When Kamala Harris and Joe Biden Clashed on Busing and Segregation

Perhaps no moment from the first Democratic debates in June was more dramatic than the tense exchange between former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Kamala Harris of California. The two Democrats sparred on the issues of race, segregation and school busing.

  • About an hour into the debate held June 27, Ms. Harris, a black former prosecutor, leapt into the cross-talk with a request to speak “on the issue of race.” She then trained her attention on Mr. Biden, and after making clear that she did not believe he was a racist, proceeded to sharply criticize him for having made “very hurtful” comments about having worked with two segregationist senators.

  • Ms. Harris then also recalled Mr. Biden’s opposition to school busing in the 1970s and opened up about her own history. “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,” she said. “And that little girl was me.”

  • Mr. Biden called her remarks “a mischaracterization of my position across the board.” Moments later, he added: “I did not oppose busing in America,” Mr. Biden said. “What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education.”

  • In reality, Mr. Biden was a leading opponent of busing in the Senate during the 1970s and 1980s, and his opposition went beyond the federal government’s role in the practice.

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