Joe Biden’s Democratic rivals delivered blow after blow on Friday morning, seeking to further diminish the presidential front-runner’s prospects after he delivered a shaky performance on Thursday night’s debate stage.
“I think that we have to have a nominee that’s up to this challenge, and I think that we’re going to see whether or not Joe Biden is,” Cory Booker warned Friday morning in an interview on CNN’s “New Day.”
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“And I don’t think you can fault folks like me for calling him out if he fails to live up to the standard our next nominee should have and speak to the real pain and real hurt that I think Kamala spoke to last night,” the New Jersey senator said.
In the most vivid scene from Thursday’s forum of 10 Democratic presidential candidates, Kamala Harris launched a raw onslaught against Biden, the primary field’s leader, for his opposition to federally mandated school busing in the 1970s.
The California senator revealed during the confrontation that she was bused during her childhood as part of the second class to integrate public schools in Berkeley, Calif., and also described as “hurtful” comments Biden made earlier this month about working with segregationist Mississippi Sen. James Eastland during his time in the Senate.
Asked Friday whether the comments and Biden’s busing record disqualify him as a candidate, Harris said that was “a decision for the voters to make.” She also brushed off accusations that raising those controversies Thursday amounted to a “low blow” against Biden.
“It was about just speaking truth,” Harris said on “CBS This Morning.”
“As I’ve said many times, I have a great deal of respect for Joe Biden. He has served our country over many years in a very noble way, but he and I disagree on that,” she said. “And it is a debate, this is a campaign where we should be discussing issues, and there will be contrast. And on this issue … there is a contrast of opinion on the significance of people who have served in the United States Senate and what they have done in terms of their policies.”
Speaking Friday at the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition convention in Chicago, Biden asserted that he “never, ever opposed voluntary busing” and instead supported “federal action to address root causes of segregation in our schools and our communities” — insisting that he has “always been in favor of using federal authority to overcome state initiated segregation.”
Biden added: “I know and you know, I fought my heart out to ensure that civil rights and voting rights, equal rights are enforced everywhere.”
Booker, who denounced Biden’s remarks about working with segregationist senators and later shared a phone call with the former vice president after he demanded Booker apologize for his criticism, said Friday that Biden “is going to have to talk a lot about his record” during the campaign. He mentioned Biden’s stance on busing and his role in the passage of the 1994 crime bill — a law Booker slammed as “sort of jet fuel to mass incarceration” in the U.S.
“We’re coming off of a president that is in the office right now who has hurt so many people with his rhetoric and with his policies,” Booker said, adding that the party’s nominee must be able to discuss America’s racial wounds “in an open and honest and even vulnerable way,” and not “fall into a defensive crouch and shift blame.”
Biden and Harris’ brawl loomed large over other 2020 candidates’ cable news appearances Friday morning, as several of them were pressed to judge Biden’s debate performance and his place in a leftward-lurching party.
Asked by MSNBC whether the 76-year-old Biden has acknowledged cultural and political shifts within the country and among fellow Democrats, Pete Buttigieg responded: “I think what we’re learning is some of these issues, we just got to think about them and talk about them differently in our time.”
The South Bend mayor added that there exists “a struggle if you have been in a certain pattern, you’re used to certain things because it’s how it’s worked in Washington for a very long time.”
John Hickenlooper said he “was surprised a little bit by how quickly it got intense” between Biden and Harris, describing their collision as a “direct and spirited exchange” between two candidates.
“Obviously, they had both made up their mind that I think Sen. Harris felt that she was going to go right at the vice president. I think the vice president was ready and was going to come right back at her,” the former Colorado governor told CNN’s “New Day.”
“I thought he came back,” Hickenlooper added. “She’s a prosecutor. She’s tough.”
Kirsten Gillibrand was reluctant to opine on Biden when asked by MSNBC whether he demonstrated that he could best Donald Trump in a televised debate.
“I think I demonstrated last night that I can beat Donald Trump on the debate stage, and that’s why I’m running for president,” replied the New York senator, who was unable to generate any major breakthrough moments Thursday evening.
“My job is not to comment on the qualifications or the strength of the male candidates in the race,” Gillibrand said. “My job is to tell the American people why I am the strongest candidate in this race. And why I have a vision for America that’s stronger and better.”
Michael Bennet, another of the presidential aspirants to spar with Biden on Thursday, said he thought the meeting of the candidates “went well” and resulted in “a spirited debate,” with “huge differences of opinion about things that need to be litigated by Democrats going into 2020.”
The Colorado senator had criticized Biden’s role in negotiating a deal with Senate Republicans to raise taxes by $600 billion while extending President George W. Bush’s tax cuts.
“That deal that the vice president struck with Mitch McConnell was part of that misplaced set of priorities,” Bennet charged on MSNBC.
“For me, it made no fiscal sense and it made no sense from the point of view of Democratic Party politics,” Bennet said.
Biden also came under attack after the debate from Bernie Sanders on matters of foreign policy. The Vermont senator tweeted late Thursday night a clip of his response to a question about the Iraq War, which Sanders opposed and Biden voted to approve in the Senate.
“I helped lead the opposition to the Iraq War,” Sanders wrote online. “Joe Biden voted for it. When we talk about foreign policy there is a very clear difference in this election. #DemDebate2.”