Joe Biden attempted to ward off doubts raised about his civil rights bona fides Wednesday by reminding attendees of the NAACP convention that he was Barack Obama’s pick to be his vice president.
“I doubt he would have picked me if these accusations about my being wrong on civil rights is correct,” the Democratic presidential hopeful and former vice president told the crowd gathered in Detroit, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Biden, whom polling so far paints as the front-runner among Democrats hoping to unseat Donald Trump next year, is still smarting from last month’s debate-drubbing by rival Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who drew blood in attacking him on his stance on federally mandated busing during the 1970s.
That, combined with criticism regarding his actions during the decades he spent in the U.S. Senate—such as the treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings and his role in the passage of federal 1994 crime bill—has Biden working to shore up support, especially among black people, a key Democratic voting bloc.
Biden was among 10 Democratic presidential candidates to speak before the NAACP convention, including Harris, who received a warm welcome, and Sen. Cory Booker, the Democrat from New Jersey and former mayor of Newark, that state’s largest city.
Following their remarks to the NAACP crowd, Biden and Booker traded barbs concerning their respective criminal-justice records, with Booker calling Biden “the architect of mass incarceration,” Reuters reports.
While at the convention, Biden unveiled a criminal-justice plan meant to address the mass incarceration of black folks that critics say the ’94 crime bill instituted.
Biden’s new plan includes measures to end racial disparities in the criminal justice system, such as providing greater access to better public defenders, ending mandatory-minimum sentences and scrapping the cash bail system.
“We have now a systemic issue and too many African Americans in jail right now, so I think we should shift the whole focus from what we were doing in terms of incarceration to rehabilitation,” Biden said.
Booker, in speaking with reporters following the speech, slammed Biden’s ideas as being too little, too late, saying: “For a guy who helped to be an architect of mass incarceration, this is an inadequate solution to what is a raging crisis in our country.”
Biden hit back, telling reporters that as mayor, Booker ran a city that imposed “stop-and-frisk” policing that especially and unjustly targeted black men.
“If he wants to go back and talk about records, I’m happy to do that,” Biden said, according to Reuters. “But I’d rather talk about the future.”
The Biden campaign also noted, as the L.A. Times reports, that “most incarceration happened at the state and local level, out of Biden’s control.”
Biden, Booker and the rest of the Democratic slate will meet again next week in Detroit for the second set of Democratic presidential debates.