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Biden tells minority voters in Iowa 'poor kids' just as bright as 'white kids'

Democratic presidential candidate corrected himself, but critics seized on misstep

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, waves to fairgoers Thursday as he arrives to speak at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox during the opening day of the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, waves to fairgoers Thursday as he arrives to speak at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox during the opening day of the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Former vice president Joe Biden, who has a history of gaffes, Thursday night told a group of mostly minority voters in Iowa that “poor kids” are just as bright as “white kids.”

Biden, who has been leading in national and early state polling for the Democratic presidential nomination, was speaking on the subject of education at a town hall in Des Moines hosted by the Asian and Latino Coalition.

“We should challenge students in these schools that have advanced placement programs in these schools,” Biden said. “We have this notion that somehow if you’re poor, you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”

After a brief pause, he added: “Wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids, no, I really mean it, but think how we think about it.”

His remarks prompted a stir on social media Thursday night, with many focusing on the equivalence he drew, whether intentionally, between poor children and minority children.

President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday that he had seen footage of Biden’s comments.

“Joe Biden is not playing with a full deck,” Trump said. “This is not somebody you can have as your president. But if he got the nomination, I’d be thrilled.”

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In a statement Friday, Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said Biden “misspoke and immediately corrected himself during a refrain he often uses to make the point that all children deserve a fair shot, and children born into lower-income circumstances are just as smart as those born to wealthy parents.”

She also took issue with the Trump campaign for having promoted a video of Biden’s gaffe on Twitter.

“As we approach the two-year anniversary of Trump calling neo-Nazis and Klansmen ‘very fine people,’ Donald Trump is desperate to change the subject from his atrocious record of using racism to divide this country,” Bedingfield said, referencing Trump’s comments after the deadly confrontation in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 between self-proclaimed white nationalists and protesters.

A few days after the tragedy, Trump said there “were very fine people on both sides” but did not specifically say that “neo-Nazis” or “Klansmen” are “very fine people.”

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, another Democratic White House hopeful, also sought to draw attention to Biden’s comments — as well as his campaign’s response.

“To quickly dismiss @JoeBiden’s words as a mere ‘slip of the tongue’ is as concerning as what he said,” de Blasio said Friday on Twitter. “We need to have a real conversation about the racism and sexism behind ‘electability.’ ”

Thursday was not the first time Biden’s comments on race have prompted scrutiny.

In February 2007, on the day he launched his bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Biden found himself defending comments made a week earlier in an interview with the New York Observer about then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

In the interview, he called Obama “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

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Biden issued a statement that day, saying: “I deeply regret any offense my remark in the New York Observer might have caused anyone. That was not my intent and I expressed that to Sen. Obama.”

A Monmouth University poll released Thursday showed Biden leading the Democratic field in Iowa, with 28 percent of possible 2020 Democratic caucus voters. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., placed second, with 19 percent support, up from 7 percent in April.

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