Joe Biden apologized Friday for having told a popular radio host and African American voters in an interview that “you ain’t black” if they back President Donald Trump’s reelection.
At the end of an 18-minute radio interview with The Breakfast Club’s Charlamagne tha God airing Friday morning, Biden responded to the host’s desire for the candidate to answer more questions by saying,”You got more questions? I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”
Hours later, Biden expressed regret for the remarks, calling them “really unfortunate” and saying he “shouldn’t have been such a wise guy.”
“I shouldn’t have been so cavalier in responding,” he said during a phone call with the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce Friday afternoon. “No one should have to vote for any party, based on their race or religion or background,” Biden said.
At another point on the call, Biden admitted, “I know that the comments have come off like I was taking the African American folks for granted … but nothing could be further from the truth.”
“I’ve never ever done that, and I’ve earned it every time I’ve run. I was making the point that I have never taken a vote for granted,” he said.
Tensions had erupted from the beginning of Biden’s interview with Charlamagne tha God, when the apparent Democratic nominee told the radio host he knew he had been critical of his candidacy in the past.
“You don’t know me,” Biden said.
Following questions about why Biden had shown “so much resistance” to admitting how his 1994 crime bill affected the spike of black incarcerations, the former vice president grew frustrated after it was suggested that he had done more harm than good to the African American community.
The interview, which was taped Thursday and broadcast Friday, was halted by a campaign staffer after the radio host asked Biden whether he would commit to choosing a black running mate in reward for the strong support black Americans had given him throughout his career.
“You can’t do that to black media,” Charlamagne said. “I can do that to white media, black media because my wife has to go on at six o’clock,” Biden responded, referencing a virtual event Dr. Jill Biden had to attend. Then, noting that the radio host had more questions, Biden proceeded to make his “you ain’t black” remark.
Biden has said he plans to pick a woman running mate, but has not said she would have to be black. He has committed to nominating an African American woman to the Supreme Court.
A Biden senior adviser tweeted that the candidate’s remark was made “in jest.”
Biden has often grown defensive of his criminal justice record, which has been a subject of scrutiny since the launch of his presidential campaign over a year ago, in large part due to his spearheading of the 1994 crime bill when he served as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.
However, the repeated attacks on his record, including by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., at the first Democratic debate, did not stop him from earning an overwhelming amount of support from the black community in South Carolina that propelled him to become the apparent Democratic nominee last month.
Biden made that point during the interview when asked if he could attract enough African American and Hispanic youth voters to win the presidency.
“Remember when they said ‘Biden can’t win the primaries?’ I kicked everybody’s ahh…,” he said, his voice trailing off. “I won overwhelmingly.”
The former vice president stressed he will win the African American vote and is committed to reforming the crime bill by implementing his plan to reduce the number of inmates and decriminalizing marijuana.
Charlamagne told Biden that his skepticism about Biden’s criminal justice record has “nothing to do with Trump,” but everything to do with his personal urge to help his community overcome deep racial disparities.
“Take a look at my record, man,” Biden said. “I extended the Voting Rights Act 25 years’ I have a record that is second to none. The NAACP has endorsed me every time I’ve run. I mean, come on, take a look at the record.”
The Trump campaign’s Katrina Pierson called Biden’s remarks “racist and dehumanizing,” saying, “Joe Biden believes black men and women are incapable of being independent or free thinking.”
On a call with the press hosted by the Trump campaign, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the GOP’s sole African-American senator, said he was “shocked and surprised” when he heard Biden’s “you ain’t black” comment, calling it “negative, race-baiting rhetoric.”
“I was struck by the condescension and the arrogance in his comments,” Scott said. “I could not believe my ears that he would stoop so low to tell folks what they should do, how they should think and what it means to be black.”
Monica Alba contributed.