New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker refused Saturday to rule out meeting with Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader who is known for making anti-Semitic remarks.
“I have heard Minister Farrakhan’s speeches for a lot of my life,” Booker said at a political event in Columbia, South Carolina.
Asked whether he would be willing to meet with Farrakhan, the 2020 presidential hopeful replied: “I don’t feel like I need to do that, but I’m not one of these people who says I wouldn’t sit down with anybody to hear what they have to say.”
“I am very familiar with Minister Farrakhan and his beliefs,” Booker continued, noting that Nation of Islam literature is popular in Newark, where he used to serve as mayor.
The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the Nation of Islam a hate group because of its anti-Semitic rhetoric and black nationalist ideology.
Booker’s remarks come after a week in which he and other Democrats criticized former Vice President Joe Biden for touting his record of working with segregationist Democrats in the 1970s.
At a fundraiser Tuesday, Biden praised former Sens. James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia, both Democratic segregationists, for their “civility.”
“Vice President Biden’s relationships with proud segregationists are not the model for how we make America a safer and more inclusive place for black people, and for everyone,” Booker said after Biden’s remarks were publicized.
Farrakhan has made a career out of criticizing Jews and Israel.
He said in 2015 that “there were many Israelis and Zionist Jews in key roles in the 9/11 attacks” and “many Jews received a text message not to come to work on Sept. 11.”
Farrakhan denied being anti-Semitic in a tweet on Oct. 16, 2018, saying: “I’m not an anti-Semite. I’m anti-termite.”
Despite those extreme views, some Democratic politicians have refused to distance themselves from Farrakhan. The Congressional Black Caucus declined to denounce Farrakhan in 2018 after it was revealed that the group of black Democratic lawmakers had met with Farrakhan in 2005.
Barack Obama, who then served as a senator in Illinois, was also photographed with Farrakhan at the event. The photo showed that Obama had closer ties to Farrakhan than he has previously let on.