Biden calls Booker to smooth things over after racial flap

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By Marianna Sotomayor and Mike Memoli and Leigh Ann Caldwell  with NBC News Politics
Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Attend Poor People's Moral Action
Democratic presidential hopeful and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses the Moral Action Congress of the Poor People's Campaign at Trinity Washington University on June 17, 2019.   -   Copyright  Alex Wong Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden called Sen. Cory Booker on Wednesday night in an attempt to smooth things over after the two presidential candidates got into a public dust up after the former vice president had talked about his work with segregationist senators, multiple sources told NBC News.

Biden phoned Booker following the New Jersey senator's appearance on CNN on Wednesday night. That appearance took place after Biden had reacted to Booker criticizing him earlier in the day and calling on Biden to apologize for remarks he made about his work with Sens. James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia, both Democrats who were staunchly opposed to desegregation.

"Apologize for what? Cory should apologize," Biden said. "He knows better. There's not a racist bone in my body."

On CNN, Booker shot back, "For someone to show the lack of understanding or sensitivity to even know when they've made a mistake and to fall into that kind of defensive posture — that I should apologize to him — is really problematic. I was raised to speak truth to power. And I will never apologize for doing that. And Vice President Biden shouldn't need this lesson."

During their phone call, Biden did not ask for an apology from Booker and neither candidate offer one to each other, two sources familiar with the call told NBC News.

The back-and-forth began after numerous Democratic presidential candidates began lambasting the vice president for recounting his attempt to work with Eastland and Talmadge to get "things done" during a time of what Biden called "civility" in the Senate during the 1970s and 80s.

"Cory shared directly what he said publicly — including helping Vice President Biden understand why the word 'boy' is painful to so many. Cory believes that Vice President Biden should take responsibility for what he said and apologize to those who were hurt," Booker campaign spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told NBC News.

That was a reference to Biden's comment to supporters, "I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland. He never called me 'boy.' He always called me 'son.'"