On Sunday, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), the 2020 Democrat who enjoyed a standout debate moment against former Vice President Joe Biden, admitted she had planned to attack Biden, the frontrunner, in their debate last Thursday. She also repeated the lie — stated more strongly by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — that Biden was nostalgic about the character of segregationists. (Booker had falsely claimed Biden praised the segregationists.)
“You had such a moment with Joe Biden on stage, talking about your personal experience,” MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt said in an interview with Harris. “Clearly you were ready for it,” she suggested.
“I have to be candid with you,” the candidate replied. “From the moment that I heard his comments about these segregationists, it was troubling and it was hurtful. You know, I think that also part of my feeling about it was to hear those words from someone I respect in a way that suggests a bit of nostalgia about who these guys were. They were segregationists, they built their careers and their reputations on segregation of the races.”
Biden did not express nostalgia “about who these guys were.” Rather, the former vice president mentioned his record of working with two segregationist senators — members of his own Democratic Party — with civility, despite vehement disagreement with them. His remarks focused on the need for civility in politics, rather than any praise for segregationists. Biden has a strong record on civil rights, yet both Booker and Harris launched into baseless lies about these comments.
By mischaracterizing Biden’s comments, Harris was lying about the former vice president, when she need not lie to defeat him on some race issues.
Harris returned to this lie about Biden later in the interview, saying, “Let’s be really clear and remember what these guys were about and the impact of their words and their work.” The former vice president had never expressed nostalgia about the character of segregationists, although he did agree with them that it was not the federal government’s job to force local schools to adopt racially integrated busing. Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have adopted this stance, which was unpopular in the 1970s and remained unpopular in 1999, the last year to have good polling on this issue.
Harris also referenced her history on racially integrated busing, saying “obviously that was personal to me. I remember getting on that yellow bus.”
Harris did indeed benefit from racially integrated busing, although she has deceptively exaggerated her history on this issue. During the debates, she claimed she was “part of the second class to integrate her public schools.” She was part of the second fully integrated class at her elementary school, but the middle and high schools had been fully integrated beforehand and even her elementary school had black students before full integration. Furthermore, Harris has also claimed that she would never have become a U.S. senator without integrated busing — an extremely dubious claim, since she moved to Canada for middle school and high school.
When asked if she thinks Biden is “out of touch,” Harris said, “No, not necessarily.”
“I just think that he and I have a difference of opinion about the significance of who those people were and our perspective in perhaps who we think of them in terms of their reputation,” she said, getting in yet another subtle jab on the former vice president.
While Booker has come out swinging against Biden, appearing desperate in his attacks, Harris has shown a great deal more nuance in her disagreements with the former vice president. She began her debate attack with the words, “I don’t think you are a racist,” and she has consistently expressed her respect for Biden, acting personally hurt that he would betray her by supporting segregationists.
Harris has surged to third place in primary polls following the debate, tying with Warren and closely on the heels of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Biden still leads the field with more than twice her numbers. While Booker seems desperate, Harris seems savvy. Yet both are still more grating and would struggle to become the candidate most Americans would rather drink a beer with, a test considered key for presidential races.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.