Joe Biden’s and Pete Buttigieg’s Records on Race Come Under Scrutiny at 5th Democratic Debate


Presidential candidate Joe Biden claimed on the Democratic debate stage Wednesday that he has broad support from black voters and the only black woman elected to the Senate, seemingly forgetting that 2020 candidate Kamala Harris is a California senator. Biden’s comment came amid multiple blunders during the debate, hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post in Atlanta. For more on the 2020 candidates’ discussion of race in their campaigns, we speak with Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, and Ryan Grim, D.C. bureau chief for The Intercept.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we continue on the fifth presidential primary debate — Democrat — in Atlanta, Georgia.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We’re now joined for a roundtable on last night’s debate — in Washington, D.C., we have Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of several books, including Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer. In Berkeley, California, Gabriel Zucman is with us. He’s professor of economics at UC Berkeley and the co-author of The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay. And in Atlanta, Georgia, we’re joined by Ryan Grim, the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for The Intercept, who was at the debate last night.

AMY GOODMAN: And here in New York City, Rashad Robinson is with us, president of Color of Change, his latest piece for The Nation headlined “Forget About Plans, Which Candidate Can Get Things Done?” Let’s begin with former Vice President Joe Biden speaking last night.

JOE BIDEN: I’m part of that — that Obama coalition. I come out of the black community in terms of my support. If you notice, I have more people supporting me in the black community, that have announced for me, because they know me, they know who I am — three former chairs of the Black Caucus, the only African-American woman that’s ever been elected to the United States Senate, a whole range of people. My point is —

SENKAMALA HARRIS: No, that’s not true.

SENCORY BOOKER: No, that’s not true. That’s not true.

SENKAMALA HARRIS: The other one is here.

JOE BIDEN: No, I said the first. I said the first African American elected, the first African American. So my point is…

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Kamala Harris is putting her hands up, and she’s the one who corrects him: No, you don’t have the support of your rival – right? — Senator Harris. What are you talking about? Rashad Robinson, can you explain what happened there?

RASHAD ROBINSON: Yeah. I think it’s always tricky when white folks try to outblack black folks. And I think Biden would do his self a favor at looking what Bill Clinton did back in ’07 and ’08 in South Carolina, where he sort of talked about his history and support with the black community, to undermine the insurgent candidacy of President Obama at the time, and folks began to turn on him and began to push back on that. Hillary Clinton enjoyed a lot of support back then from a wide range of black folks. But what she enjoyed and what Biden enjoys is a lot of support from insiders, from the establishment, from folks that are looking at sort of the calculation and think that this is the candidate that white people will accept and white people will vote for. And as we get closer and closer to Election Day, if Biden is not willing to consolidate support, when — we’re going to see people moving away. And we already see that in terms of young black folks, in terms of the activist community, and many others that just simply don’t think that Biden has the range.

And he hasn’t been there. He hasn’t showed up. Biden is the only candidate that we have not been able to get a sitdown meeting with. It’s absolutely outrageous that we, like, have reached out multiple times, and it’s almost like a joke now with his folks, where they say, “Oh, well, maybe. Well, sort of.” And I can’t even think of any next-generation black leader or organization in the movement right now that’s had a sitdown conversation with Joe Biden. If this is what he does when we’re dating, what’s going to happen if we marry? This is actually a really big problem. If he’s not willing to sit down and have conversations, to hear from us about our priorities, then we’ve got a lot of concerns about what the future looks like.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go to an exchange between Senator Kamala Harris and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. This is co-moderator Kristen Welker.

KRISTEN WELKER: Senator Harris, this week you criticized Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s outreach to African-American voters. You said, quote, “The Democratic nominee has got to be someone who has the experience of connecting with all of who we are as the diversity of the American people,” end-quote. What exactly prompted you to say that, Senator Harris?

SENKAMALA HARRIS: Well, I was asked a question that related to a stock photograph that his campaign published. But, listen, I think that it really speaks to a larger issue, and I’ll speak to the larger issue. I believe that the mayor has made apologies for that.

The larger issue is that for too long, I think, candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party, and have overlooked those constituencies and have — you know, they show up when it’s, you know, close to election time and show up in a black church and want to get the vote, but just haven’t been there before. …

KRISTEN WELKER: Mayor Buttigieg, your response to that?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG: My response is I completely agree. And I welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters in America who don’t yet know me.

And before I share what’s in my plans, let me talk about what’s in my heart and why this is so important. As mayor of a city that is racially diverse and largely low-income, for eight years I have lived and breathed the successes and struggles of a community where far too many people live with the consequences of racial inequity, that has built up over centuries but been compounded by policies and decisions from within living memory.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, that’s South Bend Mayor Pete speaking last night at the debate. Ryan Grim of The Intercept, you were there, and you’ve written a lot about the mayor. Your response to what he said and his performance last night?

