Joe Biden Struggles During Democratic Debate

Democratic presidential candidates (L-R) South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) take part in the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019 in Miami, Florida.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Joe Biden was assumed to be the front-runner of the dozens of Democratic challengers vying for the top spot in the presidential race. But after his performance on Thursday night, things aren’t looking so clear-cut for the former vice president.

Democrats had their second primary debate on Thursday, featuring Biden, Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Bernie Sanders, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Representative Eric Swalwell. According to The Hill, Biden went in with high expectations as this is his first real test as the front-runner.

Harris was the breakout star of the debate after she confronted the former vice president over his praise for two of his segregationist colleagues last week. She also went after his history of opposing school bussing during the 1970s. Harris said that she didn’t believe that Biden was a racist himself, but that she found his comments hurtful and that she herself had benefited from the bussing program, according to The New York Times.

“There was a little girl in California who was a part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day,” Harris said. “And that little girl was me.”

She also took a subtle jab at Biden for his support of former President Barack Obama’s deportation policy.

“On this issue, I disagreed with my president,” she said.

But Harris wasn’t Biden’s only problem. He faced criticism from Sanders over the Iraq war, which Biden voted to give then-President George W. Bush the power to initiate. Sanders reminded the audience that he had “led the opposition to that war, which was a total disaster.”

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Gillibrand took aim at Biden as well, though she didn’t mention him by name. She attacked his history of taking conservative positions on issues like abortion rights and the Hyde Amendment.

“When the door is closed, negotiations are made, there are conversations about women’s rights and compromises have been made on our backs,” she said. “That’s how we got to Hyde. That’s how the Hyde Amendment was created — a compromise by leaders of both parties.”

Biden also struggled to defend his position on key liberal issues like gun control. During the debate, he said that the National Rifle Association was “not the enemy” and he defended his support of authorizing the Iraq war.

He did, however, say that he would repeal the tax cuts that Donald Trump championed, that he would work to make college more affordable, that he would put the U.S. back into the Paris climate agreement, and that he would make immigration a key issue, though he didn’t present any specific plans on these issues.