Biden on comment to black radio host: 'I shouldn't have been such a wise guy'

He had quipped that blacks voting for Trump this fall "ain't black."

May 22, 2020, 4:58 PM

Presumptive Democratic Nominee Joe Biden has come under fire for comments he made during an interview with “The Breakfast Club” radio program, in which he quipped that if African American voters support President Trump over him in November, they aren’t “black.”

"Well, I’ll tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black," Biden told radio personality Charlamagne tha God, who hosts the program, which is particularly popular among black millennials, a voting bloc the former vice president is hoping to woo.

"It don't have nothing to do with Trump, it has to do with the fact -- I want something for my community," Charlamagne replied.

“Take a look at my record! I extended the Voting Rights Act 25 years' I have a record that is second to none. The NAACP has endorsed me every time I've run. I mean, come on, take a look at the record," Biden fired back.

Later Friday, Biden joined a call with the National Black Chamber of Commerce and conceded that he was “much too cavalier” in his remarks, and said he did not take the black vote for granted.

"I know the comments have come off like I was taking the African-American vote for granted. But nothing could be further from the truth,” Biden said on the call.

"I shouldn't have been such a wise guy," Biden added, “I don't take [the black vote] for granted at all. And no one, no one should have to vote for any party, based on their race, their religion, their background. There are African-Americans who think that Trump was worth voting for. I don't think so, I'm prepared to put my record against his. That was the bottom line and it was really unfortunate, I shouldn't have been so cavalier,” Biden said.

Biden also offered strong criticism of President Trump’s rhetoric on race.

“Donald Trump...this is the same man who called Africa -- you know -- s-hole countries, while also claiming there were fine people on both sides in Charlottesville as those racists came out of the fields carrying torches. He's lied about President Obama's birth certificate,” Biden said.

Biden has consistently criticized Trump’s rhetoric on race, frequently charging in speeches on the campaign trail that the president is “fanning the flames” of white supremacy and hate in America. The presumptive Democratic nominee has also made the tragic 2017 events in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a woman was killed protesting a rally attended by white supremacists, a centerpiece of his campaign, as well as Trump’s comments that there were “very fine people,” on both sides that took part in the event.

In this screen grab taken from a video posted on YouTube, Joe Biden appears on The Breakfast Club.
Breakfast Club Power/YouTube

Earlier Friday, Biden’s campaign said the comments were made “in jest” and were intended to show Biden’s confidence in his record supporting minority communities as opposed to President Trump’s record which has included a travel ban that affected people coming from predominantly Muslim countries, hardline immigration policies and comments about blacks and Latinos seen as offensive by many.

“Vice President Biden spent his career fighting alongside and for the African American community. He won his party's nomination by earning every vote and meeting people where they are and that's exactly what he intends to do this November,” Symone Sanders, a senior advisor for Biden tweeted following the interview.

“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,” Sanders continued.

Biden’s comments that sparked criticism, which came towards the end of a nearly 20-minute long, at times combative, interview that touched on Biden’s views on criminal justice reform, marijuana legalization, and delved into his role in crafting the controversial 1994 Crime Bill that critics argue had a disproportionate impact on minority communities and which critics say helped lay the groundwork for mass incarceration.

In a statement given to the news website Mediaite, Charlamagne said his response to Biden during the interview stood on its own.

“We have been loyal to Democrats for a long time, black people have invested a lot into that party and the return on investment has not been great,” he wrote. “As Biden said in our brief interview when I asked him if Dems owe the black community ABSOLUTELY was his answer. So let’s see what you got!!! Votes are Quid Pro Quo. You can’t possibly want me to Fear Trump MORE than I want something for my people,” the statement read.

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign quickly sought to cast the comment as racist and condescending.

"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," Katrina Pierson, a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign, who is also African-American, wrote in a statement released Friday morning.

“That is the most arrogant, condescending comment I’ve heard in a very long time and that’s saying something,” Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the lone black Republican in the U.S. Senate, said in an interview Friday on Fox News.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the American economy, Trump has often attempted to appeal to black voters by citing record low unemployment levels.

“The Democrats always play the Race Card, when in fact they have done so little for our Nation’s great African American people. Now, lowest unemployment in U.S. history, and only getting better,” Trump said in a July 2019 tweet.

While black unemployment has reached record lows during the Trump administration according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many economists view the continued economic growth since the middle of 2009, when Democratic President Barack Obama was in office, as the primary explanation for hiring, according to a fact check of Trump’s claims done by the Associated Press.

Biden’s remarks drew criticism from some activists who say he still has work to do to engage minority communities and win their votes this November.

“The comments were offensive, insensitive, out of touch...It’s just not good for the presumed future leader of the Democratic Party in our nation to say anything like that,” Yvette Simpson, an ABC News contributor who leads the progressive group Democracy for America, said Friday of Biden’s comments on “The Breakfast Club.”

