Former Vice President Joe Biden said Monday that he would be open to choosing a Republican to be his running mate if he wins the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, although he added that he “can’t think of one now.”

His remarks prompted a swift backlash from the left as well as from the campaign of one of his 2020 rivals.

At a town hall in Exeter, New Hampshire, a voter told Biden her 21-year-old son had recently asked her whether the former vice president might consider choosing a Republican as a running mate.

“The answer is, I would, but I can’t think of one now,” Biden replied, prompting laughter from some in the crowd. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. No, look, no, I’m serious. Here’s what I mean. Let me explain that. You know, there’s some really decent Republicans that are out there still. But here’s the problem right now, of the well-known ones: They’ve got to step up. Do you know what I mean?”

Biden – who has previously said he would prefer a running mate who is “of color and/or a different gender” – predicted that he would likely get “clobbered” by the media for discussing potential vice presidential picks when he hasn’t won the Democratic nomination.

Such criticism would be “totally legitimate,” Biden said. “But there are an awful lot of people out there who are qualified.”

Public opinion polls show Biden is among the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination.

On social media, some liberals argued that the former vice president had taken his efforts to appeal to moderates and independents a step too far.

“Joe Biden says he would consider a Republican VP. My thoughts?” tweeted Adam Best, host of the Left podcast. He followed up by writing the word “NO” more than four-dozen times.

Other observers mocked Biden’s suggestion as naive or out of touch with the current political reality.

“Joe Biden says he’d consider having a Republican VP. OK, there are some good choices out there – Nelson Rockefeller, Earl Warren, Bill Scranton. Oh wait, they’re all dead,” Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said in a tweet.

A staffer for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., one of Biden’s 2020 presidential rivals, also hammered the former vice president over the remark.

The staffer, speechwriter David Sirota, tweeted images of several news stories about Biden defending Republicans.

“Dear fellow Democrats: @JoeBiden has been repeatedly trying to tell us something. When someone tries this hard to make clear exactly who they are and what their values are, we should listen,” Sirota said.

While liberals fretted over Biden’s remarks, others have pointed out that for many voters, the former vice president’s overtures to Republicans are part of his political appeal.

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