A day after getting spanked on the issue of race during the second night of the Democrats’ presidential primary debate, former Vice President Joe Biden defended his civil rights record Friday before an African-American organization, at the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow-PUSH Coalition convention.
Friday’s appearance was Biden’s first after he took a beating on the debate stage Thursday night in a back-and-forth with U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) over conciliatory comments he made about having worked with senators known to have segregationist views and his lack of support during the 1970s for federally mandated busing to support the desegregation of U.S. schools.
As the Chicago Tribune reports, Biden played to the Chicago crowd, pointing up his work as No. 2 to Barack Obama, the hometown favorite, and stating unequivocally that if elected president, he would “[stand] against racism.”
He played down his debate performance, stating, per the Tribune:
“I heard and I listened to and respect Sen. Harris. But we all know 30 seconds to 60 seconds on a campaign debate exchange cannot do justice to a lifetime of civil rights,” Biden said, adding that he always supported “federal action to address root causes of segregation.”
“I know you know I fought my heart out,” he said.
Biden, who has sought to use his lengthy public experience as an asset, then sought to quickly turn the page.
“Folks, the discussion in this race today shouldn’t be about the past. We should be talking about how we can do better, how we can move forward,” he said.
During Biden’s Thursday night exchange with Harris, the California senator asked the former VP whether he now believed he was wrong to have opposed busing during the 1970s, as part of the following exchange:
Harris: But Vice President Biden, do you agree today, do you agree today, that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then? Do you agree?
Biden: No. I did not oppose busing. What I opposed is busing ordered by the [U.S.] Department of Education. That is what I opposed.
To which Harris answered, in part:
“Well, there was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. ... So that’s where the federal government must step in. ... Because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.”
Jackson, the civil rights icon and one-time presidential candidate himself, told the Tribune Friday it was too soon to tell whether Biden’s candidacy had been damaged by the exchange with Harris.
He said there was time for Biden to “change positions” on certain aspects of the civil rights agenda, and that Biden had earned goodwill among African Americans for the role he played in Obama’s winning the presidency.
“Without Biden on that ticket we may have lost,” Jackson said, according to the Tribune. “He gained the favor of a number of whites who had unfounded fears about Barack Obama. That ticket won the election twice, so he has favor among many people because of that position, because of what he did for Barack Obama.”