“I think it sounds like [Biden] is taking this for granted. I think he believes that anybody who doesn't like Trump is automatically going to vote for him. And that he doesn't have to earn the vote of base voters, whether they be women or black and brown people or what have you. That's false,” Simpson added.

Others urged Biden to show that he “values” the voters that comprise the base of the Democratic Party, and will only win their votes if they feel his dialogue with them is genuine.

“Joe Biden doesn't get to decide who is black, or what black voters want, or what women of color voters want. He can decide that the issues and concerns of black voters matter, and engage us in conversations that can ultimately turn the election,” Aimee Allison the founder and president of She the People, a political network that aims to elevate women of color in politics, wrote in a statement provided to ABC News.

In an interview Friday afternoon, Sanders said that Biden was not taking any votes for granted.

“If the question people have is does Vice President Biden believe that he has to earn the votes of black voters, of Latino voters, of young people, of progressive of women, of working class voters, of blue collar voters in this country? Absolutely,” Sanders said on MSNBC.

Other experts say Biden’s comments fundamentally misunderstand the lack of representation that has historically driven black voters to disengage from the political process.

“Ultimately, the choice between Biden and Trump is not a choice between: if you're black, whether you're going to support a Republican, or if you're black, you’re going to support a Democrat. Historically black voters tend to not engage at all, because neither of the choices really reflect their political desires or political goals and what they think is best for their community at the time. So in that's not so much offensive or even insulting, but just mis-recognizes the complexity and sophistication of black voters really at this point in time,” Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University, told ABC News.

However, Neal said there remains a difference between how some black Americans may react to Biden’s comments, and how many feel about the rhetoric and policymaking coming out of Donald Trump’s White House.

“The disconnect, when we think about the same kind of rhetoric coming from the White House at the moment, is that Donald Trump, other than lip service to black historical figures and certain black folks that he has a relationship with, he hasn't enacted policies that suggest he has the best interest of black folks,” Neal said.

“So it’s not so easy for some of [Trump’s] more problematic statements to just roll off the backs of black folks in the way that Joe Biden is such a known entity and known for making the kind of comments that he made this morning,” Neal added.

Throughout the interview with Charlamagne, Biden defended his involvement with the 1994 crime bill, an issue that he has faced intense scrutiny on throughout his third run for the presidency.

When asked why he was hesitant to acknowledge the negative impact the bill and other legislation had on communities of color, as Hillary Clinton did on the program in 2016, Biden pushed back.

“She was wrong. What happened was, it wasn't the crime bill. It was the drug legislation. It was the institution of mandatory minimums, which I oppose,” Biden shot back.

Biden was also asked about his current views on marijuana, and his advocating for decriminalization instead of legalization until more scientific studies are conducted about the long-term impacts of the drug.

"No one should be going to jail for a drug crime. Period," Biden said.

“I think we got decades and decades of studies from actual weed smokers though,” Charlamagne argued.

“I know a lot of weed smokers,” Biden replied.

Biden relied heavily on support from the African-American community throughout this year’s Democratic primary, especially among older black voters, who propelled him to a landslide victory in South Carolina that many credit with reviving his campaign.

“I won overwhelmingly. I told you when I got to South Carolina. I won every single county. I won a larger share of the black vote than anybody has, including Barack [Obama],” Biden said.

Biden won black voters in the South Carolina primary in February by 44 points over the second place finisher in the contest, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, according to exit polls.

The former vice president will likely need to turn out black voters this fall at higher rates than were seen in 2016, when Hillary Clinton narrowly lost to Trump.

A poll conducted this week by Quinnipiac University showed Biden with a 78-point lead with African-American voters over Trump.

In 2016, Trump carried just 8% of the black vote according to exit polls after making a stark and unorthodox pitch to them during one campaign event in the battleground state of Michigan.

"You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed -- what the hell do you have to lose?" Trump said in an off the cuff comment during an August 2016 rally in Dimondale, Michigan.

During his interview on “The Breakfast Club” on Friday, Biden was also asked about who he is planning to vet to be his vice presidential running mate, and while he did not offer any specific names, he committed that there are multiple black women that are in the running.

“I'm not acknowledging anybody who is being considered but I guarantee you, there are multiple black women being considered. Multiple,” Biden said.

Several prominent African-American lawmakers, nearly all of whom have backed Biden’s bid including House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., Civil Rights icon and Georgia Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. and Reverend Al Sharpton, have urged Biden to strongly consider choosing a woman of color to round out the presidential ticket.

“I think Vice President Biden should look around. It would be good to have a woman of color...It would be good to have a woman, who looks like the rest of America,” Lewis told reporters in early April.

ABC News' Will Steakin and Rachel Scott contributed to this report

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