Joe Biden Defends Civil Rights Record After Heated Debate Exchange

The former vice president addressed criticism from Sen. Kamala Harris during the Democratic primary debate.

Former Vice President Joe Biden reiterated his commitment to civil rights a day after playing defense at Thursday’s Democratic primary debate when Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) challenged his record.

Speaking at the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition convention in Chicago on Friday, Biden said he has “respect” for Harris but that the debate format “can’t do justice to a lifetime committed to civil rights.”

“I know and you know I fought my heart out to ensure that civil rights and voting rights, equal rights are enforced everywhere,” Biden said.

Harris went after the former vice president on Thursday for his past opposition to busing programs that integrated schools. She also denounced his recollection earlier this month about collaborating with two segregationist senators during his Senate career

As a young senator in the early 1970s, Biden opposed federal initiatives to address decades of schooling and housing discrimination in the U.S. by using busing to integrate public schools.

“I do not believe you are a racist. And I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground,” Harris told Biden on Thursday. “But it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country.”

Biden said Friday he “never, ever, ever opposed voluntary busing.” He went on to deliver a laundry list of his civil rights achievements, including his support for the Equal Rights Amendment and the Civil Rights Act. 

He called slavery the “original sin of this nation” and blasted President Donald Trump for emboldening white supremacists.

Yet Biden also recycled a racially charged line he’s used in the past, telling a room full of black activists and labor organizers: “That kid wearing a hoodie might be the next poet laureate and not a gangbanger.”

Despite his efforts to emphasize his civil rights record, Biden’s comments about working with segregationist senators, as well as his history of supporting the Hyde Amendment, have lost him the support of at least one major donor.

Attorney and angel investor Tom McInerney said Friday he let the campaign know on June 20 that he had “pulled back my support of Biden for now.”