WASHINGTON – At the second Democratic presidential debate of the 2020 election season, on Thursday night, the frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, sparred with Sen. Kamala Harris of California after she called his record on civil rights into question.
Harris referenced recent comments Biden made in which he said he was able to work with segregationist lawmakers during his more than three decades in the Senate. She spoke of Biden’s reported opposition to busing in the 1970s and also relayed a personal anecdote about her own experience with busing as a young child in California.
“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 I also believe and 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,” Harris said.
Biden refuted Harris and pointed to his lifetime commitment to civil rights.
“It’s a mischaracterization of my position across the board. I do not praise racists. That is not true,” he said.
Biden added: “Number two, if we want to have this litigated on who supports civil rights, I’m happy to do that. I was a public defender. I was not a prosecutor.”
Prior to becoming a senator in 2017, Harris served six years as California’s attorney general and seven years as the district attorney of San Francisco.
Biden leads the 24-candidate field by an overwhelming margin in nearly every poll. Harris has consistently polled in either fourth or fifth place.
Eight other candidates participated in the NBC-sponsored forum in Miami on Thursday night. They are: South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Gov. John Hickenlooper (Colo.), Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.), Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.), entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and author and spiritual adviser Marianne Williamson.