RYAN GRIM: Well, it was interesting that Kamala Harris decided to kind of take a pass on coming directly at Mayor Buttigieg in that exchange. And nobody else really came at him throughout the entire debate. I think he was prepared for an onslaught, given that there had been recent polls showing him up in New Hampshire and Iowa, and normally the front-runner gets piled on. That may have been delayed until the next debate.

What she was referring to as a stock photo was related to a broader controversy over the way that he presented what’s known as his Douglass Plan for Black America. This is the primary piece of outreach that he has to the black community. And when he rolled it out, yes, it was kind of funny that he used a stock photo from a Kenyan woman and her little brother to kind of promote the project for Black America.

But, you know, more damaging to him, and which Harris did not get into, is that he listed 400 supporters of this plan, the top three of whom were leaders of the black community in South Carolina. You know, after it came out, they told The Intercept, two of them — Johnnie Cordero, who is the chairman of the South Carolina Black Caucus, said, “I explicitly told them I do not endorse this plan, and they used my name anyway.” State Representative Ivory Thigpen said the same thing. He explicitly told them that he was not endorsing the Douglass Plan, and they put his name on it anyway. He, in fact, is the co-chair of the Bernie Sanders campaign in South Carolina. The third endorser said, “I told them that it was OK to use my name for the Douglass Plan, but I said, ‘Please don’t make it look like I’m endorsing your candidacy.’” And she felt like they were intentionally vague in the way they rolled it out, to make it look like they had done that. And it’s very difficult to imagine a politician doing that sort of thing to a white state senator in Iowa or New Hampshire, for instance. It’s really difficult to imagine that happening to any community other than the black community in American politics.

And so, Harris pivoted to a conversation about what is your authentic connection with the black community. And Booker also hit later on a related point, which is if you can’t bring together the Obama coalition. And that was kind of a code for bringing together white progressives, LGBT community and the black community together — and the immigrant community — together into that coalition that’s able to get more than 50% of the vote. If you can’t make that entire coalition whole, you’re going to fall short. But they didn’t kind of name him when they were making that argument.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Rashad Robinson, I mean, the significance of this? Because you have Mayor Pete now polling number one — in one of the whitest states in the country, Iowa, number one. He has jumped something like, if you believe the polls, roughly 10%, against Warren, Sanders and Biden, which is why everyone was going after him last night, yet polling at almost zero within the black community.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Yeah, I mean, I’ve had some time to talk with Mayor Pete, and, you know — and really have pushed him. I don’t even understand why he named his plan the Douglass Plan. Like, can you explain? Is Frederick Douglass someone that is really inspiring to you? Why? What is your relationship with the community? I think, you know, the problem that Mayor Pete has is that he comes across as a very good student, someone who has deeply studied and can understand issues, but doesn’t have a context oftentimes or a story to back it up. And people realize that and recognize that. He is a millennial who does not have right now black friends out there talking about him. And that’s worrisome, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain what happened in South Bend, Indiana —


AMY GOODMAN: — during his campaign, the killing of an African-American person there.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Absolutely, absolutely. The killing — both the police killing and the ongoing way that he’s had problems with police-community tension, the firing of the black police chief, who was working to expose racism in the force. You know, this is someone who’s had deep challenges with racial justice, in a relatively small city that most people probably can’t point to at the map — on the map, who now wants to be president of the United States.

Racial justice is not a side piece. It’s not charity. And while it is moral, it is actually strategy. It’s a strategy to actually win. And it’s a force multiplier for the type of change that we need on our side to get people mobilized out to the polls, to expand the base. If a candidate actually does not have the type of relationship where people feel like they’re known, like they’re going to actually be engaged and they’re going to be prioritized, then they’re not going to show up in big numbers. And I think the challenge for Mayor Pete is that the Douglass Plan, on paper, seems like a lot of good —

AMY GOODMAN: Of course, named for Frederick Douglass.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Named for Frederick Douglass — seems like a lot of good information — I’ve read through it, I’ve talked to him about it — but there is no story or context behind it. There’s also not a history of him implementing it and executing it. And with all of these candidates, I am not interested, and folks are not as interested, in the what, but the how. What is your experience and your relationship to movements to actually getting this done? We have a history, hundreds of years, of stalled progress, of inequality on race issues in this country. And we need someone that actually has experience, the ability to mobilize people and the ability to move people. And we need to know that it’s a priority, not something you have to do to check off a box. He still has some work to do in that regard.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to discuss this fifth Democratic presidential debate that took place in Atlanta, Georgia. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: iLe, singing “Temes” in our Democracy Now! studio. Her latest album, Almadura, was just nominated for a 2020 Grammy Award. To see her full performance and interview here at Democracy Now! about the protest movement that took down Puerto Rico’s governor last summer, visit

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#PrimariesSoWhite: Why Do Two of the Whitest States Vote First for Presidential Candidates?

