Aug 7, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Cleanup on aisle Biden

Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

After two gaffes and a low blow from President Trump questioning his faith, Joe Biden spent Thursday evening off his own message — clarifying comments and responding to attacks.

Why it matters: Biden’s responses reflect what we could see a lot more of in the next few months — cringeworthy comments and Trump smears, smacking into each other and pulling the Democrat off course.

  • Biden's campaign had vowed to be "laser-focused" on Trump's handling of the virus.

What's happening: Biden released two long statements last night — one walking back comments he made about African Americans during a virtual interview, and another defending against Trump’s charge that Biden "hurts God."

  • And he faced criticism by some for comparing a cognitive test to a Black reporter taking a drug test.

During a series of interviews at a convention for Black and Hispanic journalists (NABJ/NAHJ), Biden said: "Unlike the African American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly diverse attitudes about different things."

  • He was answering a question from an NPR reporter about how he would engage with Cuba if elected president: "You go to Florida, you find a very different attitude about immigration than you do in Arizona. So it’s a very diverse community."
  • That prompted a three-tweet clarification from Biden on Twitter around 9 p.m.: "In no way did I mean to suggest the African American community is a monolith — not by identity, not on issues, not at all."

Some Democrats are already worried about Biden’s tendency to say problematic things off the cuff, and what that could mean for debates.

  • A Democratic operative texted Axios with a link to the Biden tweet apology: "Homeboy can’t pick a white VP."

During the NABJ/NAHJ virtual session with reporters, a CBS reporter asked Biden whether he’s taken a cognitive test similar to the one Trump brags about.

  • "No, I haven’t taken a test," Biden said. Why the hell would I take a test? C'mon, man. That’s like saying, 'You — before you got on this program you took a test where you’re taking cocaine or not, what do you think? Huh? Are you a junkie?'"
  • Team Biden’s cleanup, per a campaign official: "It was a preposterous question deserving of a response that showed the absurdity of it all."

Reality check: Senility has become an open line of attack in the 2020 election, making it a totally fair question from any reporter. Asking a Black journalist if they’re a "junkie" is completely out of left field.

In Ohio yesterday, Trump said Biden would "hurt the Bible" and "hurt God" because he has "no religion, no anything."

  • Biden released a nearly 300 word statement defending his faith, which gave him a chance to hit Trump: "My faith teaches me to welcome the stranger, while President Trump tears families apart. My faith teaches me to walk humbly, while President Trump teargassed peaceful protestors."

Between the lines: The virtual campaign limited Biden’s opportunities for awkward missteps, and he’s been able to ignore most of Trump’s smears.

  • Now, it's on.
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