David Axelrod, a former top aide to President Barack Obama, lambasted Joe Biden on Saturday for having waited weeks to apologize for praising avowed segregationists.
“This is an important statement but would have been better weeks ago—or maybe on the debate stage,” Axelrod said on social media. “It shouldn’t take weeks to land.”
This is an important statement but would have been better weeks ago—or maybe on the debate stage!
It shouldn’t take weeks to land. https://t.co/4HkFXTvP3n
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) July 6, 2019
The controversy started last month when Biden invoked the late-Sens. James Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA) at a fundraiser in New York City. The former vice president brought up the two men while touting his ability to forge “consensus” in Congress.
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden told donors with an effected 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.”
The praise quickly triggered backlash as Talmadge and Eastland were well-known segregationists who dedicated their careers to halting the progress of civil rights. Eastland, whom Biden has praised as a friend and mentor in the past, was known as the “voice of the white South” for his defense of Jim Crow and propensity for referring to African Americans as “an inferior race.”
In the aftermath of the remarks, Biden faced widespread rebuke from his 2020 rivals, including Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Booker, in particular, delivered an especially emotional response when calling on Biden to apologize.
“You don’t joke about calling black men ‘boys,’” Booker said. “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… he is wrong for using his relationships with Eastland and Talmadge as examples of how to bring our country together.”
The controversy only became more heated after Harris confronted Biden over his remarks and long-held views on busing to integrate public schools at the first Democrat presidential debate.
“I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground,” Harris said, “but I also believe and it’s personal and it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senator who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country.”
“It was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing,” she continued. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bussed to school every day. That little girl was me. So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate… we have to take it seriously.”
Biden attempted to defuse the situation by claiming Harris had mischaracterized his record. Instead of providing evidence to dispute the claims, however, the former vice president only muddled his stance on busing and falsely claimed to have never offered praise for racists.
On Saturday, Biden finally apologized during a campaign stop in South Carolina.
“Was I wrong a few weeks ago to somehow give the impression to people that I was praising those men who I successfully opposed time and again,” Biden asked rhetorically. “Yes, I was. I regret it. And I’m sorry for any of the pain or misconception they may have caused anybody.”
The timing of the apology, though, didn’t seem to please everyone. Apart from Axelrod, several other prominent Democrats weighed in to criticize the former vice president.
“I’m frustrated that it took so long,” Booker told CNN on Saturday. “But I’m grateful for him doing this.”
Bakari Sellers, a top South Carolina Democrat and CNN political commentator, appeared to agree with Booker and Axelrod that the apology came too late.
Vice President “Joe Biden gave a strong speech today,” Sellers, who has endorsed Harris, said on social media. “It was probably best [two] weeks ago but it was strong today.”
— Bakari Sellers (@Bakari_Sellers) July 6, 2019
Axelrod, who served as chief strategist for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, criticized the timing of Biden’s apology shortly after former First Lady Michelle Obama refused to defend the ex-vice president from the mounting controversy.
“I’ve been doing this rodeo far too long,” the former first lady said when asked about the recent “dust up” between Biden and Harris at the debate. “And no comment.”