Biden Tries to Bounce Back From Debate Fight in Email to Supporters: ‘I Heard and I Respect Senator Harris’

Harris criticized Biden Thursday for past handling of racial issues

Last Updated: June 28, 2019 @ 2:59 PM

Joe Biden emailed supporters Friday in an effort to recover from a moment in Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate in which Sen. Kamala Harris criticized his past handling of racial issues.

Harris said during the debate that she was personally affected by recent remarks in which the former vice president boasted about his ability to work across the aisle by noting that he had even worked with segregationists, decades ago.

“I heard and I respect Senator Harris. For my entire career, I’ve fought my heart out to ensure that civil rights, voting rights, and equal rights are enforced everywhere,” Biden wrote. “These rights are not up to the states to decide. They are embedded in our Constitution. And, the federal government has a duty to protect the civil rights of every single American. That has always been my position.”

During the debate Thursday night, Harris said she was impacted when it came to busing students to schools outside their district for the purpose of reducing racial segregation — because in the ’70s, she said, she was one student who rode the bus as part of an integration effort.

“I do not believe you are a racist,” Harris said. “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’s comments came as part of an overall rough debate performance for the front runner in the campaign, with Biden weathering attacks not just from Harris but from some of the other younger candidates in the race as well. The New York Times quoted several democratic leaders who argued that Biden’s strength in the polls might begin to be showing some “cracks” in a particularly competitive field.

“If the contention is, he’s the one to go head-to-head, he’s going to have to kind of re-prove that,” Sue Dvorsky, the former chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, told The New York Times. “Because last night put some cracks, I think, in that narrative.”

“Where the Biden people need to be deeply concerned is, the aura has worn off,” former Gov. Jim Hodges of South Carolina told the Times. “Last night helped show this is a real competitive race.”

A poll from Morning Consult and Five Thirty Eight further showed that Biden was hurt by the debate performance, dropping 10 points in the poll while Harris went up in the polls by nine points.

Biden responded to Harris by saying, “I did not praise racists. That is not true,” adding that he supported school integration, but believed it should be enforced by local officials.

He also called Harris’ comments a “mischaracterization” of his position “across the board.”

Harris argued that the federal government has a responsibility to intervene when injustice takes place, and can’t always leave it to local officials to enforce civil rights laws.

He further clarified his position in his Friday letter.

“The discussion in this race today shouldn’t be about the past. It should be about how we can do better and move forward and give every kid in this country an opportunity to succeed. That means good schools in every neighborhood. No child’s future should be determined by their zip code,” Biden continued in his letter. “I will be a president who stands against racism and the forces of exclusion and intolerance everywhere in our society — in our institutions, in our voting booths, and in our hearts.”

Check out Biden’s full letter to supporters below:

I’d like to say something about the debate last night.

I heard and I respect Senator Harris.

For my entire career, I’ve fought my heart out to ensure that civil rights, voting rights, and equal rights are enforced everywhere. These rights are not up to the states to decide. They are embedded in our Constitution. And, the federal government has a duty to protect the civil rights of every single American. That has always been my position.

That’s why I ran for Senate in the first place.

But the discussion in this race today shouldn’t be about the past. It should be about how we can do better and move forward and give every kid in this country an opportunity to succeed. That means good schools in every neighborhood. No child’s future should be determined by their zip code.

Right now, we have a president who promotes hate and division — and has encouraged the poison of white supremacy.

I will be a president who stands against racism and the forces of exclusion and intolerance everywhere in our society — in our institutions, in our voting booths, and in our hearts.

We have to get Donald Trump out of office. I’m ready to keep fighting. And I hope I can count on you to be by my side.

I’ve proposed tripling funding for Title I schools — to eliminate the disparities between rich and poor school districts. We’re going to increase teacher pay and make sure every 3- and 4-year old is in pre-K.

I will reinstate the policies we pushed during the Obama-Biden Administration to finish the work of desegregating our schools — because we have a national interest in creating diverse student bodies.

We have to make sure that we keep moving closer to the idea of the America that lives in our founding documents.

We hold these truths self-evident. That all men — and women — are created equal. It’s an idea we’ve never lived up to. But we’ve never walked away from the idea of equality either. And we cannot afford to walk away from it now.

Barack Obama was a president our kids could — and did — look up to.

We need that again. I hope I can make you proud.

Thank you for your support,

- Joe