MIAMI - California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden engaged in a heated exchange Thursday during the second night of the Democratic primary debates on the issue of race.
Harris, a former prosecutor, took a direct shot at Biden for working with segregationist senators and for opposing aspects of school busing in the 1970s. Biden has said he disagreed with them on civil rights but was still able to work with them in the Senate.
During a conversation about race among the candidates, Harris said she benefited from busing as a young girl in California.
"I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you, when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground," Harris said.
“But I also believe, and it's personal, it was actually 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 busing. 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 bused to school every day."
"And that little girl was me," Harris said, with emotion in her voice.
Harris’ Twitter account then followed up with a post showing the candidate as a child.
Biden answered back, calling Harris' comments a "mischaracterization of my position across the board."
"I do not praise racists. That is not true," he said.
"Number two, if we want to have this campaign litigated on who supports civil rights, I'm happy to do that. I was a public defender. I didn't become a prosecutor. I left a good law firm to become a public defender when, in fact, my city was in flames because of the assassination of Dr. King."
Biden went on to say that everything he’s done in his career was “because of civil rights.”
“I continue to think we have to make fundamental changes to those civil rights and those civil rights, by the way, include not just only African Americans, but the LGBT community."
Harris then pressed Biden on his record on busing, asking: “Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then? Do you agree?"
"I did not oppose busing in America," Biden replied. "What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education, that's what I opposed."
Harris and Biden were joined by eight others on stage in Miami, where the candidates also discussed issues related to health care, age, immigration and gun reform.
This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed.