WASHINGTON — Saying he doesn’t have “a racist bone in my body,” former Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday defended comments he made earlier this week about working with segregationist senators early in his career.
Tuesday, Biden had boasted about his ability to “(get) things done” with former Sens. James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia during a fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel in New York, according to a campaign pool report. The two former Demoratic senators fought against the civil rights movement and opposed the racial integration of schools.
The comments sparked criticism from several other 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
Speaking to reporters outside a fundraiser in Chevy Chase, Md., Wednesday Biden took on Booker and others that had criticized him, saying his fellow Democrats also running for president “know better.”
“Cory should apologize. He knows better,” Biden said.
“There’s not a racist bone in my body. I’ve been involved in civil rights my whole career. Period, period, period,” he said.
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Biden’s latest comments defending himself on civil rights and race issues came on Juneteenth, a day marked in many states and by African Americans across the country commemorating June 19, 1865, when blacks in Galveston, Texas, learned they were no longer slaves, some two years after President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The day “is widely celebrated as the end of chattel slavery in the U.S.,” The Smithsonian National Museum of African History & Culture explained on Twitter Wednesday.
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A hearing on reparations for slavery was also held in a House subcommittee Wednesday where Booker, a co-sponsor of a bill on the issue, spoke.
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Saying he never called Biden a racist, Booker did not apologize to the former vice president during an interview on CNN Wednesday night.
“I know that I was raised to speak truth to power and I will never apologize for doing that. Vice President Biden shouldn’t need this lesson,” the New Jersey Democrat said.
He noted that as a black man in America he has seen the “deeply harmful and hurtful use of the word ‘boy’ and how it was used dehumanize and degrade.”
“I know that somebody running for president of the United States, someone running to be the leader of our party, should know that using the word ‘boy’ and the way he did can cause hurt and pain and we need a presidential nominee and leader of our party to be sensitive to that,” Booker said.
On Tuesday, Biden also criticized the current political climate that would not allow for similar “consensus” with the likes of Eastman and Talmadge today.
“I know the new New Left tells me that I’m — this is old-fashioned,” he said during his remarks Tuesday. “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. You have to be able to reach consensus under our system — our constitutional system of separation of powers.”
On Wednesday morning, Booker had expressed his disappointment with Biden’s comment, saying that Biden’s relationship with the two senators is “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,'” 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.”
He also had called on Biden to apologize.
“I have to tell Vice President Biden, as someone I respect, that he is wrong for using his relationship with Eastland and Talmadge as examples of how to bring our country together,” he said in the statement. “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.”
Biden, however, on Wednesday did not back down from having worked with the two segregationist senators.
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“I could not have disagreed with Jim Eastland more, and to say he was a segregationist. I ran for the United States Senate because I disagreed with the views of the segregationist, there were many of them in the Senate at the time,” Biden said.
“The point I’m making is you don’t have to agree. You don’t have to like the people in terms of their views, but you just simply make the case and you beat them.
“You beat them without changing the system,” he continued.
Contributing: Nicholas Wu
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