Emotional Cory Booker decries Rand Paul's opposition to federal anti-lynching bill: 'I am so raw today'

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., became emotional on the Senate floor Thursday after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., held up legislation that would make lynching a federal hate crime punishable by up to life in prison.

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives, 410-4 in February. The Senate unanimously passed virtually identical legislation last year, but the House vote renamed the measure for Till -- a 14-year-old black boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 -- forcing the bill back to the Senate.


Paul has claimed the measure is written too broadly, saying Thursday that it would "allow altercations resulting in a cut, abrasion, bruise, or any other injury no matter how temporary to be subject to a 10-year penalty." The Republican also noted that murdering someone because of their race is already a federal hate crime and urged the Senate to make other reforms, such as easing “qualified immunity” rules that shield police officers from being sued.

In response, Booker described Paul as his "friend" and noted his efforts toward criminal justice reforms.

"I do not question the sincerity of his convictions ... but I am so raw today," Booker said, beginning to choke up. "Of all days that we're doing this, of all days that we're doing this right now, having this discussion when -- God, if this bill passed today, what that would mean for America that this body [the Senate] and that body [the House] have now finally agreed."

Booker added that Paul was injecting "legalistic issues" into a debate about legislation that could bring "historic healing" to a nation that needed it following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the subsequent arrest of four police officers and ongoing protests and riots across America.

"I do not need my colleague, the senator from Kentucky, to tell me about one lynching in this country," an impassioned Booker said, raising his voice.

"If this bill is wrong, then the Republican leadership of the House is wrong," he added. "If this bill is wrong, then the Democratic leadership of the House is wrong. If this bill is wrong, 99 senators are wrong."


Paul responded that he would be willing to let the bill pass by unanimous consent if it included an amendment on the level of bodily harm covered.

"My amendment would simply apply a serious bodily injury standard, which would ensure crimes resulting in substantial risk of death and extreme physical pain be prosecuted as a lynching," he said.

Booker claimed that Paul's point was a mere "difference of interpretation."

"Does America need a win today on racial justice?" Booker added. "Does the anguished cries of people in the streets -- I've had children break down with me this week, wondering if this would be a country that values their lives as much as white people's lives."

In his response, Paul reiterated his concern that a person could face up to 10 years in prison for slapping or bruising a person.

More from Media


"You think I take great joy in being here? No," Paul said. "I'm a sponsor of 22 criminal justice bills. You think I'm getting any good publicity out of this? No. I will be excoriated by simple-minded people on the internet who think somehow I don't like Emmett Till or appreciate the history and the memory of Emmett Till.

Paul added that he had worked "in an honest way" with Booker's office to prepare the legislation. "I ask in a very polite way, and I've been asking for three months, for one small change and I'll let the bill go today," he said. Paul's office told Fox News that the senator worked to improve the legislation in 2019 but the Senate passed it when he was in Kentucky.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.