Sen. Cory A. Booker on Wednesday blasted former Vice President Joseph R. Biden for praising segregationist senators.
“You don’t joke about calling black men ‘boys,’ ” said Mr. Booker, who is black, in one of his most stinging criticism to date in the Democratic presidential race.
Mr. Biden on Tuesday lauded his camaraderie with the late Sens. James O. Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia, who were staunch segregationists, as examples of a better more “civil” era in U.S. politics.
Mr. Biden, mimicking a Southern drawl, joked that Eastland “never called me boy, he always called me son.”
Mr. Booker said that though he respected Mr. Biden, who is the frontrunner in the race, the remark crossed a line.
“Men like James O. Eastland used words like [boy], and the racist policies that accompanied them, to perpetuate white supremacy and strip black Americans of our very humanity,” Mr. Booker said in a statement.
He said he was disappointed that Mr. Biden had not immediately apologized for “the pain his words are dredging up for many Americans.”
“Vice President Biden’s relationships with proud segregationists are not the model for how we make America a safer and more inclusive place for black people, and for everyone,” he said. “I have to tell Vice President Biden, 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.”
Eastland, who was known as the “Voice of the White South, was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Mr. Biden arrived in the chamber in 1973. Mr. Biden would go on to chair the committee from 1987 to 1995.
Mr. Biden deployed the anecdote about his Dixiecrat colleagues to beat back what he described as the far-lefts criticism that he is “too old-fashioned.”
However, the remarks at a fundraiser in New York also hit a nerve and rekindled criticism of Mr. Biden opposition to bussing to desegregate schools in the 1970s, when he was a senator from Delaware.