Jesse Jackson appears to give Biden chilly response after civil rights speech

Prominent civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson appeared to avoid embracing former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida Supreme Court reinstates ban on curbside voting in Alabama MORE after the candidate delivered a lengthy speech that was billed as defense of his civil rights record.

The interaction comes amid renewed controversy over Biden's civil rights record, which received a shot in the arm after a heated exchange during Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate.

Jackson appeared to give Biden a chilly response when Biden, 76, hugged him after delivering a 25-minute address to Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH coalition in Chicago. 


Jackson politely shook Biden’s hand as he walked away from the podium on Friday, but kept his arms at his side impassively when Biden draped his arm over his shoulder and said something into his ear.

Jackson’s expression remained stoic until he quickly turned away from the former vice president. Biden's face also appeared downcast after the brief interaction. 

Jackson, 77, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2017, a neurological disorder that causes stiffness and tremors, and sometimes struggles with his speech and movement. 

On Thursday night, Biden got into a heated exchange with fellow candidate Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisObama to campaign for Biden in Florida Biden appears on Brené Brown's podcast to discuss 'empathy, unity and courage' The Hill's Campaign Report: Obama to hit the campaign trail l Biden's eye-popping cash advantage l New battleground polls favor Biden MORE (D-Calif.) over his 1970s stance on busing black students into majority white schools. His campaign has since gone on the defensive to clarify his position on busing and other issues.

Jackson appeared not fully satisfied by Biden’s explanation of his past record, saying on CNN that Biden was on “the wrong side of history.”

Jackson also disagreed with Biden’s declaration at the debate that Harris had “mischaracterized my position across the board.” 

“Kamala Harris, she was on point,” Jackson said.

Biden spoke Friday about his long experience of working with Jackson, but the two leaders have had moments of tension as well.   

Jackson was an outspoken opponent of the 1994 crime bill, which Biden oversaw as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  

Jackson called it in testimony before Congress an “ill-conceived bill fed by a media frenzy over crime.”

Conservative media outlets have recently revived Biden’s use of the term “that boy” to refer to Jackson and former Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), who is white, during the 1984 presidential campaign. 

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Obama endorses Espy in Mississippi Senate race Durbin signals he isn't interested in chairing Judiciary Committee MORE (D-N.J.) recently called out Biden for telling the audience at a fundraiser that former segregationist Sen. James Eastland (D-Miss.) “never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’ ”

“You don’t joke about calling black men ‘boy,’ ” Booker said.

And Biden's recent comments about reaching across the aisle to get things done in Congress with segregationist senators has drawn considerable backlash from other Democrats.

Biden opened his remarks Friday by talking about his sharp exchange at Thursday’s debate with Harris, one of two African American candidates running for the Democratic nomination.

“I want to be absolutely clear about my record and position on racial justice, including busing. I never, never, never, ever opposed voluntary busing — and as a program that Sen. Harris participated in and it made a difference in her life,” he said, making reference to Harris’s story at the debate about being a member of the second class of African American students to integrate the public schools of Berkeley, Calif.

“I’ve always been in favor of using federal authority to overcome state-initiated segregation,” he said. “In fact I cast the deciding vote in 1974 against an amendment called the Gurney amendment, which would have banned the right of the federal courts to be able to use busing as a remedy."

Biden then said “I fought my heart out to ensure that civil rights and voting rights and equal rights are in force everywhere.”

“These rights are not up to the states to decide. They’re our federal government’s duty to decide. It’s a constitutional question to protect the civil rights of every single American and that’s always been my position. And so that’s why I ran for federal office in the first place,” he said. 

But Biden did not explicitly apologize for his support of anti-busing legislation early in his Senate career, something that Harris grilled him on during the debate.

He voted multiple times for anti-busing legislation in the early 70s, stating at the time that while he supported school desegregation, he opposed the federal government stepping in to force schools to integrate students.

Speaking before the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Friday, Biden quickly moved on to his record as a member of the Obama administration, touching on efforts of criminal justice reform.

“Ladies and gentlemen, in the Obama-Biden administration we commuted more sentences than the president did in the 13 previous [administrations] combined,” he said, alluding to the disproportionate number of incarcerated African Americans in the United States.

“My president gets much too little credit for all that he did. He was one of the great presidents of the United States of America and I’m tired of hearing about what he didn’t do,” Biden said to applause. “He had a backbone like a ramrod.”

The Hill has reached out to the Rainbow PUSH coalition for comment.

--Updated 6:06 p.m.