Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, and former U.S. Vice-President says he will not be apologizing for waxing nostalgic about James O. Eastland and former Georgia Gov. Herman Talmadge, both known segregationists.
As ESSENCE previously reported, at an NYC fundraiser Tuesday night, Biden told the crowd that he and Eastland, the long-serving, segregationist Mississippi senator known as “The Voice of the White South,” and the “Godfather of Mississippi Politics”, shared a mutual fondness and respect for each other.
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden said. “He never called me boy, he always called me son.”
Biden also mentioned segregationist Georgia Gov. Herman Talmadge, “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.”
New Jersey senator and Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker said Biden should apologize and issued the following statement:
“You don’t joke about calling black men ‘boys.’ 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.”
In response, Biden asked, “Apologize for what?” According to Biden, Booker owes him an apology because, “Cory knows better.”
During an appearance on CNN, Booker declined to apologize.
“I know that I was raised to speak truth to power, and I will never apologize for doing that, and Vice President Biden shouldn’t need this lesson,” Booker said. “For his posture to be, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong, you should apologize, I’m not a racist,’ is so insulting and so missing the larger point that he should not have to have explained to him, that this is not a lesson that someone who is running for president of the united states should have to be given,” he continued.
Other presidential candidates swiftly jumped into the fray.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California), told reporters at the U.S. Capitol, “I have a great deal of respect for Vice President Biden. He’s done very good work, and he has 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 United States Senate, is, I think, it’s just misinformed and it’s wrong.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) said, “I’m not here to criticize other Democrats, but it’s never okay to celebrate segregationists. Never.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), tweeted his solidarity with Booker, stating: “I agree with Cory Booker. This is especially true at a time when the Trump administration is trying to divide us up with its racist appeals.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio blasted Biden on Twitter, stating:
“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*ggers.”
Shortly after Booker’s appearance on CNN, Biden reached out to him via a phone call according to the NY Times.
Booker’s spokesperson, Sabrina Singh said: “Cory shared directly what he said publicly — including helping Vice President Biden understand why the word ‘boy’ is painful to so many. Cory believes that Vice President Biden should take responsibility for what he said and apologize to those who were hurt.”
The first of 12 Democratic primary debates is scheduled to take place on June 26 and June 27 in Miami, Florida.