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WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden reflected Tuesday on the "civility" that existed between himself and segregationist senators early in his career in an effort to present himself as a bipartisan consensus-maker. 

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, who has found himself a front-runner in recent polls, drew criticism for the remarks.

Speaking at a fundraiser at the ritzy Carlyle Hotel in New York, Biden talked about his ability to "(get) things done" with former Senators James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia, according to a campaign pool report. The two segregationist Democrats fought against the civil rights movement and opposed the racial integration of schools. Biden's first term in the Senate, which started in 1973, overlapped with the tenures of the two men.  

Biden also lamented a political climate that would not allow for similar "consensus" today. 

"I know the new New Left tells me that I’m — this is old-fashioned," he said. "Well guess what? If we can’t reach a consensus in our system, what happens? It encourages and demands the abuse of power by a president. That’s what it does. You have to be able to reach consensus under our system — our Constitutional system of separation of powers.”

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Biden then went on to cite his relationships with Eastland and Talmadge as examples of people who "didn't agree on much of anything" but "got things done." 

“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” said Biden, reportedly imitating Eastland's southern drawl. “He never called me 'boy,' he always called me 'son.'” Talmadge, he said, was "one of the meanest guys I ever knew."

But according to Biden, despite these differences, "At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today, you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don't talk to each other anymore.”

Eastland and Talmadge were ardent segregationists. After Brown v. Board of Education was decided by the Supreme Court in 1954, according to a 2007 Atlantic article, Eastland said that "the Southern institution of racial segregation or racial separation was the correct, self-evident truth which arose from the chaos and confusion of the Reconstruction period. Separation promotes racial harmony. It permits each race to follow its own pursuits, and its own civilization. Segregation is not discrimination"

Journalist Paul Mayhew, describing Talmadge in a 1956 New Republic article, said, "No Senator from the South is so well equipped or so zealous to become the head and front of a sustained fight for segregation."

Biden's comments, once reported on by the Washington Post, drew outrage online. Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is married to Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, slammed Biden for his comments. 

"There is no punchline here, no emoji or funny meme to soften the harm of your words. That segregationist never called you 'boy' because you are white. If you want to boast about your relationship with a racist, you are not who we need to succeed the racist in the White House," Schultz wrote. 

Jamelle Bouie, a New York Times opinion columnist, noted that "it may have been necessary to work with segregationists but there’s nothing laudable about it.

Almost the entire Democratic presidential candidate field is going to South Carolina this weekend to court voters at the South Carolina Democratic Convention and Rep. Jim Clyburn's fish fry. South Carolina's Democratic electorate is about 60% African American. 

Clyburn, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, defended Biden on Wednesday afternoon. According to Politico's Jake Sherman, Clyburn said that his own work with Sen. Strom Thurmond, who filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was “similar to Biden working with Talmadge." 

Vice's Daniel Newhauser reported that Clyburn told reporters, "So what? Do you know how many times I’ve been called the N word and worse?”"

Some Democratic contenders criticized Biden for his remarks. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democratic presidential candidate, weighed in, calling Biden "out of step" with the modern Democratic Party. 

"It’s 2019 & @JoeBiden is longing for the good old days of 'civility' typified by James Eastland,'" wrote de Blasio. 

And in a press release, Sen. Cory Booker D-N.J., called on Biden to apologize. 

"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. 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," said Booker. 

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