Biden apologizes for highlighting work with segregationists during SC speech

2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks to supporters in Columbia

2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks to supporters in Columbia at the Hyatt Park Community Center
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2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks to supporters in Columbia at the Hyatt Park Community Center

After a rough week on the campaign trail, 2020 White House hopeful Joe Biden fired back at critics of his record on race-related issues during a stop in Sumter Saturday.

With a solid early lead in the Democratic presidential nominating race, Biden told a crowded gym at the M.H. Newton Family Life Center he planned to take on critics of his 44-year record of public service directly.

“If you look at the issues I’ve been attacked on, nearly every one of them is for something well before 2008,” Biden said. “It’s as if my opponents want you to believe I served from 1972 until 2008, and then took the next eight years off. They don’t want to talk much about my time as vice president.”

Biden touted his record as President Barack Obama’s No. 2 for eight years, adding that if he could pass the Obama campaign’s vetting process in 2008, he was fit for the job of president now.

“I’ll take his judgment about my character and about my ability to do the job over anyone else’s,” Biden said.

But Biden didn’t spend his entire speech Saturday on offense. At the Sumter rally, the Democrat apologized for his recent comments about working with segregationists, admitting he was wrong to a thunderous applause from a crowd of about 200 mostly African American audience members.

“Was I wrong a few weeks ago to somehow give the impression to people that I was praising those men who I successfully opposed time and again? Yes, I was. I regret it,” Biden said. “I’m sorry for any of the pain or misconception I may have caused anybody.”

Taking hits over busing, segregationists

Biden has been criticized during most of the 2020 presidential campaign for his opposition to using busing to integrate Delaware schools in the 1970s while he was a U.S. senator from that state. The issue came back to light recently during the first Democratic debate.

Also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris called out Biden for voting against many pro-busing measures during the earlier days in his Senate career.

“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,” Harris, a California Democrat, said. “And that little girl was me.”

Biden fired back that Harris was mischaracterizing his stance on busing, which he said he believed at the time should be handled locally.

During the debate, Harris also confronted Biden about recent comments he had made about working with Republicans on certain measures in which he highlighted relationships with two known segregationists.

“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,” Harris said.

Biden defended his record then, too: “Look, everything I have done in my career, I ran because of civil rights, I continue to think we have to make fundamental changes in civil rights, and those civil rights, by the way, include not just only African Americans, but the LGBT community.”

After the clash, Biden took a hit in the polls, while Harris gained support.

Looking forward

In Sumter, much of Biden’s speech focused on highlighting how he has grown and changed.

“I know some people prefer to focus on the past, but I’m the candidate that is focused on the future,” he said.

S.C. Sen. Kevin Johnson introduced Biden Saturday evening by endorsing Biden and urging Sumter residents to focus on the future.

“This election is not about the past,” Johnson said. “It’s not about what someone said 40, 50 years ago. It’s about today.”

Biden’s appearances in South Carolina is scheduled to overlap with Harris’, though the pair are not scheduled to appear in any of the same cities.

Biden S.C. schedule ends with stops in Orangeburg Saturday night and a town hall with S.C. Sen. Marlon Kimpson in Charleston Sunday.

CNN contributed.

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Emily Bohatch helps cover South Carolina’s government for The State. She also updates The State’s databases. Her accomplishments include winning a Green Eyeshade award in Disaster Reporting in 2018 for her teamwork reporting on Hurricane Irma. She has a degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish from Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.