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Harris attacks Biden's record on civil rights in debate

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll: Buttigieg leads Democratic field in Iowa Press: Another billionaire need not apply Saagar Enjeti dismisses Warren, Klobuchar claims of sexism MORE (D-Calif.) went directly after Joe BidenJoe BidenPoll: Buttigieg leads Democratic field in Iowa Barr to launch anti-gun violence initiative during public impeachment hearing Biden will always represent the 'safety candidate,' says Democratic strategist MORE's record on civil rights Thursday night in one of the most dramatic moments of the presidential debate as Democratic rivals seek to claw into the former vice president's front-runner status in the race.

Biden and Harris clashed sharply over Biden’s record on civil rights after Harris interjected to bring up his controversial recent remarks about working with segregationist Sens. John Eastland (D-Miss.) and Herman Talmadge (D-Ga.) early in his Senate career.

Harris, breaking into the conversation out of turn over the objection of NBC moderator Chuck ToddCharles (Chuck) David ToddIntelligence Democrat: Stop using 'quid pro quo' to describe Trump allegations Brown confirms he won't enter 2020 race: 'I think it's a good field' National security adviser says ISIS leader's death marks 'great day' for US, world MORE, said she didn't think Biden was racist himself but said him invoking the names of two senators who built their careers on segregation was “hurtful.”

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“I do not believe you are a racist and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground," she told Biden.

"But I also believe, and it’s personal and I was actually very — it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country," she said.

Harris also accused Biden of working with the lawmakers on opposing busing black students to predominantly white schools.

“On this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats, we have to take it seriously, we have to act swiftly,” Harris said, receiving a huge round of applause from the audience.

Biden appeared angered by the dig and shot back that Harris “mischaracterized my position across the board.”

“I did not praise racists. It is not true, number one. Number two, if you want to have this campaign litigated on who supports civil rights and whether I did or not, I’m happy to do that. I was a public defender. I didn’t become a prosecutor,” Biden said, jabbing Harris over her career choice as a prosecutor and later attorney general of California.

Harris's campaign also addressed the moment on social media, echoing the senator's comments about being bused to school as a young girl in California.

Biden noted that he “left a good law firm” to become a public defender when the country was in turmoil after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. He also defended his record on busing.

“You would have been able to go to school the same exact way because it was a local decision made by your city council. That’s fine. That’s one of the things I argued for: that we should not be — we should be breaking down these lines,” he said.

“The bottom line here is: Look, everything I have done in my career — I ran because of civil rights. I continue to think we have to make fundamental changes in civil rights and those civil rights, by the way, include not just only African Americans but the LGBT community,” he said to brief applause.

Harris continued to press the attack, however.

“Vice President Biden, do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America?” she said.

Biden shot back: “I did oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education. That’s what I opposed."

Harris noted that growing up she was part of the second class to integrate public schools in Berkeley, Calif., almost two decades after the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown versus Board of Education, which declared school segregation unconstitutional.

Biden interjected that Harris was able to attend a predominantly white school “because your city council made that decision.”

Harris countered that it’s the federal government’s job to “step in” to ensure racial integration at local schools.