Joe Biden defended his legislative record in an often contentious Friday morning interview with Charlamagne Tha God, the host of the popular radio show "The Breakfast Club," and argued that his presidential campaign was doing enough to reach out to black voters. At one point, Biden argued that black voters undecided on whether to vote for him or for President Trump "ain't black."
Later Friday in a phone call with members of the U.S. Black Chambers, a business organization, Biden sought to clarify and explain — but did not explicitly apologize — for the comments.
"I should not have been so cavalier. I've never, never, ever taken the African American community for granted."
"I shouldn't have been such a wise guy. I shouldn't have been so cavalier. ... No one should have to vote for any party based on their race, their religion, their background," Biden said. "There are African Americans who think that Trump was worth voting for, I don't think so. I'm prepared to put my record against his. That was the bottom line and it was ah — it was really unfortunate I shouldn't have been so cavalier."
In the interview with Charlamagne, the host asked Biden about comments from the rapper Sean Combs, who performs as Diddy, that Democrats take black voters for granted. Biden noted that he had won overwhelmingly in the South Carolina primary.
"I kicked everybody's — excuse me," Biden said, catching himself before he cursed.
"I need you to say that!" Charlamagne replied.
"I won every single county. I won the largest share of the black vote that anybody had, including Barack," Biden continued, noting that his home state of Delaware has the eighth largest black population in the country. "They're the folks that, as they say up my way, brung me to the dance. That's how I get elected every single time."
Biden also defended his support for the 1994 crime bill which implemented harsher penalties for minor drug offenses, and which exacerbated mass incarceration, affecting poor black communities in particular.
"The crime bill didn't increase mass incarceration, other things increased mass incarceration," Biden argued, noting that the Congressional Black Caucus at the time supported the bill.
Biden cited the "three strikes" rules and the mandatory sentences as something that President Clinton supported and he "opposed." Criminal justice experts have found that the bill both decreased crime and increased incarceration rates.
The presumptive Democratic nominee also offered that "no one should go to jail" for a drug crime, "particularly marijuana," and said he favors treatment over imprisonment.
"No one should be going to jail for a drug crime. Period," Biden said. When asked by Charlamagne why he supported decriminalizing marijuana instead of legalizing it outright, Biden said it was because there are ongoing studies on the long-term impact of marijuana use on the brain.
"I know a lot of weed smokers," Biden said.
Biden also "guaranteed" that he was considering a black woman to serve as his vice president. CBS News reported that Biden is, who is white, as a potential vice presidential pick. She is one of several contenders being scrutinized for the job by Biden aides.
"I guarantee you, there are multiple black women being considered. Multiple," Biden said.
Towards the end of the interview, a Biden staffer interrupted to say that the vice president was out of time.
"You can't do that to black media!" Charlamagne said.
"I do that to white media and black media," Biden replied. He promised to visit Charlamagne in New York and appear on "The Breakfast Club" again to answer more questions.
"If you have a problem figuring out if you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black," Biden said.
"It don't have nothing to do with Trump — it has to do with the fact that I want something for my community," Charlamagne countered. Biden replied that he should take a look at his voting record to see his longtime support for the black community.
Some black Republicans took issue with Biden's remark, including Michigan Senate candidate John James, who addressed Biden in a tweeted video: "You challenging me and millions of other people out there on their blackness, descendants of slaves, from you is some seriously condescending, out of touch bullcrap," and he questioned whether Biden should "even be running for president in the Democratic Party who says they're for black people."
South Carolina Senator Tim Scott told reporters on a Trump campaign call, "I thought to myself, I've been black for 54 years. I was struck by the condescension and the arrogance." Scott urged his Senate colleagues to disavow Biden's remarks and added, "Race baiting in the 21st century is an ineffective tool to attract one of the most intelligent voting blocs in the nation. He should respect African-American voters as individuals, not as a part of a group or a monolithic group of people."
Biden senior adviser Symone D. Sanders later clarified Biden's remarks, saying they were made in "jest."
"The comments made at the end of the Breakfast Club interview were in jest, but let's be clear about what the VP was saying: he was making the distinction that he would put his record with the African American community up against Trump's any day. Period," Sanders wrote on Twitter.
"The Breakfast Club" has become a popular venue for politicians looking to reach out to black listeners. Biden has recently appeared on other shows which cater primarily to a black audience, such as the show "Desus & Mero" on Showtime.
Ed O'Keefe contributed reporting.