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Biden's debate emergency

In this image, Biden stands framed by audience members at a podium
Biden speaks at a Democratic National Committee event in Atlanta on June 6, 2019. Photo: Dustin Chambers/Getty Images

Joe Biden's praise for segregationist senators showed starkly his vital job in next week's opening debate: Show he's a man of these times, not a man out of time.

Why it matters: Nothing worries Biden advisers more than public reminders that he's a throwback to a bygone era younger Democrats want to erase.

  • "He has to focus on where we are going rather than where he has been," a Biden friend said. "He knows this, and he knows he has to do it during the debate in two- and three-minute bites."
  • During remarks at two fundraisers in Maryland last night, Biden made no apology for saying Tuesday that the Senate "got things done" with "civility" even with segregationists with whom he disagreed, AP reports.

The state of play: Other 2020 Dems harshly condemned Biden's invocation of long-dead segregationist senators James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia to argue that Washington functioned more smoothly back then.

What's new: Last night in Chevy Chase, Md., Biden tried to revise and extend those remarks, saying he "detested" what the two Democrats "stood for in terms of segregation."

  • Praising the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, Biden said: "[W]e had to put up with the likes of like Jim Eastland and Hermy Talmadge and all those segregationists."
  • "[W]e were able to beat them on everything they stood for," Biden continued, according to a pool report by Maggie Severns of Politico. "We, in fact, detested what they stood for in terms of segregation and all the rest."

What Biden's thinking: He will keep pounding away on the theme that he alone has the experience and broad appeal to beat Trump.

  • Biden adviser Anita Dunn said on MSNBC: "He didn't praise them, he didn't praise their positions, he certainly didn't endorse their positions. It's a story he's told many times. And the point of the story is that you have to be able to work with people, even if they hold positions repugnant to you, in order to make some progress."

Go deeper ... What they're saying: Biden's race backlash