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.
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.
10 more candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination gathered at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts for Thurday’s debate.(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; former Vice President Joe Biden: Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; Sen. Kamala Harris of California; Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York; former Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet; and Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, from left, were among the 10 Democratic hopefuls taking the stage for the second night of the Democratic primary debate.(Byrnn Anderson / Associated Press)
Former vice president Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont greet the audience before Thursday’s debate. The two are currently leading in most Democratic primary polls.(Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)
California Sen. Kamala Harris, left, and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speak at Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate in Miami.(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)
Former Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, left, and Rep. Eric Swalwell of California on the second night of the first 2020 Democratic primary debate.(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and California Sen. Kamala Harris, from left, had center stage at Thursday’s Democratic primary debate in Miami.(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet and Eric Swalwell, from left, before the second night of the first Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign.(Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images)
Kamala Harris singles out Joe Biden, left, during an answer Thursday night. At center is Bernie Sanders.(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)
From left, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand respond to the moderators on the second night of the Democrats’ first primary debate for 2020.(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)
From left, presidential hopefuls author and writer Marianne Williamson, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and entrepreneur Andrew Yang participate in the second Democratic primary debate.(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)
Former Vice President Joe Biden greets supporters after the second Democratic primary debate.(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, left, and Sen. Kamala Harris of California shake hands after the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season.(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, right, shakes hands with former Vice President Joe Biden at the end of the Democratic primary debate.(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
Lacey Hunt, a supporter of Democratic presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, takes a photo of the television while watching the second Democratic presidential debate at a party in Atlanta on June 27, 2019.(David Goldman / Associated Press)
Get our Essential Politics newsletter
The latest news, analysis and insights from our politics team.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.