The opening night of the first Democratic primary debates didn’t feature many confrontations. The same can’t be said for the second night, which featured several tense moments, most notably a fierce back-and-forth on race between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden.
After agreeing with Marianne Williamson that reparations haven’t been talked about “truthfully and honestly,” Harris turned her attention to Biden, whose history regarding bussing and, more recently, his praise of a segregationist senator he worked with decades ago, has come under fire.
“I do not believe you are a racist,” Harris said, “and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground. But I also believe — and it’s personal, it was hurtful — to hear you talk about two United States senators who built their reputations and careers on the segregation of race in this country. It was not only that; you also worked with them to oppose bussing.”
“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bussed to school every day,” Harris added. “That little girl was me.”
The crowd went wild. Moderator Rachel Maddow gave Biden a chance to respond, and after the applause subsided, the former vice president said he took issue with the “characterization” that he praised a segregationist, touted his own record on civil rights, and took a veiled jab at Harris for becoming a prosecutor instead of a public defender, like he did. He then deflected blame for bussing, blaming the city council where Harris lived.
Harris continued to apply pressure, asking Biden if he could agree today that he was wrong to oppose bussing in America. Again, Biden took exception. “I did not oppose bussing in America,” he said. “What I opposed was bussing ordered by the Department of Education—”
Harris cut in: “There was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. I was part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California, public schools almost two decades after Brown v. Board of Education.”
“Because your City Council made that decision,” Biden said again.
“That’s where the federal government must step in!” Harris shot back. “That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act, and the Civil Rights Act! That’s why we need to pass the Equality Act! That’s why we need to pass the ERA! There are moments in history where states fail to praise the civil rights of all people!”
Biden started to defend himself, then abruptly stopped. “My time is up,” he said.
Watch the full exchange below:
The full exchange between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden on Biden’s history with racial issues. pic.twitter.com/sK950pFyvf
— Axios (@axios) June 28, 2019