But the 1981 CNN interview illustrates that Biden’s objections to busing to end segregation in schools were much broader than he casts them today.
“I happen to be one of those so-called people that are labeled as a liberal on civil rights, but oppose busing,” Biden said. “And I support the effort to curtail the ability of courts to bus.”
“What I have argued as one who grew up in the civil rights movement and ran for office as a public defender and a member of an active participant in civil rights cases, I have argued that the least effective remedy to be imposed is the busing remedy,” Biden said at another point in the interview.
In a statement to CNN, Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates reiterated that the former vice president always supported voluntary busing and federally mandated busing to end “de jure” segregation.
“He has also always been an advocate for integration, but saw that the forced busing being discussed in these statements was not the right mechanism for achieving integration in Delaware because it put an undue burden on African-American families and children,” Bates said.
Bates pointed to efforts Biden took locally and, in the Senate, to fight for civil rights, including pushing for the extension of the Voting Rights Act, housing integration and backing the Equal Right Amendment.
“I don’t like filibusters, I have not been supportive of filibusters in my nine years in the Senate, used by either liberals or conservatives,” Biden said at the time. “And on the issue that the argument is about and that is whether or not busing serves — is A, required constitutionally and B has a utilitarian value for desegregation. I come down on the side of A, it is not constitutionally required and B, it is not a useful tool.”
Biden indicated that he supported the courts finding remedies to correct instances of school districts intentionally attempting to block black Americans from attending, such as altering school district lines, ordering the construction of new schools, and changing laws that prevented black students from moving to a white school district.
Biden also said in the interview that busing became a problem when the courts began to apply the rationale they used to solve segregation in southern states to states in the northern region of the country, where Biden said there was “integrated facilities” but segregated living areas due to “migratory patterns.”
“That is when blacks moved north, they were either pushed into or moved into black ghettos. Just like when Irish moved, they went into Irish ghettos and Jews into Jewish ghettos et cetera. In the south, after the Emancipation Proclamation, the slaves didn’t move off the plantation,” Biden said.
“The point I was trying to make is when you’re trying to remedy the situation, what happened was the system whereby you could impose a busing remedy in an area where you had black, white, black, white living on the same block, it made a great deal of sense,” Biden added. “But where you ended up with disparate neighborhoods long distances apart but were segregated and you tried to integrate the facilities, it created a number of mechanical problems that are significant.”
“It was not only that… 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,” Harris said. “That little girl was me.”
Biden responded, saying Harris mischaracterized his position.
“I did not oppose busing in America, what I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education,” Biden said, making an argument for state’s rights. “That’s what I opposed.”