Cory Booker, Democrats Slam Joe Biden For Segregationists Remarks At a fundraiser Tuesday night, the former vice president talked about working with former Sens. James Eastland and Herman Talmadge, two segregationist Democrats.

Democrats Blast Biden For Recalling 'Civil' Relationship With Segregationists

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Former Vice President Joe Biden, once praised for being someone who can find common ground - the problem is the example he chose to cite at a fundraiser Tuesday night. Biden highlighted his collaboration with two U.S. senators who supported segregation and other racist policies. Biden's rivals for the Democratic nomination have come down hard on him as a result. But the former vice president says he's not going to apologize. Might this set the front-runner back ahead of the first round of debates? We're going to ask NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow, who's in the studio.

Hi, Scott.


MARTIN: First off, can you just give us the broader context for what Joe Biden said that has caused this stir?

DETROW: Yeah. He was making a point at this fundraiser about how he's been criticized for trying to work with Republicans. And he brought up this working relationship he had with Mississippi Senator James Eastland and Georgia Senator Herman Talmadge. They were Democrats, but they were staunch segregationists. That's to say, they pushed for policies that kept people separated based on race, and they opposed things like civil rights legislation.

Talking about Eastland in particular, Biden said, he never called me boy; he always called me son. He also said, at least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn't agree on much of anything. We got things done.

You know, Eastland in particular was an unapologetically racist lawmaker. There are some really shocking quotes from him during the Montgomery bus boycott, talking about Martin Luther King and other marchers in very graphic terms and actually talking about abolishing the African-American race. Those are the words he used.

MARTIN: Wow. So he wants praise for collaborating with these lawmakers. His Democratic rivals in the race for the White House have come down pretty hard on him.

DETROW: Yeah. Cory Booker was one of the first fellow candidates to come out with some criticism. This was a little bit surprising on one hand because Booker is not really a Democrat who goes on attack against other Democrats. But it was also not surprising because Cory Booker talks about the civil rights movement a lot. It's one of the core things he talks about campaigning for president. So Booker called for an apology. Here he was on CNN with Don Lemon.


CORY BOOKER: I know that somebody running for President of the United States, somebody running to be the leader of our party should know that using the word boy in the way he did can cause hurt and pain. And we need a presidential nominee and the leader of our party to be sensitive to that.

DETROW: California Senator Kamala Harris, another black candidate in the race - Booker and Harris are two of just three African-American U.S. senators - said this at the Capitol.


KAMALA HARRIS: I have a great deal of respect for Vice President Biden. 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 United States Senate is, I think - it's just - it's misinformed, and it's wrong.

MARTIN: Is Biden responding to the criticism?

DETROW: You know, throughout the day yesterday, his campaign didn't really say much of anything. He was at another fundraiser last night, and reporters caught up with him after the event. Here's what happened.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you going to apologize like Cory Booker has called for?

JOE BIDEN: Apologize for what?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Cory Booker has called for it. He's asking you to apologize.

BIDEN: Cory should apologize. 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.

DETROW: So, yeah, not only not apologizing but saying Booker is the one who needs to offer an apology. Biden supporters have repeatedly said, you know, the reason that he decided to get into the race, as he often talks about, is responding to the way that President Trump kind of equivocated after that Charlottesville white supremacist rally, saying that civil rights has been a key part of Joe Biden's long career in the Senate and as vice president.

MARTIN: So we're going to see this probably play out during the debates...

DETROW: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...Next week. NPR's Scott Detrow. Thanks, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you.


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