Biden made the controversial comments at a fundraiser on Tuesday while speaking on the importance of "civility" in politics and the necessity to work with others regardless of their beliefs. The former vice president spoke of the ability to "get things done" with Sens. James Eastland and Herman Talmadge, both staunch segregationists.
Rep. Lewis, a civil rights hero himself, came to Biden's defense on Friday while speaking with reporters. He noted that in the Civil Rights Era, he too worked with people who opposed his rights.
"I don’t think those remarks are offensive, they’re in the height of the Civil Rights Movement," Lewis said. We worked with people, and got to know people - there was members of the Klan, people who opposed us, even people who beat us, arrested us and jailed us.
"We never gave up on our fellow human beings – and I would not give up on any human being," he continued.
Lewis said that Biden's camp had reached out to discuss the response to the vice president's remarks, but he had not had the opportunity to return their calls. Lewis is not the only one to attempt to quell the criticisms of Biden in light of his comments - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the Congressional Black Caucus also spoke out in support of the 2020 presidential candidate.
Pelosi described Biden as "authentic," while Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., spoke on his own experience working with President Trump, who represents an administration he disagrees with.
“I think we here in the House Democratic Caucus have ourselves taken the position that sometimes you have to work with the opposition to the extent they’re in power without compromising your values if you can get things done," Jeffries said.
Others, however, have spoken out against Biden, including some of his 2020 competitors. Sen. Cory Booker called Biden's approach "not the model for how we make America a safer and more inclusive place for black people, and for everyone." Former New York Mayor and presidential candidate Bill de Blasio said it's "past time for apologies or evolution" from Joe Biden.
In light of the criticism, Lewis advised Biden to "keep his eyes on the prize." and keep his eyes on the prize."
"Never give up, or become bitter or hostile. Work hard," he added.