to Pearl Harbor - cyberattacks in the last election, ongoing attacks - cyberattacks right now. They haven't stopped. They're getting more sophisticated. And this president of United States has done what I consider is tantamount to malfeasance by not answering that attack.
Putin respects strength, and we're lying down in the face of ongoing attacks. And so here you have a bipartisan bill overwhelmingly supported by Congress, and he did not use the tools in the toolbox. It's - contradicts what he said in his speech about a strong country. More important than building his wall is making sure that we have strong cyber defense because China, Russia - they cannot match us tank for tank or battleship for battleship, but they're fighting us now on the field of cyberattacks unless we fight back.
INSKEEP: Hacker for hacker, they might do a little better. Just a few seconds here, Senator - what would a successful presidential candidate need to do in 2020?
BOOKER: I'm focused on 2018 in November, and it's irresponsible for us to be thinking that far in advance. We've got to win back Congress, the House and the Senate, and that's what we should be working on. And folks have got to get out and vote in this nation.
INSKEEP: Senator, always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.
BOOKER: Thank you very much.
INSKEEP: Cory Booker, Democratic senator from the state of New Jersey.
(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "KOOL IN THE SUMMER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.