Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign had its first high-profile departure on Wednesday, amid a mounting controversy over the candidate’s praise of two fervent segregationists.
Mark Putnam, a political strategist and television ad maker, told The New York Times he was leaving Biden’s campaign.
“I wish the vice president well,” Putnam said, before refusing to discuss the parameters of his exit.
He “declined to address the reasons for his departure,” according to the Times report, “though they did not appear to be related to Mr. Biden’s struggles over the last few weeks concerning abortion rights and race.”
On Tuesday, the Democrat frontrunner invoked his friendship with the late Sens. James Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA) while arguing he was the best candidate to forge a bipartisan “consensus” if elected president.
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden said in an exaggerated Southern drawl. “He never called me boy, he always called me son.”
“Well guess what?” the former vice president continued. “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.”
When Biden’s praise of the senators’ “civility” was reported it quickly caused stirs because both men were well-known segregationists. During their long tenures in the Senate, Eastland and Talmadge were at the forefront of the resistance to integration and civil rights.
The backlash grew throughout Wednesday, especially after Biden’s White House competitors began denouncing the comments as insensitive and inappropriate. The situation was only aggravated when Biden’s campaign attempted to dismiss the controversy by suggesting criticism of the vice president’s praise of the Democrat segregationists was “disingenuous.”
Biden, himself, only added to the troubles by standing defiant when asked if he would issue an apology on Wednesday.
“Apologize for what?” Biden said, adding he “could not have disagreed with Jim Eastland more.”
The former vice president also took a shot at his fellow 2020 Democrat presidential hopeful, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who earlier in theday delivered an impassioned rebuke of Biden’s remarks.
“Cory should apologize. He knows better,” Biden said. “There’s not a racist bone in my body. I’ve been involved in civil rights my whole career, period, period, period.”