Rep. John Lewis backs Biden on segregationist comments: ‘I don’t think the remarks are offensive’
Civil rights icon John Lewis said Friday that former Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks about his past work with segregationists in the Senate were not offensive, offering the 2020 Democratic front-runner a lifeline after a week of withering criticism from other White House hopefuls.
Biden has been defiant in the face of that criticism, standing by his comments at a fundraiser earlier this week. The quip sparked a backlash from Biden’s rivals in the 2020 primary, particularly from his black opponents.
But Lewis, like several other prominent African-American lawmakers, had Biden’s back with a full-throated defense of the front-runner.
“I don’t think the remarks are offensive,” Lewis (D-Ga.) told reporters, recounting the range of unsavory people he’s worked shoulder to shoulder with. “During the height of the civil rights movement we worked with people and got to know people that were members of the Klan — people who opposed us, even people who beat us, and arrested us and jailed us.”
But, the longtime Georgia congressman declared, “We never gave up on our fellow human beings, and I will not give up on any human being.”
Biden’s controversial remarks unleashed an especially strong response from New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, another Democrat seeking the party’s 2020 nomination, who has appeared on cable networks the last two nights to condemn the former vice president. Biden rejected calls to apologize for opining that “at least there was some civility” when he worked with segregationists in the Senate and that one of those senators “never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’”
Far from backing down, Biden turned the fury back around, demanding that Booker offer an apology. The New Jersey senator’s outspokenness prompted a phone call from Biden on Wednesday in an attempt to smooth things over, though sources told POLITICO that neither man apologized, and Biden’s camp doubled down as the week went on.
The incident took place as 2020 Democrats have become more and more willing to attack Biden, the early leader in almost all primary polling, and as the nearly two dozen candidates fight to win over voters of color, a hugely important electorate for the party.