Anna Sheffer
June 28, 2019 9:47 am

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.

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.

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.

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:

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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