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Biden campaign blasts 'willfully disingenuous' attacks on remark about segregationist senators

Joe Biden's campaign on Wednesday defended the former vice president from mounting criticism from his Democratic White House rivals after he invoked his working relationships with two segregationist senators in the 1970s and pointed to it as an example of "civility" that no longer exists in the Senate.

Biden campaign spokeswoman Symone SandersSymone SandersHarris discusses voting rights with advocates in South Carolina White House 'looking into' woman claiming to be reporter at Harris press conference Harris's plane forced to return to Andrews after 'technical issue' MORE issued a lengthy response on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon after multiple Democratic presidential rivals blasted Biden for mentioning former Sens. James Eastland (D-Miss.) and Herman Talmadge (D-Ga.) during a speech at a fundraiser the previous night.

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"[Biden] did not praise a segregationist. That is a disingenuous take. He basically said sometimes in Congress, one has to work with terrible or down right racist folks to get things done. And then went on to say when you can't work with them, work around them," Sanders tweeted.

"Joe Biden has been an ally in the fight for civil rights for years. I am all here for VALID CRITICISM, but suggesting that Joe Biden - the man who literally ran for office against an incumbent at 29 because of the civil rights movement, the man who was at the forefront of marriage equality before it was politically popular, the man who served as President Obama's VP, the man who literally launched his 2020 campaign calling out Nazis in Charlottesville along with Trump's equivalency - suggesting he is actively praising a segregationist is just a bad take and a willfully disingenuous act," she wrote in multiple tweets.

Biden's campaign issued the response as Democratic rivals pounced on his remarks from a fundraiser Tuesday night, with Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerZombie Tax punishes farmers to fill DC coffers Rand Paul does not support a national minimum wage increase — and it's important to understand why Absences force Senate to punt vote on Biden nominee MORE (D-N.J.) saying Biden was “wrong” to invoke his working relationships Eastland and Talmadge as an example of political compromise and calling on him to apologize.

“You don’t joke about calling black men ‘boys,’ ” said Booker, who is black. “Men like James O. Eastland used words like that, and the racist policies that accompanied them, to perpetuate white supremacy and strip black Americans of our very humanity."

“I have to tell Vice President BidenJoe BidenChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report OVERNIGHT ENERGY:  EPA announces new clean air advisors after firing Trump appointees |  Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior | Watchdog: Bureau of Land Management saw messaging failures, understaffing during pandemic Poll: Majority back blanket student loan forgiveness MORE, 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,” he added. “And frankly, I’m disappointed that he hasn’t issued an immediate apology for the pain his words are dredging up for many Americans. He should.”

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOVERNIGHT ENERGY:  EPA announces new clean air advisors after firing Trump appointees |  Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior | Watchdog: Bureau of Land Management saw messaging failures, understaffing during pandemic Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 Democratic senators press PhRMA over COVID-19 lobbying efforts  MORE (I-Vt.) echoed Booker’s call for an apology, adding that Biden’s remarks were particularly harmful “at a time when the Trump administration is trying to divide us up with its racist appeals.”

Democratic Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden signs Juneteenth bill: 'Great nations don't ignore their most painful moments' Biden's plan for Central American kids is no substitute for asylum State Department bans Guatemalan lawmaker from entering US MORE (Calif.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 Democratic senators press PhRMA over COVID-19 lobbying efforts  Schumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' MORE (Mass.), New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioAdams, Wiley lead field in NYC mayoral primary: poll New York City moving thousands of people from hotels back to shelters The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters MORE and former Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyLobbying world Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Rodney Davis Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer says Trump right on China but wrong on WHO; CDC issues new guidance for large gatherings MORE (Md.) also blasted Biden over the comments he made Tuesday night in which he touted his ability to work with the two staunch segregationists during his time in the Senate despite their disagreements.

“At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn't agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished,” Biden said of Eastland and Talmadge. 

Biden has long cast himself as a supporter of civil rights and polls show he enjoys strong support among African American voters, many of whom associate him positively with former President Obama.

Biden launched his campaign in April with a broadside levied at President TrumpDonald TrumpChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report Kim says North Korea needs to be 'prepared' for 'confrontation' with US Ex-Colorado GOP chair accused of stealing more than 0K from pro-Trump PAC MORE over his reaction to the deadly 2017 Charlottesville riots between white supremacists and counter-protesters. Trump infamously said he believed there were “very fine people on both sides.”

Yet progressives, eager to cut down Biden's comfortable leads in early primary polls, have pointed to his association with Republicans during his time in the Senate as evidence that the former vice president may be too eager to work across the aisle if he were elected. 

“I know the new New Left tells me that I’m – this is old-fashioned,” Biden said Tuesday. “Well guess what? If we can’t reach a consensus in our system, what happens? It encourages and demands the abuse of power by a president. That’s what it does.”