A number of former vice president Joe Biden’s rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination chastised him Wednesday after he lauded the civility and pragmatism of the southern segregationist senators he worked with early in his career.
During a fundraiser at the upscale Carlyle Hotel in New York Tuesday night, Biden praised deceased Democratic senators James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia, both of whom vocally supported segregation, for their civility and willingness to compromise.
In response, New York mayor and 2020 presidential aspirant Bill De Blasio recounted the abhorrent views espoused by the southern senators and urged Biden to apologize for his comments.
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who is polling well behind Biden in early primary states, also criticized the former Delaware senator for holding up the conduct of openly racist lawmakers as an example to be aspired to.
“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,” Booker said. “And frankly, I’m disappointed that he hasn’t issued an immediate apology for the pain his words are dredging up for many Americans. He should.”
During the fundraiser, Biden, who was first elected to the Senate in 1973, argued that his experience negotiating with southern Democrats decades ago would enable him to break through the partisan hostilities that today prevent legislative progress.
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Mr. Biden said, slipping briefly into a Southern accent, according to the pool report. “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.”