Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden tweeted an apology Tuesday night after CNN reported he'd criticized President Trump for referring to the impeachment inquiry as a "lynching" yet called then-President Clinton's impeachment investigation a "partisan lynching" in 1998.

"This wasn’t the right word to use and I’m sorry about that. Trump on the other hand chose his words deliberately today in his use of the word lynching and continues to stoke racial divides in this country daily."

Why it matters: Politicians who've used this word in the context of a congressional inquiry into a presidential administration are equating a political investigation to a hate crime that historically targeted African Americans in the South.

  • NAACP figures show more than 4,700 lynchings occurred in the U.S. from 1882 to 1968.

The big picture: The former vice president was among several 2020 candidates and Congress members who slammed the president for describing the impeachment inquiry as a lynching, though several prominent Republicans defended Trump.

  • Biden was one of at least five Democrats to refer to Clinton's impeachment inquiry as a "lynching," a Washington Post investigation found. Among them were two lawmakers who criticized Trump Tuesday for his use of the word, Reps. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Danny Davis (D-Ill.).

What they're saying: Meeks, an African American lawmaker, told WashPost that while he described the proceedings on the House floor the day before Clinton was impeached as a lynching, "context matters."

  • "There is a difference when that word is used by someone of my experience and perspective, whose relatives were the targets of lynch mobs, compared to a president who has dog-whistled to white nationalists and peddled racism," he said.
"This is the birther president, who called African nations s---holes and urban cities infested. Those he called 'very fine people' in Charlottesville were the kind of people who lynched those who looked like me. So, yes — there are certain words I am more at liberty to invoke than Donald J. Trump."
— Meeks' statement to WashPost

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Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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