Coons says it was "important" for Biden to apologize for comments on segregationists

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Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware offered a full-throttle defense of the civil rights record of his friend and former Senate colleague Joe Biden, saying the former vice president was right to apologize for controversial comments he made about working with segregationist lawmakers.  

"I think it's important that he gave a speech in which he recognized that the ways in which he talked about working across the aisle, in the context of the Senate of decades ago, may have caused some concern or heartbreak," Coons said on "Face the Nation" Sunday, referring to Biden, the early front-runner in the crowded race for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

"But the reality is, his actual record, his lifelong record of standing up and fighting for civil rights is what he should be judged on," he added. 

After facing some criticism from fellow Democrats over his comments about working with conservative lawmakers who supported segregation based on race — most pointedly by campaign rival Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a woman of color, during the first Democratic debate in Miami — Biden on Saturday offered a rare apology. 

During a rally in South Carolina, the former vice president under President Obama told a predominantly African-American audience that he was sorry about the pain his remarks may have caused. 

"Now, was I wrong a few weeks ago to somehow give the impression to people that I was praising those men who I successfully opposed time and again?" Biden told the crowd in Sumter. "Yes, I was. I regret it. I'm sorry for any of the pain and misconception I may have caused anybody."  

Still, Biden stressed on Saturday he hoped one "misstep" would not "define 50 years of my record for fighting for civil rights, racial justice."

His friend Coons agreed, saying Biden needed more time to explain "complex issues." 

"I know Joe Biden. I know his heart. I know his record," Coons said. 

Richard Escobedo contributed to this report. 

  • Camilo Montoya-Galvez
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    Camilo Montoya-Galvez is the immigration reporter at CBS News. Based in Washington, he covers immigration policy and politics.