Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden delivers a 20-minute campaign speech at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair August 08, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Getty/Chip Somodevilla)

Joe Biden "misspoke" about "poor kids" being "just as bright" as "white kids," campaign says

Biden's latest verbal blunder came as he was addressing a crowd made up of mostly Asian and Hispanic voters


Shira Tarlo
August 9, 2019 9:22PM (UTC)

Former Vice President Joe Biden came under scrutiny Thursday night after telling a crowd made up of mostly minority voters in Iowa that "poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids."

Biden, who has emerged as the frontrunner in national and early state polls of the crowded Democratic primary field, made the remarks while speaking about education at a town hall in Des Moines hosted by the Asian & Latino Coalition PAC.

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"We should challenge students in these schools that have advanced placement programs in these schools," Biden said. "We have this notion that somehow if you're poor, you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids."

After a brief pause, he added: "Wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids. No, I really mean it, but think how we think about it."

President Donald Trump's re-election campaign quickly seized on Biden's remarks Thursday night, sharing a video of the verbal blunder on the "Trump War Room" Twitter account in a post that was re-tweeted by more than 7,500 users and viewed more than 880,000 times as of Friday afternoon.

Biden has a well-documented record of verbal blunders and embarrassing slips of the tongue for which he has, in the past, referred to himself as a "gaffe machine."

Biden's Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield issued a statement Friday amid the criticism, arguing that the former vice president simply "misspoke and immediately corrected himself during a refrain he often uses to make the point that all children deserve a fair shot, and children born into lower-income circumstances are just as smart as those born to wealthy parents."

She also took a jab at the Trump campaign, who she claimed was "desperate to change the subject" away from the president's racism.

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"As we approach the two year anniversary of Trump calling neo-Nazis and Klansmen 'very fine people,' Donald Trump is desperate to change the subject from his atrocious record of using racism to divide this country," Bedingfield said, referencing Trump's infamous "both sides" defense after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a self-professed neo-Nazi killed a counter-protester.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is also running for the Democratic presidential nomination, also sought to draw attention to Biden's remarks — and sharply criticized his campaign's response.

"To quickly dismiss @JoeBiden's words as a mere 'slip of the tongue' is as concerning as what he said," de Blasio said on Twitter. "We need to have a real conversation about the racism and sexism behind 'electability.'"

Thursday was not the first time Biden’s comments on race have prompted criticism.

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Throughout the 2020 election cycle, Biden has come under fire for his civil rights record, as well as remarks he made earlier this year about his "civil" working relationship with segregationist senators in the 1970s.

Biden apologized last month for warmly recalling his memories of working alongside segregationist senators during his time in the Senate — a move he pointedly resisted for weeks. Speaking to a majority black audience in the key early-voting state of South Carolina, Biden said he regretted those remarks, which drew criticism from many Democrats and prompted renewed scrutiny of his record on race.

"Now, was I wrong a few weeks ago to somehow give the impression to people that I was praising those men who I successfully opposed time and again?" he asked. "Yes, I was. I regret it. I'm sorry for any of the pain and misconception I may have caused anybody."

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The former vice president, however, stopped short of saying that it was wrong of him to work with senators who were staunchly opposed to desegregation as he went on to defend his civil rights record.

"But did that misstep define 50 years of my record for fighting for civil rights — racial justice — in this country? I hope not. I don't think so. That just isn't an honest assessment of my record," Biden said. "I'm going to let my record and character stand for itself and not be distorted or smeared."

Biden also faced backlash for his past opposition to "busing," an effort to achieve racial desegregation in schools by transporting black students to local schools attended by mostly white students. The former vice president argued at the time that the policy was a "rejection of the entire black awareness concept, where black is beautiful, black culture should be studied; and the cultural awareness of the importance of their own identity, their own individuality."

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In response, the former vice president argued that his stance on the issue  was "taken out of context," and he reiterated his support of voluntary school busing and court-ordered busing mandates, but opposed busing when it was mandated by "unelected" officials.

In February 2007, on the day he launched his candidacy for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Biden found himself defending comments made a week earlier about then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in an interview with the New York Observer.

In the interview, Biden described Obama as "the first sort of mainstream African-American, who is articulate and bright, and clean and a nice-looking guy."

He issued a statement that day, stating: "I deeply regret any offense my remark in the New York Observer might have caused anyone. That was not my intention and I expressed that to Sen. Obama."

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Shira Tarlo

Contact Shira Tarlo at shira.tarlo@salon.com. Follow @shiratarlo.

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