Kamala Harris and Joe Biden face off over race at Democratic debate

California Sen. Kamala Harris has sharp words for former Vice President Joe Biden on the issue of busing during the debate Thursday.  


Sen. Kamala Harris aggressively challenged Joe Biden on his nostalgic comments about working with segregationists and his record on school integration during an often contentious debate between Democratic presidential candidates.

“It was actually very hurtful to hear you talk about the reputation of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country,” Harris said, her voice thick with emotion, to the former vice president and senator. She noted she was the only black person on the debate stage and drew on her own experiences.

“You also worked with them to oppose busing,” the California senator said. “And there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public school, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”


The exchange between two Democrats fighting to occupy the same lane in the presidential nominating contest was a pivotal moment in Thursday’s debate from Miami, the second night of the event.

Harris was referring to the Biden’s remarks this month about lost “civility” in the nation’s capital, including being able to work with segregationist Sens. James O. Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia, even though he disagreed with them.

Biden said his position was being mischaracterized, that he did not praise racists; he pointed to his work with President Obama without mentioning him by name.

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Biden also said he did not oppose busing, but rather believed it was an issue that should be handled by the states rather than the federal government.

“You would have been able to go to school the same exact way because it was a local decision,” he said.


Harris noted that such states’ rights arguments were used to fight integration in certain parts of the country.

“That’s why the federal government must step in,” Harris said. “That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act, that’s why we have the Civil Rights Act, that’s why we need to pass the Equality Act. That’s why we need to pass the ERA, because there are moments in history when states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.”

Biden noted his support for the Equal Rights Amendment and the Voting Rights Act before noting that he had run out of time.

Harris clearly came prepared to go after Biden on this issue. Her campaign tweeted a picture of her as a schoolgirl shortly after the exchange.