“This is going to be sick,” a Senate staffer gleefully told his companion as they settled in to watch two of Washington’s most junior senators speak at the Newseum across from the U.S. Capitol. Prison reform, the topic of the discussion, is a noble cause for sure, but that’s not what filled the seats on a recent stormy summer night. As one lobbyist in the hall announced, they were “just here for the show”: the first joint appearance by Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, and Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, Washington’s newest odd couple.
The two politicians appear to have little in common except, perhaps, the ambition to be president someday. One is a Texas-reared libertarian and longtime antitax activist who built a thriving ophthalmology practice before becoming a standard-bearer of the Tea Party movement. The other is an Ivy League-educated Rhodes Scholar, beloved by progressives, who built his political career in the postindustrial wasteland of Newark, where he was a councilman and then mayor. “I’m worried who’s Felix and who’s Oscar,” Booker joked at the Newseum event, organized by Politico and hosted by Mike Allen, the capital’s chief gossip.