Joe Biden’s campaign was forced on Wednesday to clarify comments the presumptive Democrat nominee made asserting President Donald Trump is the first racist to be elected to the White House.
The former vice president, who in the past has lambasted Trump for his divisive rhetoric, made the bewildering statement on Wednesday during a virtual town hall with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
“No sitting president has ever done this,” Biden told the union’s members, when discussing Trump’s use of terms like “China virus” to describe the novel coronavirus. “No Republican president has done this — no Democratic president. We’ve had racists, and they’ve existed, they’ve tried to get elected president. He’s the first one that has.”
Biden’s claim baffled many, especially since the country’s first 12 presidents were slaveholders, while others, like Franklin Pierce, were fierce opponents of the abolitionist movement. As such, when the former vice president’s remarks first began circulating on social media, they were the subject of derision, most notably from pundits and members of the media.
Twelve presidents enslaved black people. Many oversaw Jim Crow. Why say this? And I repeat: it isn’t about Trump “being a racist,” even the worst one ever. It is about what you’ll do, @JoeBiden, to fix or stop the racist policies that he has set in motion. https://t.co/0zwpnrtY9O
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) July 22, 2020
The 12 US presidents who owned slaves would like a word https://t.co/2ipPPXZ7rl
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) July 22, 2020
All the way, absolutely, COMPLETELY wrong. Just say less. We don’t want Trump. You’re the other choice. Just stop saying things like this. https://t.co/XXUCu2l3ck
— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) July 23, 2020
Shortly after the criticisms began, Biden’s senior adviser Symone Sanders attempted to clarify the former vice presidents’ comments. Sanders admitted that while there had been previous racist presidents, Trump was of a different caliber, comparable to someone like former Alabama governor George Wallace.
“There have been a number of racist American presidents, but Trump stands out … because he made running on racism and division his calling card and won,” she told NBC News. Adding that Trump “deliberately foments both, intentionally causing indescribable pain because he thinks it advantages him politically.”
Biden’s comments come only months after the former vice president triggered controversy and accusations of racism of his own when appearing to suggest that any black voter considering backing Trump over him was not black.
“If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” Biden told The Breakfast Club, a New York City-based radio program, in late-May.