Kamala Harris and Joe Biden engaged in one of the most personal and heated exchanges of the second night of the Democratic debates. After several candidates gave their views on race in America, particularly as they relate to policing, Harris interjected to tell an anecdote about facing discrimination from her neighbor as a child.
Harris then pivoted to Biden and said, “I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground.” She changed her tone and added, “It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and careers on the segregation of race in this country. It was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.” Harris mentioned that she was part of the second class to be integrated in her California public school with the help of busing. You can watch the entire exchange here:
Biden has recently come under fire for seemingly reminiscing about finding common ground with segregationist senators in the 1970s. During a fundraiser, he said that one of the segregationists “never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’ ” CNN then dug up letters that Biden wrote thanking segregationist Sen. James Eastland for bringing anti-busing legislation to a vote.
Biden responded to Harris by claiming that he was not praising racists and pointing out that he chose to be a public defender rather than a prosecutor. This was presumably a jab at Harris’ record as a prosecutor and allegations that she was exceedingly tough on crime. The former vice president also characterized his legislation as preventing the Department of Education from directing busing efforts, rather than as an effort to completely end the practice of busing. “You would have been able to go to school the same exact way because it was a local decision made by your city council,” he told Harris.
Harris rebutted by arguing that states and local governments have often failed to effectively desegregate schools and that intervention from the federal government was needed.