The Note: Biden's good old days less good for his campaign

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks on June 12, 2019, in Clinton, Iowa.PlayCharlie Neibergall/AP
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Former Vice President Joe Biden reminiscing about old political partnerships is neither surprising nor controversial.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks on June 12, 2019, in Clinton, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall/AP
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks on June 12, 2019, in Clinton, Iowa.

But when those partners were outspoken and dedicated segregationists -- and when Biden recounts that one of them "never called me 'boy,' he always called me 'son'" -- that's a potentially big problem for the current polling front-runner.

"If those men had their way, I wouldn't be in the United States Senate and on this elevator right now," Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., told ABC News at the Capitol.

"You don't joke about calling black men 'boys,'" Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said in a statement, in easily his most direct critique of Biden to date.

The criticism from two African American senators and presidential candidates came on Juneteenth -- a holiday that commemorates the emancipation of slaves -- and on a day that Congress held its first hearing in a decade on reparations for the descendants of slaves. Booker testified emotionally in support of a bill to study reparations; Biden does not support that bill, according to his campaign.

Biden's camp maintains that he does not need to apologize for working with people whose views he finds repugnant. And House Majority Whip James Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American member of leadership, came to his defense.

Still, partnerships with deceased racists are only part of the issue here. Biden is celebrating a political worldview that has few adherents in today's Democratic Party: That those with whom you have foundational disagreements are worth even trying to be agreeable with.

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Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell might not think reparations for slavery are a good idea, but with so many Democrats -- on Capitol Hill and in the presidential primary -- expressing strong support for the idea, the debate will likely continue in earnest over the next few months and years.

PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined by his GOP leadership team, answers questions during a news conference at the Capitol, June 18, 2019. J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined by his GOP leadership team, answers questions during a news conference at the Capitol, June 18, 2019.

Many of the proposals from Democrats are complex and go beyond the question of direct cash to families of former slaves, advocating money for education and investment in communities that have faced segregation and racial violence in the aftermath of slavery too.

During a hearing on the topic in the House on Wednesday, Booker said he was "heartbroken" after "decades of living in a community where you see how deeply unfair this nation still is to so many."

The public and emotional conversation on Capitol Hill this week happened coincidentally at a unique time in the presidential primary too. Almost all of the candidates will be in South Carolina this weekend for Congressman Clyburn's annual Fish Fry, ahead of the state party convention. As an early primary state that is also nearly 30% black or African American, issues around race are often front and center.

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Racial equity was the theme of Booker's day. He testified about reparations and reprimanded Biden.

PHOTO: Sen. Cory Booker testifies about reparation for the descendants of slaves during a hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, at the Capitol in Washington, June 19, 2019. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Sen. Cory Booker testifies about reparation for the descendants of slaves during a hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, at the Capitol in Washington, June 19, 2019.

Continuing that theme, which he has crafted his campaign around, Booker is announcing an executive action he'd take if elected president and his team is dubbing this plan the most sweeping clemency initiative in more than 150 years.

Booker plans to grant clemency to more than 17,000 nonviolent drug offenders who are incarcerated due to marijuana-related offenses, are serving long sentences that would have been reduced under previous legislation or are serving "unjust" sentences due to a racial disparity in drug charges.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Thursday morning's episode features ABC News Senior National Correspondent Terry Moran, who tells us about the blowback to former Vice President Joe Biden's comments about segregationists, and how that ties in to Wednesday's Congressional hearing on reparations. Then ABC News Chief National Affairs Correspondent Tom Llamas tells us about his trip to Ukraine to look into the allegations regarding Biden's son Hunter. And ABC News' Stephanie Ebbs breaks down the latest EPA emissions policy. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. President Donald Trump has "a great story to tell" about the strength of the U.S. economy and his embrace of "freedom" over socialism, Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise told ABC News Political Director Rick Klein and Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce on Wednesday, the day after Trump's fiery campaign kickoff in Orlando, Florida. https://apple.co/2v6tkuR

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the White House beginning at noon.
  • Trudeau attends meetings on Capitol Hill after visiting Trump and Pence at the White House.
  • The 36th annual National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference in Miami kicks off at 8 a.m. Several 2020 presidential candidates are scheduled to attend Friday.
  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., holds a telephone press briefing from Denver about a plan to clean up corruption and strengthen democracy at 9:30 a.m.
  • Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson will appear on ABC's "The View" at 11 a.m.
  • Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro travels to Orlando, Florida, to deliver keynote remarks at the American Immigration Lawyers Association's annual conference on immigration law at 11 a.m.
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., will visit Alabama for a meet-and-greet event with the Alabama Young Democrats at 2:30 p.m. Central time.
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