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Joe Biden declared he “should not have been so cavalier” on Friday after he told a prominent black radio host that African Americans who back President Donald Trump “ain’t black.”
Charlamagne Tha God pressed Biden on reports that he is considering Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is white, to be vice president and told him black voters "saved your political life in the primaries" and "have things they want from you."
“I’m not acknowledging anybody who is being considered,” Biden said. “But I guarantee you there are multiple black women being considered. Multiple.”
A Biden aide then sought to end the interview, prompting the host to say, “You can't do that to black media.”
Biden responded, “I do that to black media and white media” and said his wife needed to use the television studio.
He then added: “If you’ve got a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or for Trump, then you ain’t black.”
The host countered that conversations about Biden’s running mate aren’t about President Donald Trump, whom many black voters view as racist.
“Take a look at my record,” Biden said, citing his work as senator to extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “The NAACP has endorsed me every time I’ve run. Come on, take a look at my record.”
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee quickly moved to address the fallout from his remark. In a call with the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce, added to his initial public schedule, Biden said he would never “take the African American community for granted.”
“I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy,” Biden said. “No one should have to vote for any party based on their race or religion or background.”
The rebukes spanned from allies of Trump's reelection campaign — anxious to go on offense after weeks of defending the president's response to the coronavirus pandemic — to some black activists, who warned that Biden still must to court black votes, even if African Americans do overwhelmingly oppose the president.
“None of us can afford for the party or for this campaign to mess this election up, and comments like these are the kinds that frankly either make black voters feel like we’re not really valued and people don’t care if we show up or not,” said Alicia Garza, a Black Lives Matter co-founder and principal of Black Futures Lab.
Biden has emphasized his relationship with black voters, noting throughout the campaign his dependence on black voters in his Delaware Senate races and his partnership as President Barack Obama’s top lieutenant.
Black voters helped resurrect Biden’s campaign in this year's primaries with a second place finish in the Nevada caucuses and a resounding win in the South Carolina primary after he’d started with embarrassing finishes in overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire.
Older black voters especially sided with Biden over a wide Democratic field that included several black candidates, including Kamala Harris. The California senator is believed to be a contender for the vice-presidential nomination. Other prominent black women mentioned include Georgia voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Florida Rep. Val Demings, Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge and Susan Rice, Obama's former U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to Biden, said his parting comment in Friday's interview was “made in jest."
“Let’s be clear about what the VP was saying,” Sanders tweeted. “He was making the distinction that he would put his record with the African American community up against Trump’s any day. Period.”
Trump's campaign seized on Biden’s comments on Friday.
“He truly believes that he, a 77-year-old white man, should dictate how Black people should behave,” said Katrina Pierson, a senior advisor to Trump’s campaign.
The president has a history of incendiary rhetoric related to race.
When he launched his presidential campaign in 2015, Trump called many Mexican immigrants “rapists.” In 2017, he said there good people on “both sides” of the clash in Charlottesville, Virginia, between white supremacists and anti-racist demonstrators that left one counter-protester dead.
Last year, during a private White House meeting on immigration, Trump wondered why the United States was admitting so many immigrants from “shithole countries” like African nations. He also blasted four Democratic congresswomen of color, saying they hate America and should “go back” to where they come from, even though all are U.S. citizens and three were born in the U.S.