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As the United States becomes increasingly diverse, the presidential nomination process remains heavily weighted by two states that are among the whitest in the nation: Iowa and New Hampshire. Candidates, in some cases, spend more than a year making frequent, extended campaign swings through both Iowa and New Hampshire, which, critics say, gives the concerns of the first states a disproportionate impact on the agenda for the entire race. During the first-ever Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice earlier this month in South Carolina, Senator Elizabeth Warren refused to criticize the primary schedule, saying, “I’m just a player in the game on this one.” Fellow 2020 presidential contender Julián Castro, however, has been a vocal critic of the existing system, noting that the demographics of the country have shifted significantly in the last several decades. “I don’t believe that forever we should be married to Iowa and New Hampshire going first,” he told MSNBC last week.

Trump defends Biden over North Korea’s ‘rabid dog’ jibe

Joe Biden and Donald TrumpJoe Biden is seen as Donald Trump’s biggest rival in the Democratic race for the 2020 presidential election nomination

As the race for the 2020 presidential election gathers pace, the bitter war of words between US President Donald Trump and his main political rival Joe Biden is expected to escalate.

Seen as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, Mr Biden has been the main target of Mr Trump’s verbal broadsides so far.

But some insults, it seems, go too far, even for President Trump.

On Sunday Mr Trump tweeted a rare, albeit backhanded, defence of Mr Biden in response to a vicious verbal attack by North Korea.

The surprising tweet was addressed to “Mr Chairman”, an apparent reference to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

In the tweet, Mr Trump said although Mr Biden was “sleepy and very slow”, he was “not a rabid dog”, as North Korea had called him.

The president’s comments were included in a retweet of a conservative commentator’s post about North Korea’s attack on Mr Biden.

North Korea had lambasted Mr Biden for having the “temerity to dare slander the dignity” of its leader, Mr Kim.

“Rabid dogs like Biden can hurt lots of people if they are allowed to run about,” a statement, carried North Korea’s official KCNA news agency, said on Thursday. “They must be beaten to death with a stick.”

Watch the moment Donald Trump met King Jong-un and stepped foot inside North Korea

It is not clear what drew the ire of North Korea, though Mr Biden has been critical of the Trump-Kim summits this year and last.

In response to the North Korean jibe, Mr Biden said he saw such insults “as a badge of honour”.

In contrast, Mr Trump’s relationship with Mr Kim has been more amicable as he seeks to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons through summitry rather than threats.

Mr Trump has lavished Mr Kim with compliments, describing him as “very sharp” and a “real leader”.

Mr Biden, on the other hand, has frequently been on the receiving end of Mr Trump’s jibes.

The impeachment inquiry, which centres on whether Mr Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into Mr Biden and his son, has intensified their long-running feud.

BBC: Obama tips his hand

Analysis box by Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter

Obama has studiously avoided weighing in on the large field of Democratic candidates vying for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Behind closed doors on Friday, however, he tipped his hand a bit.

Sanders is preaching political revolution. Warren is urging “big systemic change”. The former president clearly had those two frontrunners in mind when he suggested such aggressive talk risks alienating the kind of middle-of-the-road voters necessary to defeat Donald Trump next year.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Obama, despite being labelled a radical socialist by his conservative critics, governed as a pragmatic moderate. That created a fair amount of consternation of among progressives in his party, who thought he was one of their own when elected. Some view his presidency as a missed opportunity to enact fundamental structural reforms in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis.

This time around, they’re throwing their support behind Warren and Sanders and won’t appreciate being indirectly lectured by the former president.

The moderate-progressive division within the Democratic Party is very real, and it has the potential for combustion. Obama may not be picking a favourite candidate, but it looks like he’s picking sides.

Others not involved in the race for the nomination were more blunt.

In a tweet, Peter Daou, a former aide to Hillary Clinton, wrote: “Saying ‘Americans are moderate than these wild leftists’ is basically conceding that the far-right propaganda machine has prevailed.”

Presentational white spaceIn a later tweet, Mr Daou included the hashtag #TooFarLeft, which was widely used by other social media users who disagreed with Mr Obama.

The Democratic race is still in flux as the first of the state-by-state votes that will decide which of the contenders challenges Mr Trump for the White House looms in Iowa in February.

