Former CNN contributor says Biden hasn't 'fully dealt with' role in 1994 crime bill

Former CNN contributor Roland Martin said Wednesday that though former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNew York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Graham invites Giuliani to testify about recent Ukraine trip Booker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications MORE's recent comments about working with two segregationist lawmakers are "not the biggest issue" he faces, the remarks do spotlight a bigger problem for the presidential hopeful: his role in the controversial 1994 crime bill.

Biden sparked a controversy after he invoked his working relationships with two segregationist lawmakers, Sens. James O. Eastland (D-Miss.) and Herman Talmadge (D-Ga.), as an example of an era of civility during a fundraiser last week.

Martin, who is now a senior analyst at the news program "The Tom Joyner Show," argued that Biden's remarks serve as a reminder for voters of his broader criminal justice reform efforts and role in the crime bill, which many advocates and critics argue laid the groundwork for mass incarceration, particularly within African American and Latino communities.

"The segregationist comment is really not the biggest issue,” Martin told Hill.TV. "Biden has not fully dealt with the '94 crime bill.”

"He hasn't fully dealt with the video of him talking about 'lock em' up, giving more money to states to build prisons,” he said referring to a 1994 floor speech that Biden gave on the Senate floor.

“He has to contend with that,” he added.

The former vice president has repeatedly defended his efforts to pass the Clinton-era legislation, which he helped craft while serving as a senator from Delaware.

Just last month, Biden claimed that the legislation’s gun control provisions helped him “beat the NRA.”

"I’m the only guy ever nationally to beat the NRA,” he said before a crowd in New Hampshire. "Because when we did the crime bill — everybody talks about the bad things.”

Biden is poised to take center stage Thursday during the second night of presidential debates, alongside fellow contenders Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders 'outraged' after MLB threatens to cut ties with minor league teams Booker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications Democrats threaten to skip next debate over labor dispute MORE (I-Vt.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBooker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications Sanders revokes congressional endorsement for Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 Democrats trading jabs ahead of Los Angeles debate MORE (D-Calif.) among others.

Though a vast majority of Democratic voters say they plan to tune in, Martin told Hill.TV that he doesn’t think the first round of debates will be much of a “game changer.”

“Here’s the deal, this is the first debate, so I need people to calm down,” he said. “Tonight, literally is training camp if this is an NFL reference — this ain’t even preseason, we haven’t even got to the regular season.”

—Tess Bonn