Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, jumped to defend former Vice President Joe Biden after the latter’s record on civil rights became a target at the first Democrat presidential debate.
Perez, who served with Biden in the Obama administration, was asked during an appearance on Fox News Sunday if the former vice president’s inability to properly address his recent praise for segregationists and longstanding opposition to busing were damaging.
“Biden’s overall record on civil rights is clear,” he said. “The Democratic Party’s overall record on civil rights is clear.”
Perez said that it was important for voters to “look at the totality of what” every single presidential candidate has done over “their career,” specifically on issues like voting rights, police brutality, and equal pay, among others. He added those positions needed only to be compared to those of President Donald Trump.
“Voters are going to look at the totality of everybody’s record,” he said. “The reality is every single Democrat running for president on the issue of civil rights is so far ahead of where this president is.”
At the debate on Thursday, Biden was confronted by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) for having praised the “civility” of two ardent segregationists, the late-Sens. James Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA), at a fundraiser in New York City last month. Biden invoked the segregationists Democrats while touting his ability to forge “consensus,” but did not elaborate on what they were able get accomplish together.
“I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground,” 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 senator who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country.”
Harris also criticized Biden for opposing busing to integrate public schools for the majority of his career in public office.
“It was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing,” she said. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bussed to school every day. That little girl was me. So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate… we have to take it seriously.”
Biden tried to defend himself by claiming Harris had mischaracterized his record. Instead of providing evidence to dispute Harris’s indictment, the former vice president only muddled his position on busing and inaccurately claimed that he never offered praised for racists.
After the debate, Biden’s team was reportedly “freaking out” about the his poor performance. Biden’s team appeared to be correct to worry. Most political observers seemed to agree that Biden underperformed and was caught off the guard by brunt of Harris’s criticism.
Some including, like Rev. Jesse Jackson, even claimed that Biden missed the opportunity presented by the debate to make amends for his past.
“It was a moment for him to admit an error in judgment at that time,” Jackson said on Friday. “He chose not to.”
Perez seemed to echo the sentiment on Sunday, saying it was important for Biden “to explain his position” as the presidential race continued to unfold. He quickly, though, pivoted the conversation back to Trump.
“Vice President Biden and other Democrats have been leading the charge and we have a frontal assault with this president on these basic core civil rights and that’s what this is about,” he said. “That’s what this campaign has been about.”
Perez, who received Biden’s support in his bid to become DNC chair in 2017, is officially supposed to be neutral in the nominating contest. In the past, however, he has not shied away from defending Biden from controversy. In April, Perez publicly stated the allegations that Biden inappropriately touched multiple women were “not disqualifying” for him to be the nominee.