Top Democrats on Sunday struggled with Joseph R. Biden’s comment that African Americans who support President Trump “ain’t black,” a remark for which he was forced to apologize as it threatens to cost him support among that crucial Democratic voting bloc.
Rep. Val Demings, a Florida Democrat and potential ticket-mate for Mr. Biden, said the former vice president shouldn’t have made the remarks.
“Look, [the] vice president shouldn’t have said it, he apologized for it,” Ms. Demings, who is black, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “He engaged in the conversation. I’m glad he did.”
Ms. Demings called on President Trump, whose campaign slammed the remarks as “racist and dehumanizing,” to engage in a real debate about race in America.
Mr. Biden had said in an interview with The Breakfast Club’s Charlamagne tha God, who was expressing doubts about the choice between the two presidential candidates, last week that if someone has a problem figuring out whether they’re for him or Mr. Trump, they “ain’t black.”
Rahm Emanuel, the former Chicago mayor and chief of staff to President Barack Obama, on Sunday said the comments violated a cardinal rule of politics that campaigns have to project that they’re fighting to earn every single vote.
“What this said underneath was, ‘I’m going to get your vote no matter what I do because the other guy is worse than me,’ and that violates Politics 101,” Mr. Emanuel said on ABC’s “This Week.”
He said the comments could increase pressure on Mr. Biden to choose a black female as a running mate.
Ms. Demings fits that description, as does 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, a former presidential-campaign rival of Mr. Biden.
Mr. Biden has already pledged to pick a woman to be his ticket mate.
“It has an impact on it, a weight on the scale, et cetera,” Mr. Emanuel said. “And I think I give the Biden campaign credit for immediately jumping on it and trying to deflate it. Everybody is united in the party with a single goal of beating President Trump.”
Charlamagne tha God said the black community is looking for major policy commitments from Mr. Biden.
“The apology is cool, but the best apology is actually a black agenda,” he said Sunday on MSNBC.
Asked about Mr. Biden’s potentially picking someone like Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota to be on the Democratic ticket, Charlamagne said Democrats have to worry about black-voter apathy on election day.
“You can’t act like this is the most important election ever but run a campaign from your basement and not make some real policy commitments to the black community, not listen to some of the demands that the black community [is] making,” he said.
The Trump campaign immediately sought to capitalize, pushing a “#YouAintBlack” T-shirt and releasing digital ads tied to the remarks and Mr. Biden’s history of supporting tough-on-crime policies that many African-Americans oppose.
“While Joe Biden’s incessant record of racism has never been vetted by the mainstream media conglomerates, we will no longer let white liberal elitists or the fake news media define what it means to be Black in this country,” said Trump campaign senior adviser Katrina Pierson.
Mr. Biden later walked back the remarks, saying he “shouldn’t have been such a wise guy” and shouldn’t have been “so cavalier.”
“I don’t take it for granted at all, and no one … should have to vote for any party based on their race, their religion, their background,” he said.
Mr. Biden’s strength among black voters helped propel him to clinch the Democratic nomination.
After winning the endorsement of House Majority Whip James Clyburn, the top-ranking black Democrat in the U.S. House, Mr. Biden won the South Carolina primary in late February and posted a solid showing on Super Tuesday a few days later as his rivals began steadily dropping out of the race.
Charlamagne tha God said that beyond the vice presidential pick, he had also wanted to ask Mr. Biden about reparations for slavery and why the former vice president doesn’t necessarily support full-blown legalization of marijuana at the federal level, rather than decriminalization.
“He has to do something that energizes his campaign, that brings some actual enthusiasm to his campaign so those 4.4 million Obama voters who stayed home in 2016 — more than a third of them black — don’t do that this year,” he said.
Lower-than-expected turnout among key planks of the Obama coalition, including black voters, contributed to Hillary Clinton’s shocking loss to Mr. Trump in 2016.
The Breakfast Club has been a must-stop appearance for the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, and Charlamagne tha God has done a better job pressing the candidates and eliciting newsworthy comments than much of the mainstream media at times.
During a May 2019 interview with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the radio host likened Ms. Warren’s sketchy claims of Native American ancestry to Rachel Dolezal, who resigned from her NAACP leadership post in 2015 after her white parents said she was falsely claiming to be black.
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