Over 13 months after a tense and headline-producing exchange on racial issues during a presidential primary debate, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris indicated an interest in moving on from the discussion in an exclusive interview with ABC News.
Asked to reconcile her current praise of Joe Biden and his campaign with her criticism of the former Delaware senator’s decades-old positions on school busing during the June 2019 Democratic presidential debate, Harris argued that the topic is less important than the public health and economic crises currently affecting Americans.
“I want Joe Biden to be the next president of the United States. I believe in Joe Biden, I believe in his perspective, and frankly I think that that conversation is a distraction from what we need to accomplish right now and what we need to do,” the senator told ABC’s Robin Roberts.
Harris and Biden’s joint interview, their first since accepting the Democratic nomination, were conducted by Roberts and “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir for a special edition of “20/20” called “The Ticket: The First Interview,” which aired Sunday on ABC.
During the debate last year, Harris told Biden that it was “hurtful” to hear him speak about his work alongside segregationist senators, including to oppose busing — which diversified schools by transporting students beyond their local districts.
“You know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bussed to school every day,” Harris said during the debate. “And that little girl was me.”
During his joint interview with the two Democratic candidates, Muir asked them how they have moved forward from that moment.
“I think the American people wanna know that these aren’t debate moments, these aren’t political points, that when you say they were hurtful and personal, you mean that…I’m curious what the vice president has said to you since then that made you think, ‘OK. I’m OK with this. I can join this ticket,'” Muir later asked Harris.
Harris listed several facts about racial disparities in the United States, including that “black families own one-tenth of the wealth of white families,” and “black and Latinos are twice as likely to die from COVID as white families,” and said that one of the roots of these “systemic” issues was “a failure to address the truths that may be difficult truths.”
“Joe Biden does that. And he is doing that. He is addressing these truths. He speaks these truths,” the senator said. “And one of the reasons I’m so excited to be on this ticket with him and God willing to serve with him is that he has the confidence of character, and a real genuine commitment to address these issues.”
In the interview, Biden addressed some of the criticism Harris faced following the debate from critics who believed she was too hostile, saying that he believed the California senator was held to a different standard because of her gender.
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“I think there is an inherently greater burden on women seeking the presidency than on men,” Biden said. “I think there’s an inherent sexism that just pervades our politics.”
The former vice president, who said that he doesn’t “hold grudges,” went on to compare Harris to the “strong” women in his own family, including his mother, sister and daughter.
“I’ve been surrounded by, my whole life, by and — not a joke — by women who are smarter than I was,” he said. “Tough, as tough, women who said what they thought and did it in a way that wasn’t always palatable.”
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