On Saturday, former Vice President Joe Biden announced that he was wrong for commending and working with segregationist senators when he was a senator in the 1970s.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate also apologized for addressing his work with them several weeks ago.
“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?” Biden asked a crowd in Sumter, South Carolina via Politico. “Yes, I was. I regret it. I’m sorry for any of the pain or misconception that I caused anybody.”
“But did that misstep define 50 years of my record for fighting for civil rights, racial justice in this country?” the former New Hampshire senator asked. “I hope not. I don’t think so. That just isn’t an honest assessment of my record. I’m going to let my record and character stand for itself and not be distorted or smeared.”
Biden prefaced his apology by saying the Senate “was full of segregationists” at that time and he did not believe he was wrong to work with “those who we find repugnant to make our system of government work for all of us.”
Biden recently has repeatedly defended his record on civil rights in a primary that has come to be dominated by race-related issues including segregation, busing, education and housing.
He faced a backlash last month for naming two Southern segregationist senators — James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia — as examples of people he worked with that showed his ability to bring people together.
Biden’s comments came as he and rival presidential candidate Kamala Harris were set to circle each other while campaigning Sunday in South Carolina, the first Southern state to vote in next year’s primary and a crucial proving ground for candidates seeking support of black Democrats. Biden defended his record on racial issues and reminded voters of his ties to former President Barack Obama, whose popularity in South Carolina remains high.
The former vice president and the California senator probably will be pressed on their tense debate exchange over race and federally mandated school busing. Though the issue is not at the forefront of the 2020 primary, it could resonate in a state with a complicated history with race and segregation.
Without naming Harris, Biden on Saturday referenced what he characterized as expected attacks from other campaigns eager to take him on.
At a South Carolina event, presidential candidate Joe Biden apologized for his recent comments. https://t.co/O5O6BCbjlG
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) July 7, 2019
In his comments, Biden said he acted during his time serving in the Senate with what he thought was the best decision he could make at the moment.
“I’m flawed and imperfect like everyone else. I’ve made the best decisions that I could at the moment they had to be made,” he said via USA Today. “If the choice is between doing nothing and acting, I’ve chosen to act.”
Biden also addressed his critics directly, saying: “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.”
He added: “They don’t want to talk much about my time as vice president. It was the honor of a lifetime to serve with a man who was a great president, an historic figure, and most important to me – a friend. I was vetted by him and selected by him. I will take his judgment of my record, my character, and my ability to handle the job over anyone else’s.”
Following the apology, several of Biden’s fellow presidential candidates thanked him or accepted his apology including Senator Cory Booker and Senator Amy Klobuchar.