Joe Biden apologized on Saturday for comments he made last month about working together with segregationist senators in the 1970s.
During a campaign rally in Sumter, South Carolina, the former vice president invoked Barack Obama’s name to defend his record on race and civil rights which came under attack during the first Democratic debate in Miami.
Senator Kamala Harris of California challenged Biden during the debate last month when she took him to task for his praise of the late Senators James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge or Georgia.
Both were segregationists. Eastland was known to have referred to African-Americans as ‘flesh eaters’ and Talmadge believed that whites and blacks should not eat in the same area.
Biden revealed at a private fundraising event last month that Eastland ‘didn’t call me boy,’ and said of their time in the Senate: ‘At least there was some civility.’
During his speech in South Carolina on Saturday, Biden said: ‘Was I wrong a few weeks ago to somehow give the impression to people that I was praising those men who I successfully opposed time and again? Yes, I was. I regret it.
‘I’m sorry for any of the pain or misconception I may have caused anybody.’
Biden was speaking in a state where 61 per cent of Democratic voters are African-American.
He has come under attack for his comments about segregationists as well as his votes as a senator from Delaware, including his support of a crime bill signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton in 1994 and his opposition to busing.
The crime bill has been blamed for helping to contribute to mass incarceration.
Biden defended himself by noting that he was chosen as a running mate by America’s first black president.
‘I was vetted by him and selected by him,’ Biden said of Obama.
‘I will take his judgment of my record, my character, and my ability to handle the job over anyone else’s.’
He said that his votes in the Senate were reflective of the times in which they were made and that he had evolved along with the country.
‘America in 2019 is a very different place than the America of the 1970s. And that’s a good thing,’ Biden said.
‘I’ve witnessed an incredible amount of change in this nation and I’ve worked to make that change happen.
‘And yes – I’ve changed also.’
‘If you look at the issues I’ve been attacked on, nearly every one of them is for something well before 2008.
‘It’s as if my opponents want you to believe I served from 1972 until 2008 – and then took the next eight years off.
‘They don’t want to talk much about my time as vice president.’
Biden said in an interview airing Friday that he relishes the opportunity to spar with President Donald Trump, a ‘bully’ who reminds him of an adolescent antagonist who tormented him in his youth before he would ‘smack him in the mouth.’
Hours later the president reframed that complaint as a critique of his high-pressure foreign policy negotiating tactics, not his Twitter insults and personally intimidating style.
Biden also opened the door in his CNN interview to picking a woman as his running mate, as an inducement to female voters who Democrats must appeal to in order to take back the White House.
Biden told CNN that it would be ‘great’ to have a female vice president, but he wouldn’t commit to picking Harris for the No. 2 spot if he receives his party’s nomination.
‘I think it helps having a woman on the ticket,’ Biden said.
Asked whether it might be Harris, who confronted him during last week’s debate over his positions on busing and desegregation in the 1970s, he said he specifics would have to wait: ‘I don’t even have the nomination.’
‘I think it would be great to have a female VP,’ Biden said. ‘And if I don’t win, it would be great to have a female president.’
Biden told CNN that he was caught unprepared by Harris’s attacks during the first debate.