Joe vs. Everybody: Biden Pile-On Comes Fast During Democratic Debate

June 29, 2019, 3:06 AM UTC

It didn’t take long before Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden faced the wrath from his challengers during the second night of the debate Thursday in Miami.

Of course, there was that stunning moment Biden had during a heated exchange with California Senator Kamala Harris over Biden’s recent comments on “finding common ground” with Senators James Eastland and Herman Talmadge, whom he called Democratic segregationists.

Biden was rattled during the defining five-minute powerful exchange with Harris; he also withstood attacks by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and California Congressman Eric Swalwell. While Biden’s debate strategy apparently was to stay above ground, tout his own record, and criticize President Donald Trump—calling him “a liar” and “a phony”—Biden’s fellow debaters had other plans.

While Harris said she didn’t believe Biden was a racist, his comments struck a nerve.

“It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two U.S. senators who built their reputations and careers on the segregation of races in this country,” Harris said.

She also went after Biden opposing busing in the 1970s, a policy that Eastland and Talmadge were similarly against.

“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day,” she said. “And that little girl was me.”

Biden fired back during the tense confrontation. He said that he does not praise racists, and called Harris’ comments “a mischaracterization of my position across the board.”

Biden also forcefully defended his work in the Senate and replied that he opposed busing and the federal implementation of that policy by the Department of Education.

“If we want to have this campaign litigated on who supports civil rights and whether I did or not, I’m happy to do that,” he said. “I was a public defender, I didn’t become a prosecutor.”

While the battle with Harris briefly made her the top trending topic on Google in the U.S., Biden also briefly clashed with Sanders. When Sanders wasn’t touting his agenda of Medicare for all, free college tuition, and forgiving student loan debt, he questioned Biden’s vote for the Iraq war nearly two decades ago.

“One of the differences that Joe and I have in our record is Joe voted for that war. I helped lead the opposition to that war, which was a total disaster,” Sanders said. “I will do everything I can to prevent a war with Iran which would be far worse than the disastrous war with Iraq.”

Even Trump, who is attending the G20 Summit in Japan, couldn’t resist taking a jab at both Biden and Sanders via Twitter.

“I heard it was not a good day for Sleepy Joe or Crazy Bernie. One is exhausted, the other is nuts—so what’s the big deal?” Trump tweeted early Friday.

On Thursday, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet also took aim at Biden during the debate, attacking Biden’s claims that he drove hard bargains with Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to preserve some of former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts.

“The deal that he talked about, with Mitch McConnell, was a complete victory for the Tea Party,” Bennet said. “That was a great deal for Mitch McConnell. It was a terrible deal for America.”

Meanwhile, Swalwell was the first candidate to challenge Biden, urging the 76-year-old six-term senator and two-time vice president to repeatedly to “pass the torch” to the next generation of Democrats, echoing comments Biden said more than three decades ago.

“If we’re going to solve the issues of automation, pass the torch. If we are going to solve the issues of climate chaos, pass the torch. If we are going to solve the issues of student loan debt, pass the torch. If we are going to end gun violence for families who are fearful of sending their kids to school, pass the torch,” the 38-year-old Swalwell said.

Biden, smiling, snapped back.

“I’m still holding onto that torch,” he said. “I want to make it clear to you.”

More must-read stories from Fortune:

—What the 2020 Democratic candidates didn’t say during the second debate

Harris has a strong showing, stuns Biden on night 2 of Democratic debate

—2019 Democratic debate night 1: Highlights

—2019 Democratic debate night 2: Highlights

Fact-checking claims from night 1 of the Democratic debate

Fact-checking claims from night 2 of the Democratic debate