Former Vice President Joe Biden apologized on Friday for the conduct of his top South Carolina surrogate, who has been accused of racial insensitivity.
During the eight Democratic presidential primary debate, Biden was confronted by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer over comments made by South Carolina state Sen. Dick Harpootilan, a longtime confidant. This week, Harpootlian attacked a fellow legislative colleague, state Rep. Jerry Govan, for supporting Steyer rather than Biden. In a broadside, issued on social media, Harpootlian implied Govan’s support was purchased by Steyer.
“Mr. Money Bags a.k.a Tom Steyer has paid S.C. State Rep. Jerry Govan almost $50,000 for a month worth of work,” Harpootlian said, citing Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings indicating Steyer was paying Govan’s consulting firm for its services. “Is he pocketing the dough or redistributing the wealth?”
Shortly after Harpootlian made his gripe known, Govan called a press conference at the state capitol to respond. Flanked by members of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus, Govan not only defended his conduct but claimed Harpootlian’s attack was racially motivated. Govan’s allies, citing Harpootlian’s long history of attacking black American elected officials, went a step further by demanding Biden repudiate his surrogate publicly.
At Friday’s debate, Steyer, who is quickly gaining on Biden among South Carolina’s black voters, echoed the sentiment directly to Biden.
“I think you should come over and disavow the statements that this man made that were openly racist, that were wrong, and the legislative black caucus is against,” the California billionaire said. “I’m asking you to join us and do the right thing.”
The former vice president, for his part, refused to address the issue head-on, attempting to dismiss the criticism by highlighting his long-standing relationship with black American voters nationally. When pressed by Steyer, though, Biden admitted that he had already discussed the issue with Harpootlian.
“I’ve already spoken to Dick Harpootlian, and he, in fact, is, was — is — I believe, is sorry for what he said,” the former vice president said.