Former Vice President Joe Biden praised two arch segregationists that he served with in the Senate Democrat Conference for their “civility” on Tuesday.
Biden, the current 2020 Democrat front runner, told a group of donors gathered for a fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City it was vital the next president “be able to reach consensus under our system.” To explain why he was the best candidate in that regard, Biden fondly cited his history of working with two of the Senate’s arch segregationists, the late-Sens. James Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA).
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden said with an attempted 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.”
Eastland, who served as senator from 1943 to 1978, was known as the “voice of the white South” for his stringent opposition to civil rights and integration. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Eastland attempted to derail both the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Thurgood Marshall’s appointment to the Supreme Court.
In his first Senate campaign, The New York Times wrote in Eastland’s obituary, “he often appeared in Mississippi courthouse squares, promising the crowds that if elected he would stop blacks and whites from eating together in Washington. He often spoke of blacks as ‘an inferior race.'”
Biden, who joined the Senate in 1972, missed most of those battles. He did, however, arrive just as busing to achieve school desegregation was coming to the forefront. Despite opposition from more liberal elements in the Democrat Party, especially the late-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Biden ended up leading the charge on the issue. Eastland, as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was a prominent ally in the fight against busing, according to the Delaware News Journal.
During his remarks on Tuesday, Biden also invoked his relationship with Talmadge, another ally in the anti-busing campaign. Talmadge, who served as governor of Georgia before being elected to the Senate in 1957, was another fierce opponent of civil rights and integration. In the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which struck down segregation in public schools, then-Gov. Talmadge promised to do everything in his power to protect “separation of the races.”
At his NYC fundraiser tonight, Joe Biden said that Georgia Sen. Herman Talmadge was “one of the meanest guys I ever knew.” But, he added, “At least there was some civility. We got things done.”
This was Herman Talmadge, then governor of Georgia, in the mid-1950s. pic.twitter.com/524aMeS8DV
— Osita Nwanevu (@OsitaNwanevu) June 19, 2019
After Biden’s remarks about Talmadge and Eastland came to light, a former staffer for ex-Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) urged reporters to consider why Biden believes he’d be better at forming “consensus” than former President Barack Obama.
Reporters should ask Biden why he thinks he’ll succeed in cutting deals with Republicans where Obama failed, because it sure seems like he’s flat out saying it’s because he’s white. https://t.co/nWQKRdWnJt
— Adam Jentleson (@AJentleson) June 19, 2019
Biden appears to be so cynical that he thinks Republicans will cut deals with him because he’s white, but so naive that he doesn’t realize they’ll obstruct him anyway. It’s a dangerous combination.
— Adam Jentleson (@AJentleson) June 19, 2019
Other Democrats expressed equal concern about Biden’s comments.
“Politicians should never speak positively of segregationists. Period,” Sherrod Brown adds https://t.co/PFgipwIiiQ
— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) June 19, 2019
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow presidential candidate, was especially critical.
It’s 2019 & @JoeBiden is longing for the good old days of “civility” typified by James Eastland. Eastland thought my multiracial family should be illegal & that whites were entitled to “the pursuit of dead n*ggers.” (1/2) pic.twitter.com/yoOOkpaTX2
— Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) June 19, 2019
As he seeks the Democrat nomination, Biden’s long history with race has increasingly come under fire from the left. The New York Times recently reported that Biden was forced to abandon his initial bid for president in 1988 amid a slew of scandals including revelations he falsely claimed to have marched in the Civil Rights Movement. During that failed campaign Biden also praised the late-Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC), another prominent segregationist, as one of his “closest friends,” according to the Washington Examiner.
Breitbart News reported this month that Biden made a series of racially insensitive statements, including lecturing on what “was good for the Negro,” in the early 1970s. One of those remarks came at the funeral of his first wife, Neilia Biden.
“I was probably one of those phony liberals… the kind that go out of their way to be nice to a minority and she made me realize I was making a distinction,” Biden said in December 1972. “But in dealing with minorities, she made no subtle condescending gestures… she made no distinctions.”