Kamala Harris got personal when calling out Joe Biden’s history on busing

The first Democratic debates of the 2020 presidential race have arrived, and already there have been plenty of memorable moments. In the two-part debate, split over June 26th and June 27th, 20 candidates shared their thoughts on issues like climate change, LGBTQ equality, and health care. And some, like California Senator Kamala Harris, weren’t afraid to get personal. On the second night of the debate, Harris challenged former Vice President Joe Biden about his past opposition to integrating schools through busing, saying that racial inequality “cannot be an intellectual debate.”

The New York Times notes that in the 1970s, Biden opposed busing students to white-majority or black-majority schools in order to integrate them. In 1975, he supported an anti-busing bill introduced by Senator Jesse Helms, who opposed the civil rights movement. Biden went on to back other measures to stop court-ordered busing. A spokesperson for Biden, however, recently told the Times that Biden had supported integration but felt that busing placed too much of a burden on black families.

During the debate, Harris brought up both Biden’s anti-busing track record and recent comments he made about the “civility” in his relationships with segregationists.

"Vice President Biden, I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you, when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground," Harris said, according to CNN. "But I also believe—and it's personal—it was actually hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country."

According to Vox, the California senator went on to mention a “little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools” via busing.

"That little girl was me," she said. "So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly."

NPR notes that Biden then called Harris’s claims “a mischaracterization of my position across the board.” He went on to defend his past position on civil rights and to argue that he didn’t totally oppose busing.

"What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education," he said. "That’s what I opposed."

In a June 28th interview with CBS This MorningHarris addressed criticism from the Biden team over her comments.

“It was about just speaking truth and as I’ve said many times, I have a great deal of respect for Joe Biden…but he and I disagree on that,” she said.

She continued:

"My purpose was to really just make sure that in this conversation we are appreciating the impact on real people of policies that have been pushed in the history of our country."

It remains to be seen how this exchange will affect the candidates’ popularity, and with more than a year until the 2020 election, there is a long way to go until we find out. But Harris is right: When it comes to racial equality, we have to take it seriously.

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