Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is on defense this week after touting his friendly relationships with former segregationist senators as examples of his “civility.” Biden name-dropped former Sens. James Eastland (D-Miss.) and Herman Talmadge (D-Ga.) at a Tuesday fundraiser as evidence of the former vice president’s ability to work successfully with others.
“At least there was some civility,” Biden said. “We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished.”
Biden’s remarks faced immediate backlash, and Democratic presidential rivals seized on the comments, putting the Biden campaign on defense.
First to attack the current Democratic front-runner was Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who called on Biden to apologize for using relationships with segregationist senators as evidence of “civility.” A unusually defiant Biden however, fought back.
“Apologize for what?” Biden told a reporter on Wednesday. “There’s not a racist bone in my body. I’ve been involved in civil rights my whole career. Period. Period. Period.”
Others joined Booker in piling on calls for Biden to apologize, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
“It’s 2019 & @JoeBiden is longing for the good old days of ‘civility’ typified by James Eastland. Eastland though my multiracial family should be illegal & that whites were entitled to ‘the pursuit of dead n*ggers,’” de Blasio posted on Twitter along with a picture of his black wife.
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
“To coddle the reputations of segregationists…is misinformed and wrong,” Harris told reporters on the Hill.
— Mariam Khan (@MKhan47) June 19, 2019
“If you ignore racism and if you don’t address issues of race with racists, then everything is fine, right?” Cortez told Politico. “That’s how you work with segregationists: By not confronting the racism and their institutionalization of second-class citizenship and a lack of fully recognizing African Americans.”
Other prominent Democrats came to Biden’s defense, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and high-ranking members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“He has lived his life, he considers certain things a resource that he has worked across the aisle, that’s what he was saying,” Pelosi said to reporters at her weekly press briefing Thursday, reported Fox News.
U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the House Democratic whip and highest-ranking African-American in Congress, also came to Biden’s defense.
“I don’t see anything different in what Biden said to what we all do over here,” Clyburn told reporters, according to The New York Times. “He didn’t say anything more than I would say to describe my work with Strom Thurmond and a few others.”
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus said that she hopes people will move on. “I certainly wish that he hasn’t have said it,” Bass told CNN. “I think there’s a lot of other examples of where he has worked in a bipartisan fashion, but I would like to see us move on from there.”
Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), both members of the Congressional Black Caucus, also declined to join calls for Biden to apologize, reported CNN.
“I haven’t seen anything from Joe Biden that suggests at this moment that he should apologize,” Jeffries said. He serves as a member of the House Democratic leadership team.
Since his remarks, Biden’s record on civil rights has come under further scrutiny. While Biden has refused to apologize, he did attempt to refine his remarks at a Maryland fundraiser on Wednesday when speaking about his time served in the Senate, according to Politico.
“We had to put up with the likes of, like Jim Eastland and Hermy Talmadge and all those segregationists and all of that… We in fact detested what they stood for in terms of segregation and all the rest,” Biden told donors, Politico reported. “We restored the Voting Rights Act, we did it, and over time we extended it by 25 years not just five years.”