Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had a tense exchange over Biden’s past praise of some senators who supported segregation and his opposition to busing.
“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. It was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing,” Harris said.
Biden responded, “I do not praise racists. That is not true.”
Facts First: This exchange needs context. Biden does have a history of praising senators who supported segregation, but in several instances he claimed they clashed on the issue of civil rights.
Biden’s campaign was riled last week when he cited two segregationist senators and as examples of colleagues he could work with during an era where “at least there was some civility” in the Senate. Biden did not praise either of the men, but he does have a history of praising several senators who supported segregation and opposed the Civil Rights Act – though not for their positions opposing civil rights.
Biden praised then-Mississippi Sen. John Stennis, a staunch segregationist as a “hero” and “the rockbound integrity of the United States Congress” in the 1980s. Biden called Stennis “a hell of a guy” in 2008.
Biden also has praised South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, who ran for president as a segregationist in 1948 as a Dixiecrat. In 1993, Biden spoke at Thurmond’s 90th birthday and praised him by comparing him to Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Biden has claimed both Stennis and Thurmond changed with the times. When Thurmond died, Biden said he did not believe the senator was racist at his core.
In his Senate farewell address in 2009, Biden said he became friends with Stennis, Thurmond and Mississippi’s James Eastland despite opposing their views on civil rights.
“I never thought I’d develop deep personal relationships with men whose position played an extremely large part in my desire to come to the Senate in the first place to change what they believed in – Eastland, Stennis, Thurmond. All these men became my friends,” Biden said.