Biden: I was taken out of context

Talking to reporters about his apparently racist statement on Barack Obama, Sen. Joe Biden issues a series of nondenial denials.

Published January 31, 2007 8:00PM (EST)

In a conference call with reporters just now, Sen. Joe Biden, who has been under fire since this morning for statements he made about fellow Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in an interview with the New York Observer, was forced to do some damage control; what he gave was essentially a nondenial denial.

Biden had told Observer reporter Jason Horowitz that in Obama "you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy ... I mean, that's a storybook, man." The conference call, which our own Walter Shapiro participated in, was supposed to be about Biden's recent reannouncement of his candidacy, but he found himself repeatedly sidetracked by his earlier comments.

All told, Biden got four questions on the subject. After the first, he told reporters that "I regret that some may have taken out of context my use of the word 'clean.'" After the second, he started to get testy, mentioned his long support of the African-American community in his home state of Delaware and finally likened his comment to his mother's use of the phrase "clean as a whistle." After the third, he said, "I have spoken to Sen. Obama and I recommend that you call him. He understood exactly what I meant and I have no doubt that Jesse Jackson and every other black leader (Al Sharpton and the rest) will know what I meant. I have a long, long relationship with these folks. And we have been allies b

This is hardly the first time Biden has made a gaffe like this; in July, he was caught on tape saying, "In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking." A month later, asked on Fox News how he'd fare in races in Southern states, he bragged, "My state was a slave state, my state is a border state, my state has the eighth largest black population in the country, my state is anything from a Northeast liberal state." Here's video, via Attytood, of that.

Biden will also be appearing on tonight's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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