Former vice president Joe Biden exploded at a Democratic Senate colleague for blocking anti-busing legislation in the Judiciary Committee, calling him a "dirty bastard" and a "son of a bitch" during the hearing.
Former South Dakota senator James Abourezk relates the 1977 incident in his book, Advise & Dissent: Memoirs of South Dakota and the U.S. Senate (1989). Abourezk had been approached by the chief lobbyist for the NAACP to fight an upcoming bill Biden coauthored with Delaware's other U.S. senator, Republican William Roth, to block a federal court from ordering the state to desegregate schools through busing.
When Abourezk moved to block the bill from passing through committee, he faced the wrath of Biden, who called him a "son of a bitch," a "dirty bastard," and told him he'd never vote for one of his bills again, according to the book.
Democratic senator James Eastland, a Mississippi segregationist whose "civility" was recently praised by Biden, chaired the Judiciary Committee at the time. Eastland began the hearing by bringing up Biden's anti-busing bill, and Abourezk made clear he was about to filibuster the bill until Eastland adjourned the meeting.
"Eastland recognized me and I told the committee members to make themselves comfortable, because I intended to speak at length," Abourezk recounted. It was after Eastland ended the meeting that Abourezk heard from Biden.
Biden didn't show Abourezk any civility for working with the NAACP, according to the account.
Biden leaned over to me, fire coming out of his eyes, 'Abourezk, you son of a bitch, if I ever vote for another one of your bills, it'll be a cold day in hell.'
'Calm down, Joe,' I told him, 'You're eventually gonna thank me for doing this.'
'Like hell I will you dirty bastard.' Biden snorted, stomping out of the room.
Abourezk proved to be the shrewder political tactician, according to his telling.
Eastland kept calling committee meetings to try and get Biden's anti-busing legislation through, and Abourezk continued to block it. Biden "grew even angrier" each day, but his mood changed once he saw Abourezk's prediction come true.
"A few days later, Biden came into the scheduled committee meeting, this time with a broad, friendly grin aimed directly at me," Abourezk says in his book. "'Jesus, Abourezk, you were right,' he said. 'I am gonna thank you. You should see the Delaware newspapers—big front-page headlines saying, 'Biden Battles Liberals in Washington.' He was unabashedly elated. 'They love me back home, how did you know this would happen?'"
The court-ordered desegregation effort was not popular in largely white Delaware, which is what brought Biden and his Republican colleague William Roth together. Abourezk, one of the Senate's more liberal members, was acting on behalf of the NAACP to stall legislation that would stop busing until the court order took place and became irreversible.
"Clarence Mitchell of the NAACP approached me to ask if I would lead the fight against the bill in the Judicary Committee," Abourezk wrote in the book. "If I could hold up passage of the bill until the court's ruling went into effect, the legislation would be nullified."
According to Current Affairs, the Biden legislation was aimed at restricting judges from ordering widespread busing by requiring them to "tailor their court orders to remedy only the adverse effects of existing segregation."
Abourezk adds that Eastland brought up Biden's bill day after day because the infamous Mississippi racist "rather liked Biden's anti-busing bill."
Biden has recently come under attack for his opposition to busing, most notably on the debate stage by Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.). Harris has now come out in favor of reinstituting busing in the United States, saying schools are as segregated as they were in the 1960s.
Biden's campaign did not respond to a request for the former vice president's account of the incident with Abourezk.
Collin Anderson contributed to this report.