Scott Olson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Former Vice President Joe Biden is coming under fire for comments he made about finding consensus as he worked as a senator alongside Southern Democrats with opposing views including those who supported segregation.
“I know the new ‘New Left’ tells me that I’m – this is old-fashioned. Well, guess what? If we can’t reach a consensus in our system, what happens? It encourages and demands the abuse of power by a president. That’s what it does,” Biden said to the crowd of donors during an evening fundraiser in New York City Tuesday night, according to a press pool report, as he spoke talking about the need to fix our ‘broken’ political system.
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden said, according to the pool report, briefly channeling the late Mississippi senator’s Southern drawl. Biden said of Eastland, “He never called me ‘boy’, he always called me ‘son’.”
Biden then brought up a deceased Georgia senator, “a guy like Herman Talmadge, one of the meanest guys I ever knew, you go down the list of all these guys. Well, guess what? 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,” the report continued.
This was not the first time Biden spoke about his relationship with senators who supported segregation.
“When I first got started, it was a very different circumstance. The politics wasn’t broken, but the American people were in overwhelming disagreement. On the war in Vietnam, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement are bitter, bitter fights. When I got there, there were still five, seven segregationists from the south were part of the Democratic Party…But the politics wasn’t broken in the sense that we still treat each other with some civility,” Biden said in Concord, New Hampshire earlier this month.
Biden has also recalled Eastland’s offer to come and campaign for or against him in Delaware — whichever would help more in his re-election efforts, as he did in 2016.
“I was running for reelection in 1978. And I walked into the Senate dining room when we were trying to wind down everything. We had no appointments, just voting around the clock, Biden said during a speech at the Pittsburgh Labor Day parade in 2016.
“And I walked in – true story – and I got – old Eastland looked at me. He never called me Senator. He always called me ‘son.’ He says, ‘Son, come over here and sit down a minute.’ And I went over and sat down,” Biden recalled at the time. “He said, ‘What can old Jim Eastland do for you in Delaware?’…I said, ‘Mr. Chairman, some places you’d help and some places you’d hurt.’ “[Eastland] said, ‘Well, I’ll come to Delaware and campaign for you or again you, whichever will help the most.”
While on the campaign trail Biden has often talked about the need for consensus in order to make the political system work, which often requires working together to accomplish goals, despite differences in beliefs.
But some are criticizing Biden for speaking nostalgically about Senators whose views are antithetical to the party today, putting Biden out of step with the electorate.
Several of Biden’s 2020 competitors criticized Biden for positions that they blasted as out of step with a diverse Democratic party and electorate.
“You don’t joke about calling black men ‘boys.’ 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,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, who participated Wednesday in a hearing on reparations for the descendants of slaves, said in a statement. “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.
“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,” Booker continued.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California said Biden’s comments on Eastland and Talmadge were “misinformed and wrong.”
“I have a great deal of respect for Vice President Biden. He’s done very good work and he’s served our country in a very noble way. But to coddle the reputations of segregationists—of people who, if they had their way, I would literally not be standing here as a member of the U.S. Senate, is, I think, is just misinformed and wrong,” Harris told reporters outside the U.S. Capitol Wednesday. “Let’s be very clear that the senators that he is speaking of with such adoration are individuals who made and built their reputation on segregation.”
“I appreciate the importance of working with people and finding common ground. But to to suggest that individuals who literally made it their life’s work to take America back on the issue of race is a real problem for me. And it’s a very serious issue,” she added.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio slammed Biden for his comments, tweeting that Eastland believed his interracial family should be illegal.
“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******. It’s past time for apologies or evolution from @JoeBiden. He repeatedly demonstrates that he is out of step with the values of the modern Democratic Party,” de Blasio tweeted Wednesday.
Other presidential hopefuls refrained from hitting Biden directly but made clear that they did not agree with his views.
“I’m not here to criticize other Democrats, but it’s never ok to celebrate segregationists. Never,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts said Wednesday avoiding mentioning Biden by name.
Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney was similarly reflective saying “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.”
Symone Sanders, a senior advisor for the Biden campaign defended the former vice president’s comments, making it clear the vice president was not praising Eastland and Talmadge and calling the insinuation he did “disingenuous.”
“@JoeBiden did not praise a segregationist. That is a disingenuous take. He basically said sometimes in Congress, one has to work with terrible or downright racist folks to get things done. And then went on to say when you can’t work with them, work around them,” Sanders tweeted Wednesday afternoon.
“Joe Biden has been an ally in the fight for civil rights for years. I am all here for VALID CRITICISM, but suggesting that Joe Biden – the man who literally ran for office against an incumbent at 29 because of the civil rights movement, the man who was at the forefront of marriage equality before it was politically popular, the man who served as President Obama’s VP, the man who literally launched his 2020 campaign calling out Nazis in Charlottesville along with Trump’s equivalency – suggesting he is actively praising a segregationist is just a bad take and a willfully disingenuous act,” Sanders continued.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the highest ranking black lawmaker, defended Biden in comments to Politico saying that the business of governance sometimes requires working with people with distasteful views. Biden is one of 22 candidates expected to attend Clyburn’s famous fish fry before the South Carolina Democratic Convention – a must stop event on the campaign trail in a state with a high number of black voters.
“I worked with Strom Thurmond all my life,” Clyburn said of Thurmond who was known for his staunch segregationist views. “You don’t have to agree with people to work with them.”
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