Biden has faced criticism from Booker, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and others in recent days over his remarks about working with civility with avowed racists in the Senate.
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland. He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son,’ ” Biden said at a fundraiser last week, imitating the Mississippi senator’s Southern drawl. Biden also referenced Herman Talmadge, a Georgia senator who supported segregated schools.
“You go down the list of all these guys. Well guess what? At least there was some civility,” Biden said.
After the remarks circulated, Booker called on Biden to apologize, saying in a statement that the former vice president’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.”
Harris said she was “deeply” concerned by the remarks, telling reporters at the Capitol, “If those men had their way, I wouldn’t be in the United States Senate and on this elevator right now.”
Biden responded by forcefully pushing back against the criticism and calling on Booker to apologize. The former vice president, who is leading in early polls for the 2020 nomination, also later called Booker to try to smooth over tensions.
“To the extent that anybody thought that I meant something different, that is not what I intended,” Biden told MSNBC’s Al Sharpton. “It’d be wrong for anybody to intend that.”
Booker said Sunday that he had a “very constructive” conversation when he and Biden spoke by phone and that he continues to have “a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for the vice president.”
But he added, “It’s not about working across the aisle.”
“This is about him evoking a terrible power dynamic that he showed a lack of understanding or insensitivity to, by invoking this idea that he was called ‘son’ by white segregationists, who, yeah, they see him — in him — their son,” Booker said.
Asked about Biden’s defense Saturday of his remarks, Booker said the former vice president’s explanation did not make sense.
“I didn’t understand that,” he said. “I listened to the full totality of what he was talking about, and frankly I heard from many, many African Americans who found the comments hurtful.”
Another 2020 hopeful, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), on Sunday said he does not believe Biden’s comments mean he is racist.
“If your question is, do I think Joe Biden is a racist? Absolutely not. No, I don’t. Not for a second,” Sanders said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
But he added that Biden “owes the country an apology” for his remarks.
“It is one thing to work with people in the Senate as you have to do. . . . That’s your job,” Sanders said. “But it’s another thing to kind of extol those relationships. You cannot be extolling people who really were part of a disgusting system that oppressed and terrorized millions of African Americans in this country.”
Matt Viser and David Lynch contributed to this report.