President Joe Biden fondly recalled eating lunch with segregationist members of the Senate while delivering remarks in Ohio on Friday.
The memory of his shared experiences with late Sens. Strom Thurmond and James Eatland came up as Biden harkened back to signing the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill into law last year and acknowledged the roles of Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), both of whom were in attendance at United Performance Metals in Hamilton.
"You know, things have kind of changed since the days when I first got there. He’s been there a couple terms. I was there — I got elected when I was 29 years old, in the United States Senate, from a very modest background. And I was there for 36 years before becoming vice president," Biden said.
"We always used to fight like hell — and even back in the old days when we had real segregationists, like Eastland and Thurmond and all those guys — but at least we’d end up eating lunch together," Biden added. "Things have changed. We've got to bring it back."
Those comments served as fodder for the Republican National Committee, which posted a clip to Twitter.
BIDEN: "Even back in the old days when we had real segregationists — like [James] Eastland and [Strom] Thurmond and all those guys — at least we'd end up eating lunch together" pic.twitter.com/lWb2eep71b— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) May 6, 2022
Biden has a history of lauding South Carolina's Thurmond, who Biden called “one of my closest friends,” and other segregationist colleagues from his time in the Senate. Biden invoking two of his 1970s segregationist colleagues on the 2020 campaign trail even elicited condemnation from Democratic rivals Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, the only two black candidates among the more than 20 Democrats competing for the presidency. Harris is now Biden's vice president.
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After warmly remembering his lunch dates with Eastland and Thurmond, Biden addressed Portman, who is retiring.
"Rob, I’m sorry you’re leaving because you’re one of the good guys. I don’t mean — I mean because the way you treat other senators, the way you treat everybody. I appreciate it," he said.