Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) in an interview that aired Friday defended taking a swipe at former Vice President Joe Biden in the first Democratic presidential debate.
Swalwell, 38, briefly captured the spotlight during Thursday’s debate for urging Biden, 76, to “pass the torch” to a younger generation of Americans. Biden responded by pivoting to his education proposals, including pre-kindergarten and free community college.
“It’s not about age, it’s about a mindset and us not being able to go to past leadership to address these really, really pressing issues now,” Swalwell told Hill.TV’s Krystal Ball following the debate when pressed over whether he thought Biden was too old.
Swalwell also criticized Biden over his past stances on school busing and touting his ability to work with two segregationist senators during his time in Congress.
“I don’t agree with his comments on busing,” the California Democrat told Hill.TV. “I’ll tell you, though, I don’t know what’s worse — nostalgia for segregationist senators in the ‘70s or quibbling over a vote on the crime bill, which we’ve seen in the last few weeks.”
The long-shot 2020 candidate added that it is this mindset that inspired him to run for president in the first place.
“We need a president who is in the present and always thinking about the future — that’s why I’m running for president,” he told Hill.TV.
Biden, the race’s current front-runner, has been faced renewed scrutiny over his civil rights record following his clash with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) at the first Democratic primary debate.
Harris told the former vice president that she found it “hurtful” to hear him talk about two segregationist senators — Sens. James Eastland (D-Miss.) and Herman Talmadge (D-Ga.) — “who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country.”
She went on to accuse Biden of working with the lawmakers for opposing busing to integrate schools in the 1970s.
“You also worked with them to oppose busing, and you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools,” she said Thursday, addressing Biden. “And she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”
Biden claimed Harris’s comments were a “mischaracterization” of his position “across the board,” and issued a statement following the tense exchange.
“For my entire career, I’ve fought my heart out to ensure that civil rights, voting rights, and equal rights are enforced everywhere,” Biden said Friday in an email. “These rights are not up to the states to decide. They are embedded in our Constitution. And, the federal government has a duty to protect the civil rights of every single American. That has always been my position.”
Still, Biden’s support has slipped 10 points, according to a Morning Consult/FiveThirtyEight poll that was released on Friday. Roughly 31 percent of voters said they’d vote for the former vice president if elections were held tomorrow, compared to about 41 percent of voters who said the same before the debate.