Former Vice President Joe Biden stood defiant on Wednesday in the face of mounting criticism over his praise for two ardent segregationists.
Biden, who on Tuesday praised the civility of the late Sens. James Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA), was asked outside a fundraiser in Chevy Chase, Maryland if he would apologize for his comments.
“Apologize for what?” the 2020 Democrat frontrunner reportedly said, adding, “Cory should apologize.”
On Tuesday, Biden told a group of donors gathered at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City it was vital the next president “be able to reach consensus under our system.” While touting his bipartisan credentials, the former vice president invoked his personal and professional relationship with Eastland and Talmadage.
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden told the donors, with an attempted Southern drawl. “He never called me boy, he always called me son.”
“Well guess what?” he continued. “At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”
The remarks quickly elicited controversy, because both men were fierce opponents of integration and civil rights throughout their long tenures in the Senate. Eastland, in particular, was known as the “voice of the white South” for his fiery backing of Jim Crow and attempts to derail the 1964 Civil Rights Act as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Biden’s fond reminiscence of the two segregationist Democrats did not sit well with many, especially fellow 2020 Democrat Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).
In a widely applauded statement released in response, Booker strongly rebuked Biden for touting his connections to “proud segregationists.”
You don’t joke about calling black men ‘boys.’ 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. I have to tell Vice President Biden, as someone I respect, that he is wrong for using his relationships with Eastland and Talmadge as examples of how to bring our country together.
Prior to the vice president’s statement in Chevy Chase, his team had attempted to dismiss the controversy by saying it was “disingenuous” to claim he offered praise for a segregationist. They also attempted to downplay the criticism by likening Biden’s work with Eastland and Talmadge on anti-busing legislation to Booker’s work with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“People in the Senate work all the time with members of the other party whose positions are repugnant to all of us as Democrats,” Anita Dunn, a spokeswoman for Biden’s campaign, said during an interview on MSNBC. “You know, Cory Booker, who has worked with Jeff Sessions on many things.