The Slatest

Biden Praises Jeb Bush as Old Letters Show He Sought Support From Famous Segregationist

Biden clutches his fists dramatically while speaking against a dark blue backdrop and next to an American flag.
Joe Biden speaks at a dinner event in Dover, Delaware on March 16.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign hasn’t been formally announced, but it already has a theme, which is that Biden is the only Democrat with the kind of bipartisan appeal and common touch needed to win white working-class voters in key swing states back to the Democratic Party. Two events on Thursday underlined that theme, then circled it in red ink and drew a bunch of big exclamation marks around it.

First, CNN published a piece about letters that Biden, then a young senator from Delaware, wrote to Mississippi Democratic Sen. James Eastland in 1977. Eastland believed that desegregation would “mongrelize” the white race and had denounced the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, calling it a “monstrous crime“; in 1977, Biden sought his support for a bill that would cut down on the practice of busing students between neighborhoods to integrate schools. Wrote Biden to Eastland: “My bill strikes at the heart of the injustice of court-ordered busing.” (It doesn’t appear that the bill in question was ever passed by the full Senate, but other anti-busing measures that Biden pursued were successful.)

Then, Biden, appearing at a University of Pennsylvania panel on opioid addiction with Jeb Bush, complimented Bush as “a hell of a governor.” From the Democratic perspective, Bush’s tenure as the governor of Florida was probably most notable for his relentless effort, supported by right-wing evangelical groups, to prevent Terri Schiavo’s husband from removing her feeding tube after she’d been in a vegetative state for 15 years; Bush also signed the “stand your ground” law that came under national scrutiny after George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin.

Strategically, Biden seems to be betting that his association with Barack Obama is going to keep him from losing support among progressives and people of color over things like this. And, like, he’s really, really betting that.