- Kamala Harris on Wednesday backtracked from her support for federally-mandated school busing, saying that local school districts should use busing as a tool to integrate schools.
- But that’s a flip-flop of sorts for Harris, who suggested at the first Democratic debates that she supports a federal role in busing.
- Harris attacked Joe Biden for his opposition to mandated busing in the 1970s.
California Sen. Kamala Harris has seen a surge in presidential polls after her performance in June 27’s Democratic debate, thanks in part to an exchange in which she hammered Joe Biden over his past opposition to federally-mandated busing.
But Harris backtracked Wednesday on the controversial issue, saying on the campaign trail in Iowa that busing is merely a “tool that is in the toolbox” of local school districts seeking to integrate schools.
“I think of busing as being in the toolbox of what is available and what can be used for the goal of desegregating America’s schools,” she said following a campaign event in West Des Moines, according to the Associated Press.
When pressed on whether she supports a federal mandate for busing, Harris said: “I believe that any tool that is in the toolbox should be considered by a school district.”
Harris’ remarks are a far cry from her exchange with Biden, as well as from her commentary to reporters on Sunday. (RELATED: Harris, Near Tears, Rips Into Joe Biden On Busing)
In one of the most dramatic moments of the debate, Harris confronted Biden over his opposition in the 1970s to federally-mandated busing. Harris also pressed Biden, a former Delaware senator, over remarks he’s made on the campaign trail about working with Democratic segregationists early in his career.
“But, Vice President Biden, do you agree today — do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then? Do you agree?” Harris said to Biden.
“I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education. That’s what I opposed,” replied Biden, who appeared caught off guard by Harris’s direct attack.
Harris said that states failed to integrate public schools, while noting that she was a student in the second class to integrate Berkeley, California, public schools.
“Because your city council made that decision. It was a local decision,” said Biden.
Harris then endorsed a federal role in busing, saying, “That’s where the federal government must step in.”
Harris, who is now running third in some polls, appeared to support a federal role in busing a few days later.
“I support busing,” she told reporters in San Francisco. She said that American schools are “as segregated, if not more segregated” than when she was in school.
“We need to put every effort, including busing, into play to de-segregate the schools,” she continued, adding that “there’s no question that the federal government has a role and a responsibility to step up.”
Harris’s remarks Wednesday drew attention on social media, including from the Biden campaign and David Axelrod, the chief strategist for Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) July 4, 2019
Biden’s deputy campaign manager accused Harris of distorting Biden’s position on busing while “tying herself in knots” on the issue.
“It’s disappointing that Senator Harris chose to distort Vice President Biden’s position on busing — particularly now that she is tying herself in knots trying not to answer the very question she posed to him!” wrote Kate Bedingfield.
It’s disappointing that Senator Harris chose to distort Vice President Biden’s position on busing — particularly now that she is tying herself in knots trying not to answer the very question she posed to him! https://t.co/kiYYk5kg3m
— Kate Bedingfield (@KBeds) July 4, 2019
Harris capitalized on her debate exchange with Biden. Her campaign began selling t-shirts saying “That Little Girl Was Me,” referring to an applause line at the debate when she said she spoke of being bused to school in Berkeley.
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