Jill Biden told a group of close supporters that Kamala Harris could “go f*** herself” after the then-Senator attacked Joe Biden during the June 2019 Democratic primary debate regarding his record in the US Senate.
Both the now-first lady and president were caught off-guard at the time by the stinging rebuke of Mr Biden’s recollection of working with segregationist senators and lack of support for school bussing – a policy from which Ms Harris benefited as a child.
The report of Ms Biden’s comments comes from an upcoming book on the 2020 Democratic presidential primary by journalist Edward-Isaac Dovere, an excerpt of which was published in Politico.
Going into the debate, Mr Biden was the presumed leader of the pack of Democrats vying for the party’s nomination, but his position was precarious – he is described in the book as “the underdog frontrunner”.
That night in Miami, Ms Harris landed a blow that became one of the most memorable moments of the primaries.
In the aftermath, multiple people say that Ms Biden said on a phone call with supporters: “With what he cares about, what he fights for, what he’s committed to, you get up there and call him a racist without basis?”
“Go f*** yourself.”
Politico quotes spokesperson Michael Larosa as saying about the report of the call: “Many books will be written on the 2020 campaign, with countless retellings of events – some accurate, some inaccurate.”
He added: “The first lady and her team do not plan to comment on any of them.”
Ms Harris’ campaign had a strong start, but didn’t appear to be gaining traction in the crowded field that summer. The viral moment – spoofed by Saturday Night Live – gave her a much-needed boost.
On stage that night, turning to Mr Biden, she said: “I’m going to now direct this at Vice President Biden: I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground.”
“But I also believe, and it’s personal – it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country,” she continued. “And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose bussing. And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bussed to school every day.”
“And that little girl was me,” she concluded.
Mr Biden was visibly taken aback by the attack and he plodded through his response, before turning to fellow candidate Pete Buttigieg at the podium next to him during a commercial break and saying: “Well, that was some f***ing bulls***.”
Mr Dovere contends in his book – Battle for the Soul: Inside the Democrats’ Campaigns to Defeat Trump – that what struck Jill Biden so much about the attack was that it came from a woman who described herself as a friend of their late-son Beau and yet she was point-scoring in a debate by tearing down his father.
He describes Ms Biden as “guardian of the Biden honour, the Biden id”, hence the anger at Ms Harris.
Ultimately Ms Harris failed to successfully capitalise on the attack, and she ended her campaign in early December 2019. She endorsed Mr Biden three months later.
Any lingering hurt feelings were put aside in August 2020 when Mr Biden chose Ms Harris to be his running mate, putting her on the path to ultimately become the first Black, South Asian, and woman vice president.
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