Biden Confronted With Debate Question About Past Comments on School Segregation

Biden Confronted With Debate Question About Past Comments on School Segregation

The former vice president’s response invoked his wife, who is a teacher, and mentioned a record player.




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CreditCreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times

The record of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on race and school desegregation once again came to the forefront during a Democratic debate, this time focusing on a comment he had made in 1975 on inequality: “I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.”

Mr. Biden — who had been confronted in July’s debate over his record on busing in a tense exchange with Senator Kamala Harris — smiled broadly but seemed taken aback by the question from the ABC correspondent Linsey Davis on Thursday.

His response rambled, discussing a record player and invoking his current wife and his deceased wife — who both worked as teachers — then ended with a reference to a figure who had come up in an earlier, unrelated question: President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela.

“Well, that was quite a lot,” Julián Castro, the former housing secretary, quipped in response to Mr. Biden’s answer.

The exchange began when Ms. Davis, pointing out Mr. Biden’s past comment, asked him whether he currently thinks Americans need to repair the legacy of slavery in the United States.

DAVIS: Mr. Vice President, I want to come to you and talk to you about inequality in schools and race. In a conversation about how to deal with segregation in schools back in 1975, you told a reporter, “I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather, I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation, and I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.” You said that some 40 years ago. But as you stand here tonight, what responsibility do you think that Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?

BIDEN: Well, they have to deal with the — look, there’s institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Redlining, banks, making sure we are in a position where — look, you talk about education. I propose that what we take the very poor schools, the Title I schools, triple the amount of money we spend from $15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise to the $60,000 level.

Number two, make sure that we bring in to help the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home. We have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy. The teachers are — I’m married to a teacher, my deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. Make sure that every single child does, does in fact, have 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds go to school. Not day care, school.

We bring social workers into some and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t want to help, they don’t know what — they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player — on at night, make sure that kids hear words, a kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time we get there.

DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

BIDEN: No, I’m going to go like the rest of them do, twice over. Because here’s the deal. The deal is that we’ve got this a little backward. And by the way, in Venezuela, we should be allowing people to come here from Venezuela. I know Maduro. I’ve confronted Maduro. Number two, you talk about the need to do something in Latin America. I’m the guy that came up with $740 million, to see to it those three countries, in fact, changed their system so people don’t have a chance to leave. Y’all acting like we just discovered this yesterday.

“Well, that was quite a lot,” said Mr. Castro, before recalling his own childhood in a segregated neighborhood in San Antonio.

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