On Tuesday night, Joe Biden told a crowd at a fundraiser on the Upper East Side in New York City that he missed the tone of political “civility” that characterized his interactions with segregationist Democratic senators in the 1970s, noting with seeming pride that one of them—Mississippi’s James Eastland—called him “son” rather than “boy.” (You can read Biden’s exact words here.)
Eastland was a major opponent of civil rights legislation whose rhetoric on the issue was truly abhorrent, and Biden’s remarks haven’t gone over well with everyone in the modern Democratic Party. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is also running for president, issued the strongest criticism of the former VP:
At a Wednesday night fundraiser, then, Biden made a fairly standard political “clarification”-type comment about his own remarks:
One potential problem for Biden about this is that he actually worked with Eastland in 1977 to roll back the integration of public schools through busing, but a more immediate one is that before he said the things above, he gave a statement in which he said Booker should be the one to apologize:
As you might imagine, Booker is declining to do so.
To get into the weeds, Biden’s camp seems to be specifically objecting to the idea that he “praised” Eastland (and Georgia’s Herman Talmadge, whom he also mentioned). This is in some sense fair, in that Biden did not say “James Eastland was a great human being whose views I fully shared”; what he did say, though, was that contemporary senators—including, by implication, black senators like Booker—could learn from Eastland’s “civility,” which is a pretty rich request to make of people whom Eastland would have referred to, during his life, with foul and/or insulting terms like, for example, boy.