Under pressure from rival 2020 Democratic presidential candidates and civil rights advocates to apologize for praising the “civility” of two notorious segregationist senators, former Vice President Joe Biden refused to do so on Wednesday, insisting that he has nothing to apologize for.
“Apologize for what?” Biden asked after reporters called attention to Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) statement demanding an “immediate” apology.
“Cory should apologize,” Biden said before attending a fundraiser in Chevy Chase, Maryland. “He knows better. There’s not a racist bone in my body. I’ve been involved in civil rights my whole career. Period. Period. Period.”
Demands for Biden to apologize came after the former vice president highlighted his relationship with racist Sens. James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia during a fundraiser Tuesday night.
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden said, according to pool reports. “He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.'”
Biden went on to call Talmadge “one of the meanest guys” he ever knew, but added, “At least there was some civility. We got things done.”
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In a statement on Wednesday, Booker, a 2020 Democratic presidential contender, 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.”
“You don’t joke about calling black men ‘boys,'” said Booker. “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.”
“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 added. “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.”
Other 2020 presidential contenders joined Booker in condemning Biden’s remarks.
“It concerns me deeply,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) told reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday. “If those men had their way, I wouldn’t be in the United States Senate and on this elevator right now.”
On Twitter, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) expressed agreement with Booker’s statement.
“This is especially true,” Sanders wrote, “at a time when the Trump administration is trying to divide us up with its racist appeals.”
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