On Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said he did not believe he owed anyone an apology for commending segregationists.
Biden called two Southern Senators he worked with during the 1970s as people who “got things done.” The comment quickly sparked a backlash among fellow presidential candidates and several other political pundits.
Politico reports the former vice president said he did not find a need to apologize for his comments, instead asking: “Apologize for what?”
The former vice president added, “There’s not a racist bone in my body.”
“I’ve been involved in civil rights my whole career,” he said. “Period, period, period.”
Biden’s response capped a frenetic 24 hours of the Democratic primary — the moment when the sprawling Democratic field dispensed with any sense of restraint about attacking the frontrunner. His comments about working with segregationists galvanized his rivals and the party base, providing them with virtual license to make a full-throated case against him as the Democratic standard-bearer.
Biden made his initial remarks on Tuesday during a fundraiser in New York City. There, he commended former Mississippi Senator James O. Eastland and former Georgia Senator Herman Talmadge.
“You go down the list of all these guys. Well, guess what. At least there was some civility,” Biden said of the men. “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 backlash was swift as several Democratic presidential candidates spoke out against Biden, Politico reports:
Biden’s opponents for the 2020 Democratic nomination harshly criticized him on Wednesday. “You don’t joke about calling black men ‘boys,’” Booker said in a statement.
“Men like James O. Eastland used words like that, and the racist policies that accompanied them, to perpetuate white supremacy and strip black Americans of our very humanity,” the New Jersey senator continued. “Frankly, I’m disappointed that he hasn’t issued an immediate apology for the pain his words are dredging up for many Americans.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted in response to Biden’s comments, saying, “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.”
Rep. John Delaney of Maryland said: “Evoking an avowed segregationist is not the best way to make the point that we need to work together and is insensitive; we need to learn from history but we also need to be aggressive in dismantling structural racism that exists today.”
The Washington Examiner adds:
Biden is slated to speak at this weekend’s South Carolina Democratic Convention, where African American voters are likely to make up a majority of attendees. And on June 27 Biden is set to participate in the first round of Democratic debates, giving rivals a clear shot to question his long record.
Biden’s camp on Wednesday was not totally silent. In an interview on MSNBC Wednesday afternoon, Biden adviser Anita Dunn said his remarks about the segregationist senators were misconstrued.
Dunn noted him saying he never agreed with the pair of southerners, only tried to work with them on legislation.
“As he says in the story, that he didn’t agree with them, and he absolutely did not agree, but they were able to disagree and there was civility involved. He didn’t praise them, he didn’t praise their positions, he certainly didn’t endorse their positions,” Dunn said.