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Biden apologizes for "pain" he may have caused from comments about working with segregationists

What Biden and Harris' spat means for 2020

2020 Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden apologized Saturday for his remarks a few weeks ago about working with segregationists in the Senate. The former vice president, who is 76, said at a campaign stop in Sumter, South Carolina that he has "changed" since he entered the Senate in the 1970s.

"Was I wrong a few weeks ago to somehow give the impression to folks that I was praising those people who I opposed time and again? Yes I was. I regret it and I'm sorry for any of the pain and misconception it may have caused to anybody," Biden said, to applause. "But for that misstep to define 50 years of my record of fighting racial injustice. That doesn't represent my record."  

Biden has been criticized for his age and political positions earlier in his career.

"America in 2019 is a very different place than the America of the 1970s. And that's a good thing. I've witnessed an incredible amount of change in this nation and I've worked to make that change happen. And yes — I've changed also," Biden said.

Biden also pushed back against criticism against his time in the Senate by noting his service as vice president to President Obama, who remains very popular in the Democratic Party and among black Democratic voters in particular.

"If you look at the issues I've been attacked on, nearly every one of them is for something well before 2008. It's as if my opponents want you to believe I served from 1972 until 2008 — and then took the next eight years off. They don't want to talk much about my time as vice president," the excerpt said.

Biden has been under increased scrutiny since the first primary debate at the end of June, when Sen. Kamala Harris challenged him over his relationships with segregationist senators and his opposition to federally imposed busing in the 1970s.

In his speech Saturday, Biden said he believed politicians needed to get to the root causes of segregation, like housing discrimination.

"Discrimination in housing has been one of the most pernicious forms of racism that has taken hold in this country. Wreaking havoc, wreaking havoc not only in education but denying generation after generation of African Americans the ability to create and pass on wealth," Biden said.

In an interview with CNN on Friday, Biden said he was surprised by the way Harris came at him in the debate.

"I was prepared for them to come after me but I wasn't prepared for the person who came at me the way she came at me," Biden said. 

Biden also defended his position on busing, saying that he supported busing in response to de jure segregation — that is, segregation imposed by law.

"If the court ruled or there was a law passed or a circumstance that a county a city or a state did that prevented black folks from being somewhere, then that is wrong and you should bus," Biden told CNN. "I even went so far, in the middle of that busing controversy, as saying use helicopters if that was necessary to make the point."

During the campaign, Biden has also been criticized for his role as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Anita Hill hearings in 1991, and his support for the infamous 1994 crime bill, which disproportionately affected black Americans. However, he remains the frontrunner in most state and national polls, although his lead is waning.