In one of the most explosive moments of night two of the first Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Kamala Harris blasted former VP Joe Biden over his record on race, saying that she was one of the black children bussed to a better school when he opposed busing minority students to better school districts.
“As the only African-American on stage, I would like to speak,” Harris said.
“I do not believe you are a racist,” Harris said to Biden. "There was a little girl in California who was a part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me."
HARRIS: And I’m going to now direct this at Vice President Biden. I do not believe you are a racist. And I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground, but I also believe — and it is personal, and it was actually very hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputation and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. And you know, there was a little girl in California who was a part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me. So I will tell you that, on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly. As attorney general of California, I was very proud to put in place a requirement that all my special agents wear body cameras and keep those cameras on.
BIDEN: A mischaracterization of my position across the board. I did not praise racists, that is not true. Number one. Number two, if we want to have this campaign litigated on who supports civil rights and whether I did or not, I’m happy to do that. I was a public defender. I didn’t become a prosecutor. I came out and left a good law firm to become a public defender when, in fact, when, in fact, when, in fact, my city was in flames because of the assassination of Dr. King. Number one, number two. Excuse me — as the vice president of the United States, I worked with a man who, in fact, we worked very hard to see it to, we dealt with these issues. And in a major, major way. The fact is that in terms of busing, the busing, I never — you would have been able to go to school the same exact way because it was a local decision made by your city council. That’s fine. That’s one of the things I argued for, that we should not be — we should be breaking down these lines. So the bottom line here is, look, everything I have done in my career, I ran because of civil rights. I continue to think we have to make fundamental changes in civil rights. And those civil rights, by the way, include not just African Americans but the L.G.B.T.Q. communities.
HARRIS: But Vice President Biden, do you agree today, do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then? Do you agree?
BIDEN: I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education. That’s what I opposed.
HARRIS: It’s a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. I was a part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California, public schools almost two decades after Brown v. Board of Education.
BIDEN: Because your city council made that decision. It was a local decision.
HARRIS: That’s where the federal government must step in, that’s why we have the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act. That’s why we need to pass the Equality Act, it’s why we need to pass the E.R.A. Because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.
BIDEN: I have supported the E.R.A. from the very beginning when I ran — I supported the E.R.A. from the very beginning. I’m the guy that extended the Voting Rights Act for 25 years. We got to the place where we got 98 out of 98 votes in the United States Senate doing it. I have also argued very strongly that we, in fact, deal with the notion of denying people access to the ballot box. I agree that everybody wants the — anyway, my time is up, I’m sorry.