Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) got into another heated confrontation over the issue of busing to desegregate public schools at the second Democrat presidential debate on Wednesday.
The altercation was initiated by CNN when the debate’s moderators asked Harris if her position against federally mandated busing was the same as the one touted by Biden.
Harris began her response by saying it was “simply false” to claim she and the former vice president stood on the same side of the issue, before moving to broader denouncement of Biden and his recent praise of segregationists.
“When Vice President Biden was in the United States Senate working with segregationists to oppose busing, which was the vehicle by which we would integrate America’s public schools, had I been in the United States Senate at that time I would have been on the other side of the aisle,” she said.
The California Democrat added that had that effort been successful she or other African Americans would not have the opportunity to hold high positions in elective office.
“Had those segregationists had their way, I would not be a member of the United States Senate, Cory Booker would not be a member of the United States Senate, and President Obama would not have been in a position to nominate [Biden] to the place he holds,” she said.
Harris said that on the topic she and Biden could not “be further apart,” adding the former vice president was still refusing to acknowledge his past. The attack echoes the one Harris launched at the first debate when she confronted Biden for praising the “civility” of two segregationists Democrats, the late Sens. James Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA). Biden had invoked the men, who dedicated their careers to halting the progress of civil rights, while touting on the campaign trail his ability to forge legislative “consensus.”
In her attack, Harris was quick to point out that both Talmadge and Eastland were allies in Biden’s crusade against busing to integrate public schools.
“It was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing,” Harris said at the time. “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.”
The rebuke left Biden reeling to respond. The former vice president accused Harris of mischaracterizing his record, but rather than offering proof the 76-year-old frontrunner only muddled his stance on busing and falsely claimed to have never praised racists.
On Wednesday, Biden was ready to counter Harris’s criticism with a a few counter punches of his own regarding her record on school desegregation.
“When senator Harris was the attorney general for eight years in the state of California, there were two of the most segregated school districts in the country, in Los Angeles and in San Francisco,” the former vice president said. “And she did not — I didn’t see a single time she brought a case against them to desegregate them.”
Biden also attacked Harris’s record on prosecuting police brutality and alleged civil rights violations by law enforcement.
“She had a police department when she was there that in fact was abusing people’s rights and the fact that she … was told by her own people … that she should do something about and disclose to defense attorneys … the police officer did something that did not give [defense attorneys] information that would help your client.” he said. “She never did it.”
Harris called the statements false and claimed she spent her tenure as attorney general fighting against the tough on crime initiatives, such as the 1994 crime bill, that Biden helped author during his nearly 40-years in Congress.
“As attorney general of California … I am proud of the work we did,” she said. “Work that has received national recognition for what has been the important work of reforming a criminal justice system and cleaning up the consequences of the bills that you passed when you were in the United States senate for decades.”