Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Military Times reached out to his campaign for answers on several questions related to his military and veteran policy plans if he is elected president.
To see all of the candidate responses, click here.
President Donald Trump has touted that the U.S. military is now stronger than ever before, due to increases in military spending and fewer battlefield restrictions on troops. What is your assessment of the current state and readiness of the armed forces? Are they in a better place than they were four years ago? Why?
We have the strongest and most capable military on the face of the planet Earth, but we can’t talk about military readiness without talking about issues like child care, public education, and the availability of good jobs for military spouses. Just last year, all three military service secretaries sent a letter to the National Governors Association identifying quality schools and the ability of military spouses to obtain good jobs as barriers to military readiness. Earlier this year, defense leaders told Congress that if they want to improve military readiness, they need to address child care.
When I am president, I will fight to pass the Child Care for Working Families Act into law, which would cap child care costs at 7 percent of income for all low and middle income families, in addition to providing universal access to preschool programs for all 3- and 4-year olds, which would help the vast majority of military families. I will dramatically increase our investments in public schools to ensure that every kid, no matter their zip code, has access to an outstanding public school education.
And, I will implement my Justice for Workers plan, which is dedicated to ensuring that all workers have opportunities for higher wages and meaningful benefits. I will also work with Congress and the Department of Defense to finally pass a budget—providing our military leaders with the certainty they need to make long-term strategic decisions to protect our nation.
After one year of your administration, what size will the U.S. troop presence be in Afghanistan? In Syria and Iraq? In Europe?
We have been in Afghanistan for far too long, and I am determined to bring our troops home as quickly as possible. As soon as I become president, I will immediately begin a process to bring our troops home in a way that won’t allow Afghanistan to again become a safe haven for launching attacks against the U.S. I’ve also signed on to the pledge to end the endless wars in over a dozen countries – including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Niger, Somalia, and Thailand — and, as President, I will act to bring these military engagements to a responsible and expedient conclusion.
I’ve also pledged to the American people, and our military community in particular, that I will respect and submit to Congress’s constitutional authority to authorize the use of military force. The challenges we face around the world are not challenges that can be solved with our military alone. We’ll also need to meet these challenges by empowering our diplomatic corps, recommitting to the robust and thoughtful application of foreign aid, and working closely with our allies.
What is the top personnel policy problem you see facing the armed forces today? How will you approach that issue differently from the current administration?
When I am president, we will lead with our values. Balancing our budget on the backs of those who serve, banning transgender servicemembers from the military, and failing to protect those in uniform from sexual abuse is not representative of our values or who we are as a nation. On Day One, I will reverse this president’s un-American ban on transgender people serving in the military. I will ensure that those serving in the military have pay and annual cost of living adjustments that ensure they are economically secure and can get ahead, not just get by.
And, I will fight to pass the Military Justice Improvement Act, a bill I co-sponsored in the Senate, which will protect our service members from sexual abuse and protect service members who report abuse from retaliation.
Should the Defense Department budget increase or decrease? To what level?
We need to make sure that we have a military that’s well-resourced and prepared, but right now, we spend nearly as much on defense as the next eight countries combined. I voted against the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act because $750 billion is too much to spend on defense while we scale-back our military operations and under-resource essential services that make us stronger at home, like veterans’ health care, public education, and infrastructure.
We need to bring our troops home from Afghanistan as quickly as possible and reduce defense spending to appropriate levels, which I will work to identify with the help of experts and stakeholders.
What is your plan to deal with the rising number of suicides in the military and veterans community?
There are more than 6,000 veteran suicides each year — nearly 70 percent of which result from firearm injury. I am the only candidate running for president that has released an entire plan solely dedicated to preventing deaths by suicide. It builds off my plan to end the epidemic of gun violence — the most sweeping gun safety proposal ever introduced by a presidential candidate — which would implement a federal gun licensing program — because if you need a license to drive a car, you should need one to own a gun.
Securing a federal license would require a background check, firearm safety training, and an in-person appointment — steps that combine to keep individuals in a moment of acute crisis from acting on their suicidality. A recent study found that gun licensure led to a 15 percent drop in firearm suicide rates. My plan would also require the safe storage of firearms and expand education and training for health professionals on suicide prevention.
In addition, I will appoint and empower a senior-level White House official with the single goal of working across agencies to deploy every available tool to cut the suicide rate. I would also significantly increase our investments into mental health and strengthen the Federal Parity Law to prevent insurers from illegally denying coverage of care for mental health and addiction treatment services.
What would be your top policy priority involving veterans, and how will you approach that issue differently from the current administration?
The way we treat our veterans in this country is a national disgrace. Our National Anthem says that we’re the home of the brave, but when our brave comes home they can’t count on adequate housing or health care. On any given night, more than 50,000 veterans are homeless. When I am president, I am going to implement my plan to provide safe, affordable housing for all Americans and eliminate homelessness.
My housing plan would create a renters’ credit to cap rental costs at 30 percent of income for working and middle-class Americans, increase affordable housing, and fully fund homelessness prevention programs to totally eliminate homelessness in America. I would also stand up against VA privatization and ensure that VA health care is funded at a level that guarantees world class health care, including mental health care services, accessible and easy to navigate for all our veterans and military families.
Have administration officials gone too far in pushing veterans health care services into the private sector? Would you repeal or alter existing VA community care programs?
I am deeply concerned about Republicans’ efforts to privatize the VA. Earlier this year, I joined a letter to Secretary Wilkie criticizing the implementation of the VA Mission Act—decisions that impact the care veterans receive should be made transparently and in partnership with veterans’ groups. Community providers should provide the same quality care, and be held to the same standard, as VA providers.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.