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, topped the latest poll of likely Democratic voters in Iowa.

Some Democrats are concerned that Mr Biden, a moderate who was vice-president to Mr Obama, will struggle to beat Mr Trump, prompting a flurry of latecomers to join the race.

Former US President Barack Obama speaks to guests at the Obama Foundation SummitBarack Obama said most “ordinary Americans” didn’t want to completely tear down the system

In recent days Deval Patrick, the two-time former governor of Massachusetts, entered the field amid speculation that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg may follow suit.

But Democratic hopes of electoral success in 2020 were boosted on Saturday after Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards secured a second term as Louisiana governor.

Social Security Works: Which mobile billboard ad do you want us to run in Iowa?

Sen. Joni Ernst burst onto the political scene in 2014 with a campaign ad highlighting her personal history castrating hogs―but porcine testicles aren’t the only thing she wants to cut.

At a recent town hall meeting, Ernst admitted to her constituents that the only way to cut Social Security is to do so behind closed doors, where there’s less political accountability.

Joni Ernst is up for re-election in 2020 and we need to remind her constituents that she wants to cut our Social Security benefits. Tell us which mobile billboard ad you’d like to see driving around Iowa.

Click on your favorite ad below to register your vote!

Click here to vote for the ad above!


Click here to vote for the ad above!


Click here to vote for the ad above!


Together, we’re holding our elected officials accountable and reminding them where the American people stand: Expand, don’t cut, Social Security!


Michael Phelan
Social Security Works

P.S. In case you need a reminder on Joni Ernst’s pig castration TV ad from 2014 titled “Squeal,” here it is!

H Who We Are
Social Security Works leads the fight every day to expand and protect our Social Security system. Become a member today.

Joe Biden scrambles to tamp down Anita Hill controversy

Collage photograph shows Joe Biden and Anita HillThe law professor says Biden needs to apologise to other women and the public

Top White House candidate Joe Biden has denied treating a woman badly when she accused a Supreme Court nominee of harassment before Congress in 1991.

Anita Hill had testified against Clarence Thomas to a committee chaired by Mr Biden. His handling of her evidence has long been criticised.

Speaking on ABC’s the View on Friday, Mr Biden also said that he was “sorry for the way she got treated”.

Ms Hill on Thursday told the New York Times she would not endorse Mr Biden.

The former US vice-president under Barack Obama tried to tamp down the controversy a day after formally launching his White House bid.

Mr Biden has shot to the tip of a crowded field of 20 contenders who are vying to become the Democratic standard-bearer in next year’s election against Republican President Donald Trump.

What’s the Anita Hill row?

Ms Hill said that Mr Biden had called her before announcing his presidential bid and expressed his “regret for what she endured” during the hearing.

But she said that apology was not enough without “real change”.

“I cannot be satisfied by simply saying, ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you,'” Ms Hill, a law professor, told the newspaper.

She added that she could not support Mr Biden unless he showed “real accountability” for his handling of her testimony before Congress in 1991.

During his Friday appearance on The View, Mr Biden – who raised a whopping $6.3m (£4.8m) on the first day of his campaign – was asked about offering a personal apology to Ms Hill.

“I’m sorry for the way she got treated,” Mr Biden responded.

“If you go back and look at what I said or didn’t say, I don’t think I treated her badly.”

In 1991, Ms Hill was called to testify at Mr Thomas’ confirmation hearing after an FBI interview with her was leaked to the press.

The hearing was conducted by an all-white, all-male panel, and several women apparently willing to corroborate Ms Hill’s account were not called to testify by Mr Biden.

Both Ms Hill and Justice Thomas are African-American.

Mr Biden voted to send Justice Thomas’ nomination out of the committee to the Senate floor, then voted against him in the full confirmation vote.

Decades on, the event is considered a political embarrassment for Mr Biden, who remains a favourite to secure the Democratic nomination.

Earlier this month, the former vice-president pledged to be “more mindful” about physical contact with women after seven women accused him of unwelcome physical contact.

Anita Hill testifying in 1991Clarence Thomas was Anita Hill’s supervisor

What about Charlottesville?

Mr Biden has also been reproached by the mother of an anti-racism protester who was killed during a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.

Susan Bro told the Daily Beast the presidential hopeful had not notified her that he planned to invoke Heather Heyer’s death during his campaign launch video on Thursday.

“Most people do that sort of thing,” she told the Daily Beast. “They capitalise on whatever situation is handy.

“He didn’t reach out to me, and didn’t mention her by name specifically, and he probably knew we don’t endorse candidates.”

