WATCH: Biden, Harris Have One of the Most Intense Exchanges of the Night Over Busing

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Posted: Jun 28, 2019 6:00 AM
WATCH: Biden, Harris Have One of the Most Intense Exchanges of the Night Over Busing

Source: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate had several fiery moments, including a tense exchange between Sen. Kamala Harris (California) and former Vice President Joe Biden on the issue of race and busing.

Not only did Harris take aim at Biden over his recent comments about working with segregationist senators, she also dredged up Biden’s opposition to busing minority students to better school districts.

 “I do not believe you are a racist,” Harris said to Biden. “And I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground, but 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 reputation and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.”

Harris looked as if she was on the verge of tears while telling Biden that as a little girl in California, she was bused to school. 

Biden said her comments about him were a “mischaracterization” of his positions. 

“The fact is that in terms of busing, the busing, I never — you would have been able to go to school the same exact way because it was a local decision made by your city council,” he said. “That’s fine. That’s one of the things I argued for, that we should not be — we should be breaking down these lines.”

When pressed further by Harris, Biden said it wasn’t busing he opposed but “busing ordered by the Department of Education.”

“It’s a failure of states to integrate public schools in America,” Harris shot back. “I was a part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California, public schools almost two decades after Brown v. Board of Education.”

Biden again argued that was because of a local decision. “That’s where the federal government must step in, that’s why we have the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act. That’s why we need to pass the Equality Act, it’s why we need to pass the E.R.A. Because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people,” she said.

“I have supported the E.R.A. from the very beginning when I ran — I supported the E.R.A. from the very beginning,” Biden replied. “I’m the guy that extended the Voting Rights Act for 25 years. We got to the place where we got 98 out of 98 votes in the United States Senate doing it. I have also argued very strongly that we, in fact, deal with the notion of denying people access to the ballot box. I agree that everybody wants the — anyway, my time is up, I’m sorry.”

Biden opposed the federal government becoming involved in integrating schools. 

"I oppose busing. It's an asinine concept, the utility of which has never been proven to me," he told a Delaware weekly in 1975. "This is the real problem with busing -- you take people who aren't racist, people who are good citizens, who believe in equal education and opportunity, and you stunt their children's intellectual growth by busing them to an inferior school."

Some Conservatives saw this issue as yet another win for President Trump.