Biden apologises for touting past work with segregationist U.S. senators

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – Seeking to put to rest a weeks-old controversy that has dogged his campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Joe Biden apologised on Saturday for touting his past record of working civilly with segregationists serving in the U.S. Senate in the 1970s.

Biden, who served as vice president under the first black U.S. president Barack Obama, had until now pointedly resisted apologising for the remarks he made on June 18 that had drawn criticism from Democratic rivals, exposing racial and generational tensions among the candidates.

“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?” Biden, 76, asked on Saturday afternoon during a speech in Sumter, South Carolina. “Yes, I was, and I regret it. And I’m sorry for any of the pain or misconception I may have caused anybody.”

Biden’s initial remarks were made as he lamented that political leaders in the United States had lost the ability to work together in an increasingly polarized nation. He noted that despite disagreeing with them, he had managed to work with two white segregationists from the South serving in the Senate when he was first elected: Democratic Senators James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia.

U.S. Senator Cory Booker, a rival candidate who is black, expressed surprise a day later that Biden had not apologised. Biden, who is white, then said he did not have “a racist bone in my body” and asked reporters, “Apologise for what?”

On Sunday, Booker accepted Biden’s apology. “I’m frustrated that it took so long but I am grateful for him doing this,” Booker said in an interview televised on CNN. “We can’t have a leader that can’t stand up and say, “I’ve been imperfect, I’ve made mistakes, I apologise.”

Black voters have played a critical role in the Democratic primary process, and winning the party’s nomination would be unlikely without their support. Hillary Clinton’s strong support among black voters was critical in helping her secure the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

During a June 27 debate among Democratic contenders seeking to run against incumbent Republican President Donald Trump, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris called Biden’s comments “hurtful,” though she said she did not believe Biden is a racist.

Harris was among half a dozen candidates who spoke on Saturday in New Orleans at Essence Festival, a gathering for black women organised by Essence Magazine. She announced a policy plan targeted at closing the racial wealth gap.

“Black Americans were excluded from participating in the first industrial revolution and the wealth it generated,” said Harris, the daughter of a black father from Jamaica and an Indian mother. “Now with the technological revolution, we must ensure everyone can participate in the wealth it creates.”

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in Marshalltown, Iowa, U.S., July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Brenna Norman


In South Carolina, an early-voting state in the nominating contests that kick off next February, Biden delivered a speech responding to criticism by Harris about his track record on race.

South Carolina’s primary is the first in a state where a significant proportion of the Democratic electorate – about 60 percent – is black.

“America in 2019 is a very different place than the America of the 1970s,” Biden said, according to prepared remarks. “And that’s a good thing. 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.”

Much of Biden’s early lead in the polls was fuelled by strong support among black voters, but his support has appeared to wane in the wake of criticism about his position in the 1970s about busing of minority students to integrate schools.

Biden also is highlighting his eight years as Obama’s vice president, from 2009 to 2017.

“If you look at the issues I’ve been attacked on, nearly every one of them is for something well before 2008,” Biden said, according to prepared remarks. “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.”

Harris announced a $100 billion housing proposal aimed at helping poor people living in rental properties or receiving public assistance for their housing to buy houses. The program would create grants to cover down payment and closing costs.

“So we must right the wrong and, after generations of discrimination, give black families a real shot at homeownership – historically one of the most powerful drivers of wealth,” Harris said.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren touted her series of proposals that target closing the pay gap for black women in America, including a promise to sign an executive order to force any company with a federal government contract to certify equal pay.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks during a Fourth of July House Party in Indianola, Iowa, U.S., July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Scott Morgan/File Photo

“We start to close on the very first day by using the power that the president herself will have,” Warren said, drawing cheers at the use of the female pronoun.

Booker told the audience the next president should have a track record of helping African-Americans.

“We cannot be a nation that is truly free until everyone is free,” Booker said.

Reporting by Ginger Gibson, Additional Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Will Dunham, Leslie Adler and David Gregorio


more recommended stories

  • Nuclear deal parties not ready to launch dispute mechanism against Iran, prefer more diplomacy – EU

    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The remaining parties.

  • North Macedonia expects NATO membership, EU talks date by year-end

    LJUBLJANA (Reuters) – North Macedonia expects.

  • U.S. judge to hear financier Jeffrey Epstein’s bid to get out of jail before trial

    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Jeffrey Epstein,.

  • U.S. military identifies soldier killed in Afghanistan

    (Reuters) – A U.S. Army soldier.

  • Clashes break out as Hong Kong protesters escalate fight in suburbs

    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Tens of.

  • First Ebola case in Congo city of Goma detected

    GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters).

  • Blackout disrupts Manhattan, darkens Broadway theatres

    NEW YORK (Reuters) – A wide.

  • Quake causes panic in eastern Indonesia; no reports of major damage

    JAKARTA (Reuters) – A magnitude 7.3.

  • Quake with 7.3 magnitude strikes in eastern Indonesia – USGS

    JAKARTA (Reuters) – An earthquake with.

  • Bangladesh’s Ershad, opposition leader and former army ruler, dies at 90

    FILE PHOTO: Bangladesh’s former army ruler.

  • Blackout plunges parts of Manhattan into darkness

    NEW YORK (Reuters) – A blackout.

  • Taiwanese president travels to Haiti to bolster relations in the region

    Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and Haiti’s.

  • Car bomb and all-night hotel siege kill 26 in Somalia’s Kismayo

    MOGADISHU/GAROWE, Somalia (Reuters) – Islamist gunmen.

  • Hong Kong protesters, police clash as demonstrations target Chinese traders

    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong.

  • New Orleans residents huddle at home, and in bars, ahead of hurricane

    NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – Tropical Storm.

  • Somalia security forces end militant attack on hotel that killed 13 – police officer

    MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Somalia’s security forces.

  • Pence views overcrowded, bad-smelling facility for detained migrants in Texas

    MCALLEN, Tex. (Reuters) – Vice President.

  • Trump’s Labour Secretary Acosta resigns amid Epstein case

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Labour Secretary.

  • Nationwide wave of immigrant arrests to commence this weekend, Trump says

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A nationwide wave.

  • Russia delivers missile system to Turkey in challenge to NATO

    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Russia began delivery.

  • Italy’s League – Too early to say if Panetta will be ECB candidate

    MILAN (Reuters) – The economic chief.

  • New North Korea constitution calls Kim head of state, seen as step to U.S. peace treaty

    SEOUL (Reuters) – Kim Jong Un.

  • Norway says Venezuela opposition and government talks to continue

    CARACAS (Reuters) – Talks between Venezuela’s.

  • Trump vows to ‘leave no stone unturned’ to obtain citizenship data for U.S. Census

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald.

  • Portugal charges 89 Hells Angels after Lisbon attack last year

    LISBON (Reuters) – Portuguese prosecutors have.

  • Hezbollah: New sanctions widen U.S. assault on Lebanon

    FILE PHOTO: Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed.

  • When the U.S. puts a border between migrant kids and their caretakers

    (Reuters) – On June 12, Gerardo,.

  • Britain says three Iranian boats tried to block its ship in Gulf

    LONDON (Reuters) – Three Iranian vessels.

  • Six foreign nationals killed as severe weather hits Greece

    ATHENS (Reuters) – Six foreign nationals,.

  • Egypt opens new international airport for trial period

    An EgyptAir plane arrives to a.

  • Trump threatens to ‘substantially’ increase sanctions on Iran

    WASHINGTON/VIENNA (Reuters) – President Donald Trump.

  • In hotbed of Sudan’s uprising, activists torn over transition deal

    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – The Khartoum district.