Former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, on Friday afternoon expressed regret for telling a radio host that Black voters torn between voting for him and President Trump “ain’t Black,” remarks that ignited a firestorm online.
“I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy,” Biden said in a call with the US Black Chambers, later saying that he had not expected to join the call. “I shouldn’t have been so cavalier.”
His remarks came hours after a testy exchange with Charlamagne Tha God, a host on “The Breakfast Club,” a nationally syndicated morning show popular with Black millennials. In the interview, during which the former vice president sidestepped a question about marijuana legalization and his running mate selection, Biden also made clear that he felt there was no reason Black Americans would consider voting for Trump.
“If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black,” Biden said.
The remark sparked immediate pushback on social media, with activists and conservatives jumping on Biden, 77, for acting as the arbiter of Blackness. His words also exposed wounds among Democrats that date to 2016, when many felt the party took Black voters for granted.
“I don’t take it for granted at all,” he said later Friday.
This is not the first time Biden has had to walk back a remark related to race. Last summer, after weeks of criticism, he apologized for warmly reminiscing about working relationships with segregationist senators.
Despite that and a series of other controversies throughout the primary, Biden was the overwhelming favorite of older Black voters, who played the central role in reviving his candidacy after bruising early losses. Now, though, as he competes against Trump and his unified Republican base, Biden is also seeking to win over and energize younger, more progressive Black voters who were skeptical of him in the primary.
Trump himself has a history of incendiary rhetoric related to race.
When he launched his presidential campaign in 2015, Trump called many Mexican immigrants “rapists.” Campaigning in 2016, he asked Black voters, ‘‘what the hell do you have to lose?”
In 2017, he said there good people on “both sides” of the clash in Charlottesville, Va., between white supremacists and anti-racist demonstrators that left one counterprotester dead.
In 2018, during a private White House meeting on immigration, Trump wondered why the United States was admitting so many immigrants from “shithole countries” like African nations. He also blasted four Democratic congresswomen of color, saying they hate America and should “go back” to where they come from, even though all are US citizens and three were born in the United States.
On Friday, though, the president’s campaign quickly sought to take advantage of Biden’s remark. On a call with reporters that was organized by the Trump campaign, a top adviser, Katrina Pierson, and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican in the Senate, rapped Biden for the comment.
“Joe Biden has a history of saying dehumanizing things when it comes to Black Americans,” Pierson said.
Scott accused Biden of “negative race-baiting.”
Scott released a statement on Twitter before the call with reporters, reminding Biden that “1.3 million Black Americans already voted for Trump in 2016.”
“This morning, Joe Biden told every single one of us we ‘ain’t Black,’” Scott said. “I’d say I’m surprised, but it’s sadly par for the course for Democrats to take the Black community for granted and browbeat those that don’t agree.”
Symone Sanders, a senior adviser for Biden, later tweeted that the comments were in jest.
In another part of the interview, Biden assured the radio host that he intended to inspire Black voters in the general election. Biden said Black voters knew him and his record and would value his close kinship with former president Barack Obama.
Near the end of Biden’s appearance on the radio program, host Charlamagne Tha God, pressed him on reports that he is considering Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is white, to be his running mate. The host told Biden Black voters “saved your political life in the primaries” and “have things they want from you.”
Biden said that ‘‘I guarantee you there are multiple Black women being considered. Multiple.”
In a television interview with CNBC on Friday morning, Biden pledged that he would repeal the tax cuts signed by the president in 2017 and raise the corporate tax rate, and that he would not raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000, as he seeks to outline his plan for the US economic recovery in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Biden gave some of his most detailed explanations of his economic policy. He rejected the idea that he would govern as an economic progressive, saying, “I have a record of over 40 years, and I’m going to be Joe Biden. Look at my record.”
Biden also said he thought large corporations like Amazon should begin to pay their taxes, though he sidestepped a question on whether the large conglomerate should be broken up by the government.
“I think Amazon should start paying their taxes,” Biden said. “I don’t think any company, I don’t give a damn how big they are, Lord Almighty, should absolutely be in a position where they pay no tax.”
The latest jobs report showed millions more workers joined the ranks of the unemployed this week, bringing the total of jobless claims to nearly 39 million in just over two months. Biden has tried to pin the devastation on Trump’s administration.
“His slowness is costing lives and costing jobs and costing our ability to rebound,” Biden said Friday.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.