In a later interview with CNN, Ms Bro softened her tone, saying she was not particularly upset because “the issue is about the hate, it’s not about Heather”.

Ms Bro added that she had told Mr Biden his video could have traumatised for some Charlottesville survivors.

Bill Weld challenges Trump in 2020 Republican presidential race

Weld enters as a long-shot candidate against an incumbent president who has remained popular within his party.

 Weld's challenge marks the first against Trump by a member of his own party [File: Charles Krupa/AP Photo]
Weld’s challenge marks the first against Trump by a member of his own party 

Former Massachusetts Governor William Weld announced his candidacy on Monday to challenge US President Donald Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination.

Weld, 73, who served two terms as governor, from 1991-1997, enters as a long-shot candidate against an incumbent president who has remained popular within his party. Weld in February had said that he planned to challenge Trump.

“I really think if we have six more years of the same stuff we’ve had out of the White House the last two years that would be a political tragedy,” he said on CNN. “So, I would be ashamed of myself if I didn’t raise my hand and run.”

Weld has accused Trump of leaving the nation in “grave peril” and has said his “priorities are skewed towards promotion of himself rather than for the good of the country”.

Weld’s challenge marks the first against Trump by a member of his own party. Other Republicans have publicly flirted with their own challenges, including former Ohio Governor John Kasich, one of the many Republican candidates whom Trump defeated for the party’s presidential nomination in 2016.


Bernie’s healthcare policies already won the 2020 election

Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez
by Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez

But Republican leaders have signalled little tolerance for intra-party fights as Trump gears up for a potentially challenging bid for a second term. Trump’s campaign has taken extraordinary steps in cementing control over the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the broader nomination process as it seeks to minimise the risk of any potential challenger doing the same to the president. His campaign recently reported raising $30m in the first quarter of this year, while Democrats are raising less money than in previous cycles.

“Any effort to challenge the president’s nomination is bound to go absolutely nowhere,” the RNC said in a statement responding to Weld’s announcement, noting that its operation and the Republican Party are firmly behind Trump.


Weld, a former prosecutor and the vice presidential candidate in 2016 on the Libertarian ticket, has been a consistent critic of Trump. He told CNN that he does not plan to mount an independent bid if unsuccessful.

Fiscally conservative but socially liberal, Weld is known for an unconventional, at times quirky, political style and a long history of friction with the party he now seeks to lead.

Weld endorsed Democrat Barack Obama over Republican nominee John McCain in 2008, later saying it was a mistake to do so, and has enjoyed a decades-long friendship with the Clintons, which began early in his career when he served alongside Hillary Clinton as a lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate proceedings.

Hillary Clinton rules out 2020 US presidential run

Weld’s nomination by former President Bill Clinton to be US ambassador to Mexico touched off a bitter public spat with then-Senator Jesse Helms, a conservative Republican from South Carolina who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Years earlier, Weld was among a handful of top Justice Department officials to resign in protest over alleged ethical violations by then-Attorney General Ed Meese, long a favourite of conservatives.

With little in the way of organisation or outside money, and at odds with a majority of Republican voters who solidly support Trump, Weld’s longshot campaign will target disaffected Republicans and independents who share his disdain for the president and embrace libertarian values of small government, free trade and free markets, and personal freedom.

Weld has not won a political race since being re-elected governor by a landslide in his heavily Democratic state in 1994. He was first elected to the office in 1990, defeating a conservative Democratic candidate, and quickly became one of Massachusetts’ most popular governors in recent history.

While holding the line on spending and taxes, Weld as governor embraced liberal positions at odds with national Republicans on abortion and gay rights. His low-key style and sharp wit also seemed to play well with voters as did his penchant for the unexpected: He once ended a news conference touting progress in cleaning up Boston’s polluted Charles River by diving fully clothed into the waterway.

A politician, federal prosecutor, investment banker, lobbyist and even novelist, Weld was a lifelong Republican before bolting the GOP to run on the Libertarian Party ticket with former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson in 2016.

Trump rouses US conservatives with prediction of ‘a big 2020 win’

Johnson and Weld received about 4.5 million votes, a little more than three percent of the national popular vote.

Despite a pledge to libertarians that he would remain loyal to the party going forward, Weld on January 17 walked into the clerk’s office of the Massachusetts town where he lives and re-registered as a Republican, adding to speculation that he would challenge Trump in the primaries.

Weld planned to kick off his campaign in New Hampshire, which holds an influential early nominating contest. He said the state’s voters would be receptive to his message and familiar with his record in neighbouring Massachusetts.

“Right now, all there really is coming out of Washington is divisiveness,” he said on CNN, calling both parties responsible but pointedly adding, “the grand master of that is the president himself.”