Joe Biden called New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker late Wednesday night in a bid to soothe tensions between the two contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination after Booker criticized the former vice president for comments he made about working decades ago with segregationist lawmakers.
“Booker said privately what he said publicly,” a Democrat with knowledge of the call told HuffPost ― meaning the senator did not back off his criticism of Biden.
The call took place following a Booker appearance on CNN during which the senator, as part on an ongoing back-and-forth between the two men, sharply assailed Biden for saying Booker should “know better” than to attack him for reminiscing about his work, as a Delaware senator, with then-Sens. James Eastland (D-Miss.) and Herman Talmadge (D-Ga.).
While both men had called on the other to apologize for their remarks during the preceding 12 hours, neither actually apologized during the call.
Biden had also noted Eastland never called him “boy,” instead calling the then-much younger Biden “son” ― which Booker commented on during his CNN appearance.
“As a black man in America, I know the deeply harmful use of the word ‘boy,’ how it’s been used to dehumanize and degrade,” Booker said on the cable network. “I know segregationists like the two people we are talking about, in their laws and their language, deeply wounded this nation.”
“We need a presidential nominee and the leader of our party to be sensitive to that,” Booker said, adding later: “Vice President Biden shouldn’t need this lesson.”
The call was first reported by The New York Times.
The flap began when Biden at a Tuesday fundraiser in New York harkened back to a time of greater civility in U.S. politics ― using his working relationship with Eastland and Talmadge as an example.
Booker initially hoped that Biden, without prompting, would apologize for his remarks ― which immediately raised eyebrows ― and waited until Wednesday afternoon to release a statement, the Democratic source said. With no apology coming from Biden, a frustrated Booker asked for one.
“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,” Booker said in his initial comments. “And frankly, I’m disappointed that he hasn’t issued an immediate apology for the pain his words are dredging up for many Americans. He should.”
Other candidates in the Democratic presidential race, including Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Kamala Harris of California, expressed similar sentiments. But none went as far as Booker.
That night, as he walked into a fundraiser, Biden said he didn’t think he needed to apologize, and said Booker should express regret for having made a frivolous attack. Not long after, Booker went on CNN, and the two men talked shortly after that.
In the past, Booker has proclaimed his “love” for Biden. And despite their current row, “they have a respectful relationship and always will,” the Democratic source said.
This story has been updated with more detail on the exchanged between Booker and Biden.