Former Vice President Joe Biden is getting some help from civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who defended him against accusations of racism and insensitivity toward blacks for praising Democrat segregationists as examples in civility.
“I don’t think the remarks are offensive,” Lewis said. “During the height of the civil rights movement we worked with people and got to know people that were members of the [Ku Klux Klan], people who opposed us, even people who beat us, arrested us and jailed us,” Lewis told reporters on Friday, according to Washington Examiner. “We never gave up on our fellow human beings. And I would not give up on any human being.”
When asked if he felt Biden’s critics in the Democratic Party should apologize, Lewis did not condemn their perspective. “I’m not going to judge other people and sit in judgment on others.”
Earlier this week, the former vice president spoke at a fundraiser where he held up two southern segregationists (both Democrats) he previously worked with in his early career as examples of political civility.
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden said, reportedly in a southern accent. “He never called me boy, he always called me son.”
Sen. James O. Eastland (D-MS) fervently opposed civil rights and has been referred to as the “Voice of the White South.” Biden also held up Sen. Herman Talmadge (D-GA) as another example of political civility, whom he described as being “one of the meanest guys I ever knew.”
“Well guess what? At least there was some civility,” he said of Talmadge. “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.”
While nobody denounced Biden as a racist, his 2020 opponents seized the moment to accuse him of downplaying the sins of segregationists and being insensitive toward their political goals. His fiercest critic, Cory Booker, minced no words and demanded the former vice president apologize.
“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,” Booker said in a statement. “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.”
Biden refused to apologize and even said that Cory Booker should be the one to apologize for mischaracterizing his statement. “Apologize for what?” Biden said. “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.”
Five-Thirty-Eight does not believe that the comments will hurt the former vice president’s nomination chances, which hinge largely on support from black voters.
“If these comments could hurt Biden with all Democrats, they could alternatively not really damage him much at all — even among black voters,” reports the outlet. “Poll after poll has found that Biden has very, very high approval ratings among black voters. For example, a survey conducted last month on behalf of the Black Economic Alliance found that 76 percent of black Democrats are either enthusiastic or comfortable with Biden’s candidacy, compared to just 16 percent who are uncomfortable or have some reservations.”