The Democratic presidential nomination race experienced a rollercoaster 24 hours with Joe Biden refusing to apologize for nostalgically remembering that he “got things done” with segregationist lawmakers, remarks that triggered outrage among other 2020 candidates.
Tensions swelled Wednesday and into Thursday after Biden made his comments at a high-priced New York fundraising event, and escalated as the former vice president took a confrontational tone when questioned about the friction.
Several challengers for the nomination, including two prominent African Americans, called out Biden for saying that while he opposed the segregationist positions of late southern senators James Eastland and Herman Talmadge, “at least there was some civility” when they cooperated to pass legislation.
Eastland “never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son,'” Biden said.
“Boy: a racially charged word long used to emasculate black men. Biden is white.
White House hopeful Senator Cory Booker demanded an apology and said Biden “should have the sensitivity” to avoid speaking fondly of racist lawmakers.
Not only did Biden not apologize, but he went on the offensive, saying Booker “should know better” and demanding an apology from him.
“Apologize for what?” Biden said outside another big-ticket fundraiser Wednesday in a Washington suburb.
“Cory should apologize. He knows better,” Biden added. “There’s not a racist bone in my body. I’ve been involved in civil rights my whole career.”
Vice President Joe Biden told me I should know better. As a Black man in America, here's what I know: pic.twitter.com/MbbrVbi3BJ
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) June 20, 2019
Democratic rivals pounced after his initial Tuesday comments, shedding their restraint over attacking frontrunner Biden.
Some party progressives said this affair shows Biden, 76, is out of step with his party and out of touch with the country as a whole.
Booker, appearing on CNN late Wednesday, took issue with Biden’s remark that Eastland “never called me ‘boy,'”
“I was raised to speak truth to power, and I will never apologize for doing that, and vice president Biden shouldn’t need this lesson,” Booker said.
The back and forth has exposed strains within the party one week before the top 20 Democrats in the nominations race engage in a two-night debate, the first in the 2020 primary cycle.
Joe Biden’s remarks on working with segregationist senators in the 1970s are provoking strong criticism from his 2020 Democratic rivals, including Sen. Cory Booker, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Bernie Sanders. https://t.co/PjGiLS17LB pic.twitter.com/PpMwZqdVpy
— CNN (@CNN) June 19, 2019
A handful of black lawmakers defended Biden.
“I worked with Strom Thurmond all my life,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn, the highest-ranking black member of Congress, said in Politico, referring to the notorious segregationist senator from Clyburn’s South Carolina.
“You don’t have to agree with people to work with them.”
At the New York fundraiser, Biden pushed back against leftist critics of his desire to work with Republicans given the fierce partisanship of President Donald Trump and his allies.
On Wednesday Biden plowed ahead with his message, attending two Maryland fundraisers. He brought up Eastland and Talmadge again, although he tweaked his remarks.
“We had to put up with the likes of, like, Jim Eastland and Hermy Talmadge and all those segregationists,” Biden told 150 well-heeled supporters in a Chevy Chase home.
“And the fact of the matter is that we were able to do it because we were able to win, we were able to beat them on everything they stood for.”