Biden draws ire in recalling 'civility' with segregationists


Associated Press

Joe Biden is under fire from rival Democratic presidential hopefuls for saying the Senate "got things done" with "civility" even when the body included segregationists.

Speaking at a New York fundraiser Tuesday evening, he pointed to long-dead segregationist senators James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia to argue that Washington functioned more smoothly a generation ago than under today's "broken" hyperpartisanship.

"We didn't agree on much of anything," Biden said of the two men, who were prominent senators when Biden was elected in 1972. Biden described Talmadge as "one of the meanest guys I ever knew" and said Eastland called him "son," though not "boy," a reference to the racist way many whites addressed black men at the time.

Yet even in that Senate, Biden said, "At least there was some civility. We got things done."

The comments quickly sparked one of the most intense disputes of the Democratic presidential primary, underscoring the risk to Biden as he tries to turn his decades of Washington experience into an advantage. Instead, he's infuriating Democrats who say he's out of step with the diverse party of the 21st century.

Sen. Cory Booker, one of two major black candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, said 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," and he called for the Biden to apologize.

"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," the New Jersey Democrat said in a statement that was especially notable coming from a candidate who entered the 2020 primary with a sunny message, vowing to highlight "the best of who we are and not the worst."

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democratic presidential candidate and a white man who is married to a black woman, also offered a sharp retort. "It's 2019 & @JoeBiden is longing for the good old days of 'civility' typified by James Eastland," de Blasio tweeted today, along with a picture of his family. "Eastland thought my multiracial family should be illegal."

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