National Security

Harris Pummels Biden on His Civil Rights Record Until He Mutters, ‘My Time’s Up, I’m Sorry’

At the debate, a moment of confrontation and illumination

Image Credit: Shutterstock

It was both fascinating and cringeworthy — and almost certainly will give Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) a bump in the polls and in stature, at least for a few days.

As for former Vice President Joe Biden, who has been the leading 2020 Democratic candidate thus far, it doesn’t bode well.

During Thursday night’s primary debate among the second group of 10 Democratic presidential candidates in Miami, Florida, Harris pummeled Biden directly during a heated discussion on stage about his civil rights record over the years.

Related: All 10 Dems in Thursday Night’s Debate Want Health Care for Illegal Aliens

Harris said Biden’s past working relationship with two segregationists in Congress — men from their own party — affected her personally.

“I also believe — and it is personal — and it was actually very 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,” Harris said, looking directly at Biden.

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She was referring to Sens. James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia.

Early last week while at a New York fundraiser, Biden spoke about the importance of “civility” in politics — and began touting his ability over the years to work with Senate colleagues, even bringing up his good working relationship with those two defenders of segregation.

“We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done,” Biden said that night about the now-deceased Democratic lawmakers. He even quipped that Eastland “never called me ‘boy.’ He always called me ‘son.’”

In a moment of emotion, she shared her own story of being bussed as a young girl in California.

After those controversial remarks, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) called on Biden to apologize, which Biden refused to do — and clearly the sting of those comments about segregationists hadn’t subsided by last night.

“You worked with them to oppose busing,” Harris also said to Biden, referencing his efforts to limit orders for school desegregation through busing children from one neighborhood to another.

Then, in a moment of clear emotion, she shared her own story of being bussed as a young girl in California.

“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day, and that little girl was me,” Harris said.

Biden, after that attack, at first stood his ground.

He insisted her remarks about his past record were a “mischaracterization of my position across the board,” and that he, in fact, “did not praise racists.”

“I ran because of civil rights,” Biden declared, adding that he worked as a public defender after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. “I continue to believe we need to make fundamental change,” he added.

But Biden then stopped abruptly — appearing to give up.

Related: Is Biden’s Political Star Already Dimming More Than a Year Before the Election?

“Anyway,” he said, “my time’s up. I’m sorry.”

The Biden campaign, in comments to reporters afterward, insisted his civil rights record was “unassailable.”

Searches on Google for the word “busing” spiked more than 3,000 percent after Harris mentioned the issue, according to Google Trends and as noted by CNBC. And at one point during the Thursday debate, Harris was the top trending topic on Google in the U.S.

By the way, Harris herself or more likely a member of her campaign tweeted out the following just moments after the debate concluded:

Before her time as a senator, Harris was the attorney general of California from 2011 to 2017, and prior to that was the district attorney of San Francisco from 2004 to 2011.

Thursday night’s face-off concludes the first round of Democratic primary debates.

The second round takes place at the end of July.

Check out this video:

This article has been updated.

meet the author

Maureen Mackey served as editor-in-chief and managing editor of LifeZette for nearly five years. Before that, she held senior editorial positions at major publications, helping The Fiscal Times win a MIN Award for Best New Site as managing editor and Reader's Digest win an American Society of Magazine Editors Award for General Excellence as book editor. Her work has appeared in Real Clear Politics, CNBC, A Fine Line, AARP Magazine, Yahoo Finance, MSN, Business Insider, and The Week, among other outlets. She is a member of the Newswomen's Club of New York and the American Legion Auxiliary.

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