Booker says Biden is 'causing a lot of frustration and even pain with his words'

Colin Campbell
Managing Editor

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., criticized 2020 presidential rival Joe Biden on Sunday, saying the former vice president was doing a poor job at healing racial divisions in the country.

"We have one destiny in this nation, and right now the vice president to me is not doing a good job at bringing folks together," Booker said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

He added: "In fact, he's caused — and I've heard this from people all around the country — he's causing a lot of frustration and even pain with his words."

Sen. Cory Booker on "Meet the Press." (Image: NBC)

Earlier in the interview, Booker cited comments Biden made about working in the Senate decades ago with segregationists like James O. Eastland. At a fundraiser earlier this month, Biden said Eastland “never called me ‘boy,’” an epithet used against black men.

"I was talking about the vice president's comments well before the debate, where he used words like 'boy' in a way that caused a lot of hurt and harm. And I called him out on it," Booker said Sunday. "Instead of coming forward, saying, 'I could have said that better,' or, 'Let me tell you what I meant,' he fell into a defensive crouch."

Biden's stance on racial issues became a focal point of the 2020 primary after the debates last week. In the biggest standout moment of the two debates, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., directly and emotionally challenged Biden's comments about segregationists and his opposition to federally mandated busing programs.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Kamala Harris during the Democratic presidential debate on Thursday. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public school, and she was bused to school every day,” Harris said at the Thursday-night debate. “And that little girl was me. So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats.”

Biden called the debate broadside a “mischaracterization” of his position “across the board.”

“I did not praise racists. That is not true, No. 1,” he said. “No. 2, if we want to have this campaign litigated on who supports civil rights and whether I did or not, I’m happy to do that.”

Booker did not get to face off against Biden in the debate, as the New Jersey senator was in the Wednesday-night debate, part of a two-night setup to handle the roughly two dozen Democrats in the race.

But Booker — who like Harris is African-American — has repeatedly criticized Biden on various issues touching on race. On "Meet the Press," he stressed that his party's nominee needed to be someone who could speak with "vulnerability" about race "to call this country to common ground, to reconciliation."

"I'm not sure if Vice President Biden is up to the task," he added, "given the way the last three weeks have played out."

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