Former Vice President Joe Biden is still leading in most national and state polls, but he appears to recognize that he can no longer just ignore the candidates breathing down his neck. Exposed as vulnerable on issues of race at the last Democratic debate, Biden lashed out on Wednesday, promising that black challengers like Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Cory Booker would be met with resistance if they tried to mischaracterize his political record.
This week, Biden released his criminal justice reform plan, which is a complete reversal of the infamous 1994 crime bill that he fought hard to pass in the Senate. But while the new plan was an attempt to show minority communities that he understood the problems with mass incarceration, Biden’s critics said it was an example of too little, too late.
“It’s not enough to tell us what you’re going to do for our communities, show us what you’ve done for the last 40 years. You created this system. We’ll dismantle it,” Booker tweeted.
On Wednesday, Biden hit back. Speaking to reporters at an NAACP event, Biden insisted that Booker had his record all wrong.
“Cory knows that’s not true, number one. Number two, you know the significant portion of the incarceration that occurred before the crime bill was written,” Biden said.
Referring to Booker’s tenure as mayor of Newark, Biden said: “His police department was stopping and frisking people, mostly African American men. We took action against them; the Justice Department took action against them, held the police department accountable. He objected to federal interference. If he wants to go back and talk about records, I’m happy to do that. But I’d rather talk about the future. I challenge him or anyone else to tell me how he has a better plan than I have for moving from here.”
Biden also addressed Harris, who won the night last time with her pointed attacks on the former senator’s record of opposing federally-mandated busing.
“I didn’t respond to an attack, ‘You’re not a racist,’” Biden said of his performance. “Which is a nice thing to say. It was really reassuring,” he continued sarcastically.
Biden said he would highlight Harris’s confusing support for Medicare for all and explain to the American people what such a plan would do to both their healthcare options and their taxes.
Biden has presented himself all along as the “moderate” Democrat in the race, and it appears that he’s now willing to engage his more progressive opponents along those lines. It remains to be seen if there’s any room left for that kind of approach in the party of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.