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Joe Biden, in call for political ‘civility,’ invokes segregationist senators

Biden boasted about finding common ground with Sens. James Eastland and Herman Talmadge

Former Vice President Joe Biden recollected partnering with two segregationist senators at a fundraiser in Manhattan Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Former Vice President Joe Biden recollected partnering with two segregationist senators at a fundraiser in Manhattan Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Presidential candidate Joe Biden invoked the names of two segregationist senators at a fundraiser Tuesday night in a call for greater “civility” in politics.

Speaking to donors at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan, Biden recalled caucusing with late Senators James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia — both staunch opponents of racial integration — in an appeal for greater bipartisanship.

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“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland. He never called me boy, he always called me son,” Biden said, imitating his Southern drawl, according to a pool report from the event. “A guy like Herman Talmadge, one of the meanest guys I ever knew, you go down the list of all these guys. Well guess what? At least there was some civility.

“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,” Biden continued.

Biden was first elected in 1972 to represent Delaware in the U.S. Senate at age 29. He used the story to defend his record from critics on the left flank of the Democratic Party, saying he does not believe his approach to politics is old-fashioned.

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The story of Talmadge and Eastland resurfaces a position Biden took as a young senator, opposing school busing as a remedy to segregation. The busing strategy was unpopular with white Delaware voters.

The busing battle put him at odds with the country’s first popularly elected black Senator, Massachusetts Republican Edward W. Brooke, and much of his party.

On the stump for the Clinton campaign in August 2016, Biden reprised a story from 1978 about sitting down for “supper” at 3:30 p.m. in the Senate dining room with Talmadge and Eastland when the conversation turned to his reelection campaign.

“And old Herman Talmadge looked at me and said, ‘Black folks don’t like busing. White folks don’t like it — just go home and demagogue the hell out of it,’” Biden said in the 2016 speech.

“So I looked at Eastland, he said, ‘What old Jim Eastland do for you in Delaware?’” Biden said. “I said, ‘Mr. Chairman, some places you’d help, and in some places you’d hurt.’ He said, ‘I’ll come to Delaware and campaign for you, or against you, whichever would help the most.’”

Stephanie Akin contributed to this report.

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