Biden: 'I don't have to atone' in busing controversy

Biden: 'I don't have to atone' in busing controversy
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Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBudget official says he didn't know why military aid was delayed: report Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide READ: Foreign service officer Jennifer Williams' closed-door testimony from the House impeachment inquiry MORE on Thursday dismissed the growing controversy surrounding his past stance on school busing, saying he’s been a staunch supporter for civil rights throughout his political career. 

“I don’t have to atone. My record stands for itself. I’ve never been accused of anybody by my state or when I’ve been running as not being an overwhelming supporter of civil rights and civil liberties,” Biden told reporters in Independence, Iowa.

Biden’s remarks come exactly one week after Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide Harris gets key union endorsement amid polling plateau MORE (D-Calif.) tore into him over his past opposition to busing and his comments praising his ability to work with segregationist senators while in Congress.

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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,” Harris told Biden at the first Democratic presidential primary debate. “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.” 

“On this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats, we have to take it seriously, we have to act swiftly,” she added when discussing busing. 

Harris surged in national and statewide polls after the broadside, while Biden’s lead shrunk, suggesting the attack dented Biden’s armor as the packed field’s front-runner.

Biden said he would not go after the other primary contenders over their past records, saying the short amount of speaking time allotted during the crowded debates does not allow candidates to put certain issues in context.

“It depends on whether or not the rest of the team on the stage wants to talk about the future. Here’s what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to go back and use the same tactic they’re trying to use,” he said. "I’m not going to go back and talk about the record of anyone from 10, 20, 30 years ago.”

“There’s a lot out there that a lot of people would like to do differently than they did, but everything is lost in context as well,” Biden added. “So you can easily distort it, particularly in 60 seconds if you have 30 seconds to respond. So what I’m going to do is answer the questions I’m asked and try to move the debate where I think the Democratic Party needs to go in order for any one of us to win.” 

Biden also responded to reports that surfaced Thursday in which Harris said busing students today should be “in the toolbox of what is available and what can be used for the goal of desegregating America’s schools,” appearing to retreat from the mandate she tried to get Biden to commit to at the debate.

Biden said Harris is “absolutely right,” adding “look, she’s a good person, she is smart as can be, and she feels strongly.”