Biden recalls bipartisan camaraderie with segregationists during Ohio swing

President Biden on Friday recalled the cordial and friendly relationship that existed decades ago between lawmakers of all stripes, including outspoken segregationists, during a visit to Ohio.

Mr. Biden, who traveled to Cincinnati to tout his administration’s efforts to create jobs, made the comments while praising retired GOP Senator Rob Portman of Ohio.

“Since he’s no longer running, I can say all the good things about him that I want and it won’t cause him any trouble,” Mr Biden said. “The truth of the matter is [that] although we may not agree on everything…I want to thank him for his leadership in bringing people together to find common ground.

The president said Mr. Portman, who helped draft the administration’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure program, was a throwback to a more distinguished time on Capitol Hill. While poking fun at the partisan atmosphere now synonymous with Washington, Mr. Biden cited his past connections in the Senate as proof that civility in politics was once possible.

“You know, things have kind of changed since the days I got there,” said Mr. Biden, who served in the Senate between 1973 and 2009. “We always used to fight like hell and even back when we had real segregationists, like [James] Eastland and [Strom] Thurmond and all those guys, but at least we ended up having lunch together.

“Things have changed and we have to bring him back,” the president said. “And Rob, I’m sorry you’re leaving, you’re one of the good guys…because of the way you treat other senators.”

The remarks are similar to those that got Mr. Biden in hot water during his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2019. At the time, Mr. Biden sparked controversy by praising the civility of two arch- segregationists with whom he had served in the Senate in the early 1970s.

One such person was Eastland, a segregationist Democrat from Mississippi who chaired the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee during Mr. Biden’s first term in the chamber.

“He never called me ‘boy’, he always called me ‘son,'” Mr Biden said at the time of Mr Eastland. “At least there was some civility… We didn’t agree on much… But today you are looking the other way and you are the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We do not talk anymore. »

At the time, the comments were widely condemned on both sides of the political spectrum. Some of the most significant rebukes, however, have come from Mr Biden’s competitors for the Democratic nomination, including current Vice President Kamala Harris.

“I don’t believe you’re a racist and I agree with you when you pledge the importance of finding common ground,” Ms. Harris, then a California senator, said during a Democratic primary debate. in June 2019. “But, I also believe and it’s personal and it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two US senators who built their reputations and careers on racial segregation in this country.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

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