WASHINGTON -- Hours into his term as a U.S. Senator, Cory Booker (D., N.J.) said economic recovery would be his top priority in Washington.
"Everybody I talk to from Cumberland County to Bergen County, people are talking about economic issues," he said. "Whether it's the foreclosure crisis that still goes on in New Jersey, whether it’s the fact that we have still too high unemployment rate in our state, whether it’s the fact that we have folks that are facing challenges with their children with too many people living in poverty, these are the issues that I’m excited to deal with."
Booker, speaking to reporters for the first time as a Senator, also reflected on his place in history as only the fourth African-American to be popularly elected to the Senate and the first since President Obama was elected to the chamber in 2004. Others have been appointed, making Booker the ninth African-American to serve in the Senate.
"It really is humbling that in the span of one generation we as a nation have made so much progress," Booker said. "Let’s not forget I would not be standing here if it wasn’t for the extraordinary sacrifices of those who came before me, blacks and whites, who did things, who were called to levels of courage that I will never be asked to show in my life."
Booker began the morning by visiting with John Lewis, a civil rights icon and now Congressman from Georgia. Lewis later came to the Senate to watch Booker's swearing in. (Details of the ceremony are here).
"I stand on the shoulders of giants," Booker said, calling his meeting with Lewis "emotional and moving."
"To have him standing there as I became one of the handful of African-americans ever to swear that oath in that chambers was something that I will never forget," Booker said.
With Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) also representing New Jersey, the state is now the first to be represented by a black and Latino Senator.
"That’s kind of incredible. New Jersey is a special kind of place," Booker said.
He also returned to two of the biggest themes of his Senate campaign: infusing new energy into Washngton by bridging divides and adding an "entrepreneurial" spirit to Congress -- though he did not discuss specific plans.
"I'm looking forward to being an innovative, entrepreneurial senator, in finding creative ways to help and empower people," Booker said. He also cited his work with Gov. Christie and other Republicans in New Jersey.
"That reputation of working together with people is something that I hope can give me some tail winds in working with other Republicans now," Booker said.