Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) once praised former Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) for having the audacity to work across the aisle with a noted segregationist despite criticizing her primary challenger Joe Biden for doing the same thing.
Harris made waves in June after she attacked Biden for touting his prior working relationships with segregationist senators as examples of “civility” in Congress that no longer exists.
The controversy arose after Biden spoke at a private fundraiser in New York City in June. Dismissing criticism from within his own party that he is too conciliatory toward political adversaries, Biden nostalgically recalled an exchange with former Sen. James Eastland (D-MS), where he noted that the segregationist senator “never called me ‘boy.’ He only called me ‘son.'” The title was often reserved for black men by white southerners during the Jim Crow era.
Biden also told the crowd that former segregationist Sen. Herman Talmadge (D-GA) “was one of the meanest guys I ever knew,” but “at least there was some civility.”
“We got things done,” Biden said at the time. “We did’’t agree on much of anything, but we got things done.”
While the former Delaware senator contended that he was illustrating the importance of working with lawmakers on issues despite an overall political disagreement, many Democratic politicians, as well as those in the media, portrayed his comments as racist, including Harris.
“It concerns me deeply,” Harris said immediately after Biden’s remarks surfaced. “If those men had their way, I wouldn’t be in the United States Senate and on this elevator right now.”
She later went after Biden during the first Democratic primary debate, calling his remarks “hurtful.”
“I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground,” Harris said directly to the former vice president. “But I also believe – and it’s personal and it’s hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose bussing.”
Despite Harris’ repeated attacks on Biden for maintaining professional relationships with noted segregationists, the California senator penned an op-ed in 2018 praising Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, for treating her political adversaries in the same manner, including segregationists.
Chisholm became the first black major-party candidate to run for president after she formally launched her campaign in 1972. She ran against a handful of white men for the Democratic nomination, including former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who famously called for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.”
Wallace’s presidential campaign effectively ended after he was shot five times in an assassination attempt. Chisholm subsequently visited the segregationist while he was recovering in the hospital – a move which Harris specifically commended in her op-ed.
“[She had] the guts to reach across the aisle and see that we have more in common than what separates us,” Harris wrote in Essence Magazine in honor of Black History Month. “Whether it was working with Republican Senator Bob Dole to create the food stamp program or visiting George Wallace, her racist presidential rival, in the hospital after he had been shot in a failed assassination attempt.”
Harris has often expressed her admiration for the former New York congresswoman, especially during Black History Month and Women’s History Month. On Friday, she listed Chisholm as one of her favorite politicians of all time.