Former Vice President Joe Biden continues to draw fire from across the political spectrum after praising the “civility” of well-known segregationists.
During a fundraising event in New York City on Tuesday, the Democrat frontrunner invoked his working relationship with the late-Sens. James Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA) to argue he was the candidate best “able to reach consensus under our system.”
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden said with a Southern drawl. “He never called me boy, he always called me son.”
“Well guess what?” the former vice president 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.”
Both Talmadge and Eastland were known as fierce opponents of integration and civil rights throughout their long careers in public office. Eastland, particularly, became known as the “voice of the white South” for his fiery backing of Jim Crow.
Biden’s attempt to explain the importance of bipartisanship by highlighting his personal and professional relationships with the two segregationist Democrats did not sit well with many.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a fellow presidential candidate, offered a strong rebuke on Wednesday, saying Biden’s relationship with “proud segregationists” was not a “model” to bring “our country together.”
Booker said in a statement on Wednesday:
“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.”
Other 2020 Democrats were equally unwilling to tolerate Biden’s remarks.
WARREN on Biden: “I’m not here to criticize other Democrats but it’s never ok to celebrate segregationists. Never.”
— Alan He (@alanhe) June 19, 2019
HARRIS on Biden: “Yes it concerns me deeply if those men had their way I would not be in the United States Senate and on this elevator right now.”
— Alan He (@alanhe) June 19, 2019
Some Republicans noted that it was improper for Biden to cite Eastland and Talmadge to bolster his bipartisan bonafides, as both were life-long Democrats.
A history lesson is warranted: Senators James Eastland and
James Eastland were *Democrats*—as were other segregationists. @JoeBiden & them have nothing to do with “bipartisanship,” so please leave GOP out of Democrats’ debates about their party’s troubled history on race.
— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) June 19, 2019
Tom cotton for the win!!! Dems and Media desperately to make to make it seem like Biden was reluctantly working with racist republicans as opposed to his own party is pretty amazing. https://t.co/TyQHZFq9UZ
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 19, 2019
Biden’s allies were out in full force on Wednesday attempting to stymie the backlash. Anita Dunn, an adviser to the former vice president’s campaign, claimed during an MSNBC interview Biden’s friendship with Eastland and Talmadge was similar to that between Booker and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Biden adviser Anita Dunn defended the VP’s comments in an interview with MSNBC today, equating his work with Eastland to Cory Booker working with Jeff Sessions or Elizabeth Warren working with Chuck Grassley. Booker literally testified against Sessions for AG!
— Rebecca Buck (@RebeccaBuck) June 19, 2019
Another adviser asserted it was “disingenuous” to claim Biden had offered praise for “a segregationist.”
.@JoeBiden did not praise a segregationist. That is a disingenuous take. He basically said sometimes in Congress, one has to work with terrible or down right racist folks to get things done. And then went on to say when you can’t work with them, work around them.
— Symone D. Sanders (@SymoneDSanders) June 19, 2019
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), who as House Majority Whip is the highest ranking African-American in Congress, also leapt to Biden’s defense.
“I worked with Strom Thurmond all my life,” Clyburn told Politico. “You don’t have to agree with people to work with them.”
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), like Clyburn a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said it was important not to give “segregationists the currency to be at the table.”
“Segregationists at their core are those who believe in white superiority and black inferiority,” Rush said. “There can be no compromise with someone in this day and time as someone who would define themselves as a segregationist.”
“Did he really say that?” he added. “Oh lord.”