Sen. Kamala Harris and Joe Biden had a testy exchange on race and school busing.
It began with Harris referencing Biden’s recent comments about working with pro-segregationist Senators, and ended with her personal story of benefiting from busing, a policy she criticized Biden for opposing.
“And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. And there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”
Biden shot back claiming Harris’ comments were "a mischaracterization of my position across the board.” Biden said he opposed busing mandated by the Department of Education but that he would have allowed localities to bus students should they choose to do so.
Facts First: Biden was a vocal opponent of federally-mandated busing. His remarks in the 1970s broadly denounced busing programs claiming they were bad for local communities.
In 1978, Biden co-sponsored and strongly advocated for legislation that would have limited the ability of federal judges to compel school districts to integrate public schools by busing black students to white areas and vice versa.
He particularly solicited the support of segregationist Mississippi Democrat James Eastland, writing in 1977, "I want you to know that I very much appreciate your help during this week's committee meeting in attempting to bring my anti-busing legislation to a vote."
Biden says he would allow busing under certain circumstances. In cases where a school system has been racially segregated by gerrymandering district lines or by other legalistic means, Biden said he supported desegregation by any legal means at hand -- including busing.
In 1975, Biden supported an amendment offered by Senator Jesse Helms that would have made busing much more difficult in all jurisdictions by prohibiting the Department of Health, Education and Welfare from collecting information needed to identify segregated school systems.
However, neither piece of legislation would have explicitly prohibited Berkeley from choosing to bus black students into majority white schools or vice versa. Berkeley was one of the first cities to adopt a busing program in 1968.
After the Helms amendment failed, Biden offered a provision that would’ve prevented federal funds from being used to require any school to assign students or teachers by race.
Biden said he supported school integration by other means but opposed busing because he thought it had a negative impact on communities.