During the second night of the Democratic debates, Senator Kamala Harris called former Vice President Joe Biden’s happy recollections of working civilly with segregationists as “hurtful.” She then called out Biden for working with those same segregationists to oppose busing.
“It was actually very hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputation and career on the segregation of race in this country,” Harris said. “And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. There was a little girl in California who was a part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me. So I will tell you that, on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats.”
Biden replied with a fumbled but adamant denial of Harris’s characterization.
“I did not praise racists, that is not true, number one” said Biden. “Number two, if we want to have this campaign litigated on who supports civil rights and whether I did or not, I’m happy to do that.” Biden then criticized Harris for her past as a prosecutor, district attorney, and state attorney general in California before her election to the Senate: “I was a public defender. I didn’t become a prosecutor,” he said.
He went on to say, “The bottom line here is, look, everything I have done in my career, I ran because of civil rights. I continue to think we have to make fundamental changes in civil rights. And those civil rights, by the way, include not just African Americans but the LGTBQ communities.”
Harris wasn’t deterred.
“But Vice President Biden, do you agree today, do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then?” asked Harris.
“I did not oppose busing in America,” Biden shot back. He continued: “What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education. That’s what I opposed.”
As usual, Biden was more interested in splitting hairs than responding to Harris’s criticism. This isn’t particularly new for Biden who seems practically allergic to apologies, usually resorting instead to his “nice guy” persona to deflect any legitimate criticism. The back and forth struck as an incredibly tone deaf moment for Biden while solidifying Harris’s place in the primary. Tonight was undoubtedly her night.