Biden defends his civil rights record at NAACP forum

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Joe Biden fired back at Democratic rivals who have attacked him over his record on civil rights at an NAACP forum on Wednesday.

Biden said that former President Obama would not have picked him as vice president had he been “wrong” on civil rights issues.

“They did a significant background check … I doubt he would have picked me if these accusations about me being wrong on civil rights was correct,” Biden said to cheers from the crowd. 

{mosads}Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Cory Booker (N.J.), two of Biden’s rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, have questioned Biden’s past record and rhetoric on race in an effort to cast him as a candidate from the past.

Harris catapulted into the top tier of Democratic presidential contenders after an exchange with Biden at the first Democratic primary debates, when she called his remarks about finding common ground with segregationist senators “hurtful” and attacked him for opposing a federal busing program aimed at integrating schools decades ago.

Booker has also taken a swipe at Biden, saying that the former vice president’s recollection of never having been addressed as “boy” by the segregationist senators was “hurtful” to black people and showed a “lack of understanding” about racial power dynamics.

Biden has slipped a little in the polls since then but has maintained his standing as the clear front-runner in the race, in part because of his strong support from black voters.

On Wednesday, Biden also defended his past support for a crime bill in the 1990s that critics say led to mass incarceration of black people and other racial minorities. Booker, who spoke earlier, called Biden “an architect of mass incarceration.”

“The 1994 crime bill we had a giant epidemic in America of violence, particularly in African American communities,” Biden said.

“The notion was overwhelmingly supported by the black caucus in the U.S. Senate by and large, the majority supported it, and black mayors supported it,” he said.

“But … every major initiative needs to be reformed. And we have now a systemic issue and too many African Americans in jail right now, so I think we should shift the whole focus from what we were doing in terms of incarceration to rehabilitation … It’s about getting them back engaged in the community,” he added.

At the Democratic debate last month, Biden defended himself from the racial attacks by mentioning that he was the vice president under the nation’s first-ever black president. But he has embraced Obama and his legislative record at every step of the way during the campaign.

On Wednesday, moderator April Ryan asked him if Obama was a “crutch” for him.

“It’s not a crutch, ask President Obama, I didn’t need any crutch,” Biden responded.

“The fact of the matter is, this is not a continuation of our administration. What it is, is there are new problems we face today that are different from the ones we faced at the time. But the fact of the matter is he’s a close friend, I’m very proud to have served with him.”

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