Former Vice President Joe Biden declared Wednesday he is not going “to be as polite” at the second round of Democratic debates held next week in Detroit.
“I’m not going to be as polite this time,” Biden said before taking aim at 2020 rival California Sen. Kamala Harris, who attacked Biden over race at the first set of debates in Miami last month. “Because this is the same person who asked me to come to California and nominate her in her convention.”
The comments came during a Detroit fundraiser, as reported by The Detroit News.
Of the 20 candidates who participated in the debates last month, Biden saw his poll numbers slip the most, while Harris saw the largest jump in support, nearly doubling in the polls.
Harris performed strongly in Miami, going after the former Delaware senator for touting his friendly relationships with segregationist senators as examples of “civility.” The California Democrat also highlighted Biden’s previous opposition to busing, a policy used in the mid-20th century to integrate schools.
“Vice President Biden, I do not believe you are a racist,” Harris said standing right next to Biden in the center of the stage. “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. It was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.”
Biden’s pledge Wednesday to go on the offensive next week is in keeping with the aggressive tone he has set in recent days, trading barbs in the press with another 2020 candidate, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who labeled Biden at the 110th NAACP convention as the “architect of mass incarceration,”
“For a guy who helped to be an architect of mass incarceration, this is an inadequate solution to what is a raging crisis in our country,” Booker told reporters at the convention, criticizing Biden’s recent plan on criminal justice reform. “We have 5% of the global population but 25% of the world’s prison population. … For him not to have a more comprehensive, bold plan to deal with this is unacceptable to me, especially because he is partly responsible for the crisis that we have.”
Biden’s proposal released this week features a sharp reversal from what the tough-on-crime Democrat supported during his time in the Senate. While he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden played a key role in crafting the 1994 crime bill, which many have blamed for the exceptionally high incarceration rates in the United States, particularly among minorities.
Biden’s new plan, however, includes a different approach to reform with a focus on rehabilitation over incarceration. Biden is now calling for the decriminalization of marijuana, the elimination of the death penalty, and the end of incarceration over drug use.
The former vice president responded to Booker’s attacks by turning attention to the New Jersey Democrat’s record as mayor of Newark, criticizing his police department for targeting minorities and arguing that the problem was so bad that the Obama administration had to step in.
“His police department was stopping and frisking people, mostly African American men,” Biden told reporters at the NAACP convention, according to the Washington Post. “We took action against them; the Justice Department took action against them, held the police department accountable.”
Shortly after, the Biden campaign released a statement affirming an aggressive defense of the former vice president’s record on race, while criticizing Booker’s past executive leadership.
“At his inauguration as Mayor of Newark in 2006, Booker promised a zero-tolerance policy for minor infractions,” the statement reads. “Which is exactly the kind of policy that enmeshed many undeserving people in a criminal justice system that cast a huge shadow over their subsequent lives.”
Throughout the campaign, Biden’s record on race issues has come under increased scrutiny. While Biden worked to backtrack his comments related to his cozy relationships with segregationist senators, a closer examination of his past conducted by The Federalist’s David Harsanyi revealed Biden to be more than civil with segregationists, but rather he was an ally.
Biden, Booker, and Harris will each share the debate stage again during the second night of debates next week.
Biden remains the 25-candidate field’s front-runner with an average level of support of nearly 29%, more than a 13-point lead ahead of any other candidate in the race, according to RealClearPolitics’ latest aggregate of polls.