Biden apologizes for remarks about segregationist senators

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Booker takes swipe at Biden criminal justice reform plan Panel: Has Joe Biden been wrong on everything for 40 years? MORE apologized Saturday for his recent remarks about his ability to work with segregationists during his time as a Senator.

The remarks are his first mea culpa over the comments this campaign cycle.

The White House hopeful maintained he had done the right thing by working across the aisle with people whose views he found “repugnant,” but apologized if he gave the impression he was praising the senators.

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“Everything they stood for offended me. They represented everything that I ran against.” Biden said in Sumter, S.C. “I do believe we have work to do, even with those who we find repugnant, to make our system of government to work for all of us. I believe then and I believe now, and I know it can be done without compromising on our principles.” 

“Folks, now 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 and I’m sorry for any of the pain or misconception I may have caused anybody.” 

The former vice president apologized while barnstorming South Carolina, a crucial early nominating state in which black voters make up roughly 60 percent of the primary electorate.

Biden has faced withering criticism in recent weeks over his remarks about staunch segregationist Sens. James O. Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia, saying at a fundraiser last month “there was some civility” in the Senate and “we got things done.”

The fallout over the comments was only compounded by increased scrutiny over Biden’s past stance opposing federal funds to be used to mandate school busing as a method of integration.

“I do not believe you are a racist and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground,” Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission Biden announces plan to counteract mass incarceration MORE (D-Calif.) told Biden at the first Democratic presidential primary debate last week. “But I also believe, and it’s personal and I was actually very — it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country.”

“On this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats, we have to take it seriously, we have to act swiftly,” she added when discussing busing. 

Biden’s lead shrank in several post-debate primary polls as Harris soared, indicating the exchange made at least a temporary dent in his front-runner status.

He admitted Saturday that his positions had changed along with the country, though defended his record of defending civil rights.

“Should that misstep define 50 years of my record for fighting for civil rights, racial justice in this country? I hope not, I don’t think so,” he said of his comments about the segregationist senators. “That just isn’t an honest assessment of my record. And I’m going to let my record and my character stand for itself and not be distorted or smeared.”

“America in 2019 is a very, very different place in the 1970s. 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. I’m not the same person who entered the Senate at age 29. I don’t pretend to have gotten everything right. I don’t pretend that none of my positions have changed. I’ve grown, and I think it’s good to be able to grow, to progress.” 

Biden appeared to take a veiled swipe at Harris over her attacks on the debate stage, saying the broadside mischaracterized his record and past positions.

“I hope my long experience has brought me some wisdom. I know it’s brought me a long record to defend, especially in the context and history that are replaced by 30 and 60-second soundbites,” he said. “I know my record comes with something else – a treasure trove of armies of opposition researchers in our party and the other party trying to weaponize my record and use it against me.”

Biden went on to throw his support behind a slate of initiatives, including increasing minority homeownership, adding “there should be first-rate schools of quality in every neighborhood in this nation” so that low-income students don’t have to be bused to a good school.