In the past 24 hours, former Vice President Joe Biden has come under fire from Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., for citing his cordial relationship with the late Sen. James O. Eastland, D-Miss. — an avowed white supremacist and foe of civil rights — as an example of how senators used to work together despite their differences.
"I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland," Biden, Democratic senator from Delaware from 1971-2008, told an audience Wednesday. "At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn't agree on much of anything. . . . 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."
Booker, who is black, hit hard at the former vice president, saying in a statement that Eastland and men like him sought to "perpetuate white supremacy and strip black Americans of our very humanity."
Booker added 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."
But according to Eastland's biographer, the Mississippian who once called blacks "an inferior race" and the young Sen. Biden, D-Del., had much more than a cordial relationship.
According to J. Lee Annis' much-praised biography "Big Jim Eastland: The Godfather of Mississippi Politics," the Magnolia State's senator from 1942-78 and was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was a mentor and benefactor to the young senator from Delaware from when he first arrived in Washington in 1972.
"Eastland was particularly anxious to mentor young members," wrote Annis. "One favorite over his last term was Joseph Biden, who was then best known for having lost his wife and young daughter in a tragic automobile accident. Aware that Biden shared his opposition to [court-ordered school] busing and admiring that he had contemplated resigning his seat to take care of his two surviving sons, Eastland took an interest in him.
"He saw to it that Biden got seats during his first year in the Senate on panels that could help his state of Delaware as well as on the powerful Democratic Steering Committee. Two years later, Eastland guided Biden to a seat on the prestigious Foreign Relations Committee."
During his first term, Biden received a major boost from Eastland. Annis recalled, when the Delaware Democrat wanted to the chairmanship of the Criminal Laws and Procedures Subcommittee, he came to Eastland.
"Did you count, boy?" Eastland asked. Biden responded he had and he sensed a tie.
Quickly, Eastland asked, "You want to be chairman?"
"Yes sir, Mr. Chairman, OK," Eastland replied twice before Biden realized he would see the future vice president chaired that panel.
Annis recalled how the young Sen. Biden frequently sought out Eastland, then the longest-serving senator, after committee meetings.
What was the biggest change he had seen over his tenure in the Senate, Biden once asked. "Ay-uh conditioning," he replied, explaining the sun would hit the grass on the Capitol Dome so sharply in late May it would heat the Senate chambers to such unbearable levels that Members would agree to return home for the rest of the year."
"We put in ay-uh conditioning, stayed year round, and ruined America!" Eastland said.
Biden showed considerable deference to Eastland. But according to his biographer, the older man was not afraid to tell him when he had made a mistake.
"Like most Democrats, Eastland was a bit disconcerted when Biden took the floor of a caucus meeting to argue at length for the full public financing of congressional campaigns. The speech drew enough silence to stun Biden. Then Eastland looked at Biden, still with a cigar in his mouth.
"They tell me you're the youngest man in the history of America ever elected to the U.S. Senate," misstating the fact Biden was merely the second youngest. "You keep making speeches like you made today and you gonna be the youngest one-term senator in the history of America."
Biden, of course, went on to serve five more terms in the Senate before becoming vice president and rose to become chairman of both the Judiciary and Foreign Relations. It seems a safe bet to say he got a major boost from Sen. James Eastland, whom he is now being called upon to repudiate.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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