Since entering the presidential race, former Vice President Joe Biden has faced repeated questions about past statements he’s made criticizing school busing, fondly remembering racist white senators, and helping pass draconian laws in the ill-conceived drug war.
On Thursday, another decades-old quote of Biden’s surfaced courtesy of the Trump campaign’s opposition research team. A September 20, 1987, story in the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Biden had bragged about receiving an award from George Wallace, the former Alabama governor and one of America’s most notorious segregationists.
The same story went to quote a presidential primary campaign speech Biden had given in Alabama in which he said “we (Delawareans) were on the South’s side in the Civil War.”
Biden went on to distance himself from Wallace. On Twitter, Biden spokesman Bill Russo shared a 1976 news story quoting Biden saying he would not support Wallace’s presidential bid and would back the Republican candidate if Wallace somehow won the Democratic nomination.
A Biden spokesman tells Rolling Stone in a statement: “As a young Senator, Joe Biden declared that if George Wallace — an unhinged, racist maniac — became the presidential nominee of his party, he would support Gerald Ford. If more GOP leaders had a scintilla of that same courage in 2016, they wouldn’t be debasing themselves this very minute by defending another unhinged, racist maniac.”
Biden’s campaign declined to comment on the candidate saying Delaware sided with the pro-slavery Confederacy during the Civil War.
Biden’s touting the award from Wallace and his quote about Delaware and the Civil War were previously reported by conservative news outlets and opposition research websites. They resurfaced Thursday when the @TrumpWarRoom account, managed by the president’s reelection campaign, highlighted Biden’s “South’s side” quote and the supposed award from Wallace after Biden slammed Trump. Biden said that the chants of “Send her back!” — aimed at Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), one of four minority congresswomen whom Trump attacked on Twitter by tweet last weekend — was “despicable” and reminded him of the noxious rhetoric of George Wallace.
The resurfaced Biden quotes come from a pair of stories written by journalist Robert S. Boyd. In the first, which ran in the Detroit Free Press, Biden touted the fact that Wallace had once “praised him as one of the outstanding young politicians of America.” The Inquirer story includes Biden’s quote about Delaware being on “the South’s side in the Civil War.”
(Trump’s “war room” account did not grapple with Trump’s overly racist attacks on the lawmakers, in which the president of the United States in 2019 used white nationalist rhetoric in telling the lawmakers — all newly elected women of color, three out of the four of whom were born in the United States and a fourth who has lived here for decades — to go back to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”)
The quotes go to the heart of his critics’ complaints about the former vice president, a septuagenarian whose nearly 40-year Senate career features many instances when his policies and rhetoric were out of step with today’s progressives. Biden has countered many of these criticisms by a record of working with civil rights leaders, his push for marriage equality and legislative achievements that include the Violence Against Women Act and an extension of the Voting Rights Act — but his record has come under attack from from his 2020 rivals.
In the most heated exchange of the first Democratic debates, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) took Biden to task for his past opposition to busing as a way to desegregate public schools. As late as his 2007 autobiography, the former Delaware senator called busing desegregation programs a “liberal train wreck.” But numerous stories about Biden’s record on race have documented his opposition to the federal government’s racial integration efforts dating back to the 1970s and his fondness for Dixiecrat senators like James Eastland of Mississippi.
“I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers. In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race,’” he told a Delaware newspaper in 1975. “I don’t buy that.”
Previously confronted with his old comments, Biden has apologized for his praise of segregationists like Eastland while arguing his positions on criminal justice and busing were being distorted.
“I regret it, and I’m sorry for any of the pain or misconception I may have caused anybody,” Biden said earlier this month about his praise for Eastland. But on the day after the Democratic debate, he tried to set the record straight by saying he had “never, never, ever opposed voluntary busing…I’ve always been in favor of using federal authority to overcome state-initiated segregation.” (For what it’s worth, Harris, whose attacks on Biden over busing gave her campaign a badly needed jolt, has a somewhat muddled position on busing as well.)
Biden continues to hold a sizable lead in the 2020 Democratic primary field. But his support took a hit after the first Democratic debate while Harris, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-CA) gain ground. A recent poll of California voters showed Harris surpassing Biden in her home state.