'Start Here': Backlash over Biden citing segregationists and renewed scrutiny over his son's work overseas

PHOTO: Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at an event at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, June 11, 2019.PlayJordan Gale/Reuters
WATCH Biden stands by controversial statement

It's Thursday, June 20, 2019. Let's start here.

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1. 'An immediate apology'

As Congress considers reparations for descendants of slaves, former Vice President Joe Biden is facing backlash for citing segregationist senators he once worked with as an example of his ability to work with others.

During a fundraiser in New York City on Tuesday night, Biden told a crowd of donors that deceased Georgia Sen. Herman Talmadge was "one of the meanest guys I ever knew," but "at least there was some civility." He also recalled former Mississippi Sen. James Eastland, who, Biden said, "Never called me 'boy,' he always called me 'son.'"

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., was among several Democratic presidential hopefuls who called out Biden's remarks on Wednesday: "I have to tell Vice President Biden, as someone I respect, that he is wrong for using his relationships with Eastland and Talmadge as examples of how to bring our country together. … And, frankly, I'm disappointed that he hasn't issued an immediate apology for the pain his words are dredging up for many Americans. He should."

Biden later told reporters, waving off the criticism, that 2020 rivals, including Booker, "know better," and that Booker "should apologize."

Biden added: "There's not a racist bone in my body. I've been involved in civil rights my whole career."

It may just be the latest debate in which Biden tries to stand with the center of the electorate despite criticism from his own party, says ABC News Senior National Correspondent Terry Moran.

"He's trying to, in some ways," Moran tells us, "run away from the direction the Democratic Party is going in."

2. An ABC News investigation

There are renewed questions about Hunter Biden and his business dealings overseas as his father was conducting diplomatic work.

At the center of the controversy is then-Vice President Joe Biden's April 2014 trip to Kiev, where he led a U.S. delegation with promises of economic aid and pledged to root out corruption. Weeks later, Burisma Energy, a Ukrainian natural gas company being investigated for alleged corruption, appointed Hunter Biden to a paid position on the firm's board. The company never has been criminally charged.

"Anti-corruption activists who we spoke to in Ukraine and Kiev, who actually are Joe Biden supporters, say this is very normal in Ukraine, but it was upsetting because it was Joe Biden's son and Joe Biden had met with them to root out corruption," ABC News' Tom Llamas tells "Start Here."

Hunter Biden and his lawyer have maintained that he never discussed overseas ventures with his father. In a statement to ABC News, the younger Biden said he joined the board "to help reform Burisma's practices of transparency, corporate governance and responsibility."

Joe Biden's campaign said in a statement to ABC News that the former vice president always adhered to "well-established executive branch ethics standards."

3. EPA rollback

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday finalized plans to replace former President Barack Obama's signature climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, by allowing states to set their own emissions standards.

"This is really at the core of the debate about whether governments should interfere in the energy sector and force reductions in emissions," ABC News' Stephanie Ebbs tells us.

Under the CPP's replacement, the Affordable Clean Energy rule, the EPA said greenhouse gas emissions would be as much as 35% lower than 2005 levels once it's fully implemented, a greater reduction than under the CPP. But former EPA officials told Ebbs the current administration can't take credit for the cutbacks because the marketplace already is "filtering out coal" in favor of cheaper options.

PHOTO: Kingston Fossil Plant, commonly known as Kingston Steam Plant, a 1.4-gigawatt coal-fired power plant located in Roane County, just outside Kingston, Tenn., is pictured on March 31, 2019. Paul Harris/Getty Images
Kingston Fossil Plant, commonly known as Kingston Steam Plant, a 1.4-gigawatt coal-fired power plant located in Roane County, just outside Kingston, Tenn., is pictured on March 31, 2019.

4. NXIVM trial

Keith Raniere, leader of the NXIVM secret society that federal prosecutors called a sex cult, was convicted of all seven counts against him, including sex trafficking and forced labor conspiracy.

"It was, as prosecutors put it, straight out of a horror movie what happened to many of these women who were groomed to be effectively Keith Raniere's sex slaves," ABC News' Aaron Katersky says. "Women were brainwashed into this, branded with his initials in some cases."

Raniere's attorney said the NXIVM founder maintains his innocence and plans to appeal Wednesday's ruling.

"Start Here," ABC News' flagship podcast, offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or the ABC News app. Follow @StartHereABC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for exclusive content and show updates.

Elsewhere:

'According to our assessment': A U.S. drone is shot down by Iran over the Strait of Hormuz.

'Kill every gay person I can': A man in Missouri is arrested after emailing a horrible threat to a minority group planning an event.

'Internal affairs has already begun to investigate each of these officers': Dozens of Philadelphia cops are put on administrative duty following a probe into their allegedly offensive social media posts.

'For a century after the Civil War, black people were subjected to a relentless campaign of terror, a campaign that extended well into the lifetime of Majority leader McConnell. It is tempting to divorce this modern campaign of terror, of plunder, from enslavement. But the logic of enslavement, of white supremacy, respects no such borders.': Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses reparations.

From our friends at FiveThirtyEight:

The top 50 NBA Draft prospects, according to our CARMELO projections: No. 1 is not a surprise.

Doff your cap:

It's been another long news week -- how is it only Thursday? -- so how about we all take a quick break and look at some clouds?

Specifically, these clouds:

PHOTO: Clouds shaped like ocean waves, or Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds, were taken near Smith Mountain in Virginia, June 18, 2019. Amy Christie Hunter/Facebook
Clouds shaped like ocean waves, or Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds, were taken near Smith Mountain in Virginia, June 18, 2019.

Amy Christie Hunter snapped this beautiful photo of the rare formation near Roanoke, Virginia. The Kelvin-Helmholtz cloud seen above is named after the two scientists who studied the physics behind the atmospheric conditions that can produce it.

But don't think about any of that. Just bask in these peaceful, luscious waves of happiness and wonder.

Enjoy the fluff.