'It was hurtful to hear you talk': Kamala Harris denounces Joe Biden’s work with pro-segregation senators in tense exchange

Screenshot via MSNBC
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden got into a tense and personal exchange over racial issues with Sen. Kamala Harris during the second night of the Democratic primary debates in Miami.

  • Harris directly confronted Biden over comments he made at a recent fundraiser reflecting on the days of “civility” in the Senate when he worked with people he disagreed with, including two Democratic Senators who opposed desegregation.
  • Harris said, “it’s personal, and it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States Senators who is built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country.”
  • Biden strongly denied Harris’ charges, saying, “it’s a mischaracterization of my position across the board. I do not praise racists. That is not true,” and he cited his time working as a public defender.
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Former Vice President Joe Biden got into a tense and personal exchange over racial issues with Sen. Kamala Harris during the second night of the 2020 Democratic primary debates in Miami.

After a brief discussion on police accountability and reparations, Harris directly confronted Biden – who served in the Senate from 1974 to 2009 – over comments he made at a recent fundraiser reflecting on the days of “civility” in the Senate when he worked with people he didn’t disagree with, including two Democratic Senators who supported segregation when he was a young Senator.

“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland. He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son,'” Biden said. “Well guess what? At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished.”

Harris, who is African-American and Indian-America, said to Biden, “I do not believe you are a racist and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground, but it’s personal and it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States Senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country.”

As INSIDER’s John Haltiwanger wrote, while Biden supported busing in 1972, after his white constituents began vocally opposing it, “by 1973 and 1974, Biden attempted to tow a careful line by vocally supporting desegregation while voting in favour of anti-busing policies.”

Harris then drew a sharp contrast between herself and Biden over the issue of busing. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day,” she said. “That little girl was me. So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats.”


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Biden strongly denied Harris’ charges, saying, “it’s a mischaracterization of my position across the board. I do not praise racists. That is not true,” and he cited his time working as a public defender for the cause of civil rights before becoming a senator.

He then tried to deflect responsibility for his role in opposing busing at the time, telling Harris that not he nor other Senators, but the local politicians and city council members in Harris’ hometown were responsible for busing policy, not he.

“The fact is that in terms of busing, the busing, you would have been able to go to school the same way because it was a local decision made by your city council. That’s fine. That’s one of the things I argued for that we should be breaking down the lines,” Biden said.

The issue of criminal justice reform and racial justice has loomed large in the 2020 field. Biden’s record actively championing tough-on-crime and anti-drug policies that have been accused of fuelling the mass incarceration of African-Americans throughout his 36 years in the US Senate has resurfaced in the wake of his presidential campaign.

While Biden apologised for parts of his record in January and downplayed his involvement in some of the legislation, a new in-depth report from The New York Times based on dozens of interviews and documents reveals that Biden eagerly embraced laws that would put more people behind bars, and by his own admission, built alliances with Democratic Senators who supported segregation at the time to achieve those goals and others.

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