MIAMI — Sen. Kamala Harris rebuked former Vice President Joe Biden for his history opposing student busing, telling him that if he had had his way, she wouldn’t be where she is today.
Harris, the only African American candidate on the debate stage Thursday, told Biden on that she was personally offended by his recent comments reminiscing about working with a pair of segregationist senators in the 1970s — not just because of their views, but because of the content of the work.
“You also worked with them to oppose busing,” Harris said. “There was a young girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”
Biden’s record of opposing federal efforts to use busing to integrate schools has drawn scrutiny after he reminisced to a group of donors about working with a pair of segregationist senators when he was a senator representing Delaware.
Harris’ attack drew sustained applause in the debate hall, and Biden’s prior comments drew sustained criticism in the media. But on the ground, particularly in South Carolina, where six in ten Democratic primary voters are black, Biden’s support has not taken a hit. Whether that will change after Harris took him to task remains to be seen.
“Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America?” Harris asked Biden point blank.
“I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed was busing ordered by the Department of Education,” Biden said. He added that Harris would have been allowed to be bused to school because Berkeley, Calif., the decision was made by the city council.
Biden further defended his record, noting that unlike Harris, who has drawn criticism from progressives for her tough-on-crime record as a prosecutor, Biden became a public defender, influenced into public service by the civil rights movement. He also noted that he helped shepherd the Voting Rights Act through Congress.
“You mischaracterized my position across the board. I did not praise racist. That is not true,” he said. “Everything I've done in my career, I ran because of civil rights, I continue to think we have to make fundamental changes in civil rights.”
Cover: Sen. Kamala Harris (R) (D-CA) and former Vice President Joe Biden (L) speak as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) looks on during the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)