“I should not have been so cavalier,” Biden said on a call with US Black Chambers, an organization focused on promoting black-owned businesses.
“I’ve never ever ever taken the African American community for granted,” Biden said, adding “there are African Americans who think Trump is worth voting for” and “I’m prepared to put my record against his, that was the bottom line.”
Biden’s comment about African American Trump voters came during a contentious Friday morning interview on the popular black radio show “The Breakfast Club,” in which Biden was pressed to defend his record on issues affecting black communities.
The Trump campaign and its allies seized on the comment, calling it “racist” and evidence that Biden hasn’t earned the black vote.
The exchange occurred after a Biden staffer attempted to cut off the interview and host Charlamagne the God said, “You can’t do that to black media.” He then told Biden he needed to come back on the show before November because they had more questions for him.
“You got more questions, but I’ll tell you if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” Biden said.
“It don’t have nothing to do with Trump, it has to do with the fact — I want something for my community,” Charlamagne said.
The backlash was swift and the Biden campaign quickly defended the remark as an unserious quip.
“The comments made at the end of the Breakfast Club interview were in jest, but let’s be clear about what the VP was saying: he was making the distinction that he would put his record with the African American community up against Trump’s any day. Period,” said senior campaign adviser Symone Sanders, who is also black.
But the Trump campaign jumped all over it, including hastily scheduling a press call later in the day with black senior campaign adviser, Katrina Pierson, and the Republican’s sole black U.S. senator, Tim Scott of South Carolina.
“It is clear now more than ever, following these racist and dehumanizing remarks, that Joe Biden believes Black men and women are incapable of being independent or free thinking. He truly believes that he, a 77-year-old white man, should dictate how Black people should behave,” Pierson said in a campaign statement.
In a tweet, Scott accused Biden of telling the 1.3 million black Americans who voted for Trump in 2016 that they aren’t really black.
“I’d say I’m surprised, but it’s sadly par for the course for Democrats to take the black community for granted and brow beat those that don’t agree,” he said.
The Trump campaign is eager to peel off black voters from the Democrats who have long enjoyed them as a loyal and consistent voting bloc. Trump’s main pitch to black voters has been an attempt to convince them that Democrats don’t appreciate their longstanding support. Earlier this year, during an interview on Fox News, Trump said of black voters: “The Democrats cater to them a month before the elections and then they leave and they don’t do a damn thing for them.”
Biden has long touted the support he’s gotten from black voters, often citing how his home state of Delaware has the country’s eighth largest black population. Yet, during the primary, his support for the 1994 crime bill was often criticized, with some of his rivals arguing that it led to mass incarceration and tilted the system unfairly against African Americans. He was also criticized for his lengthy record of opposing mandated busing programs as a way to integrate schools.
But Biden’s eight-year partnership with the country’s first black president gained him significant support from black Democratic primary voters. He won key endorsements – chief among them Rep. James Clyburn in South Carolina – that propelled his campaign. He was trailing other Democratic candidates before he won a decisive victory in South Carolina aided by the support of 61 percent of the black vote there.
Biden has vowed to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court, and he’s also considering several black women as his running mate.
Black Biden supporters defended their candidate’s comment as perhaps inartful, but true at its heart.
“I would have said it differently,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist based in South Carolina and former Clyburn aide. “I think the point he was trying to make is that at the end of the day the agenda of Donald Trump and the Republican Party versus the agenda for the African American community that Joe Biden has put forth is night and day.”
Other Biden supporters pointed to Trump’s long history of incendiary comments directed at minority communities, including African Americans. In his presidency, he’s referred to African nations as “shitholes,” suggested four congresswomen of color “go back” to where they came from and attacked the late congressman Elijah Cummings’ congressional district in Baltmore as a “rat and rodent infested mess.”
“Trump is super racist. His campaign & his appeal is built on the perpetuation of white supremacy & white privilege. He stokes white fragility. When a Black person supports him I question their relationship to their Blackness and the community. This is what Biden was alluding to,” tweeted Touré, a black writer and commentator.
During the Democratic presidential primary, “The Breakfast Club” became a must stop for candidates who went on the show knowing the hosts would ask difficult and, at times, uncomfortable questions. But this was Biden’s first appearance.
The interview was tense from the start. At one point, Biden said, “You don’t know me,” and Charlamagne responded, “No, I don’t.”
Biden was defiant about his support for the black community over his long career and pushed back on the idea that only older black voters supported him.
“Remember when they said Biden can’t win the primaries. I kicked everybody’s a — I, uh, excuse me. I won, overwhelmingly,” Biden said.
Matt Viser contributed to this story.