Will Biden repudiate his segregationist friends?
"Apologize for what? Cory should apologize. He knows better. There's not a racist bone in my body."
Thus did a stung Joe Biden answer rival Cory Booker's demand he apologize for telling contributors, in a southern drawl, "I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland, He never called me 'boy.' He always called me 'son."
Joe was recalling fondly a time in the 1970s when he came into the Senate at 30, having lost his wife and child in an accident, and "Jim" Eastland, the arch-segregationist from Mississippi, took him under his wing and became a patron, mentor and friend.
"You don't joke about calling black men 'boy'," Booker had said. "Biden's relationships with proud segregationists are not the model for how we make America a safer and more inclusive place for black people."
Kamala Harris piled on: If Biden's segregationist friends "had their way ... I wouldn't be in the United States Senate."
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted a photo of his black wife and two children, saying, "Eastland thought my multiracial family should be illegal & that whites were entitled to 'the pursuit of dead n-----s.'"
Said The Washington Post, "(Biden's) history of collegiality with racists is being seen by many in his party as a reason to question his judgment -- and not, as Biden says, a sign of his civility."
This portends a coming clash over race inside the Democratic Party in 2019 and perhaps 2020. For Joe is bleeding and his rivals can see in his segregationist friends of yesterday a way to peel off the black support crucial to his nomination.
Biden is about to have his nose rubbed in friendships formed almost half a century ago.
Like reparations for slavery, on which hearings have opened in the House, this issue seems certain to arise in the debates next week, where taking down Biden will be an objective of every other candidate.