Former Vice President Joe Biden claimed on Wednesday that Donald Trump is the first racist elected president.
Speaking during a virtual town hall, Biden made the claim in response to racist remarks that the president has made to characterize the coronavirus pandemic. Trump and others in his circle have repeatedly referred to the virus as the “China virus,” the “kung flu” and the “Wuhan virus.”
Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, in turn claimed that “no sitting president has ever done this, never, never, never. No Republican president has done this. No Democratic president. We’ve had racists, and they’ve existed, and they’ve tried to get elected president. But he’s the first one that has.”
Several of the country’s early presidents owned slaves while in office, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor. Woodrow Wilson was an adamant supporter of segregation in the federal government, and his racist legacy has led to calls for the removal of his name from Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs. The school was renamed following a decision late last month.
Symone Sanders, a Biden campaign senior adviser, tried to clarify the candidate’s remarks in a statement later Wednesday.
“There have been a number of racist American presidents, but Trump stands out — especially in modern history — because he made running on racism and division his calling card and won,” Sanders said. “He deliberately foments both, intentionally causing indescribable pain because he thinks it advantages him politically.”
“The George Wallaces of our country’s history who have run on these hate-filled themes have lost,” she continued, referring to the segregationist former governor of Alabama who ran unsuccessfully for president.
The Washington Post first reported Biden’s Wednesday comment.
Biden has repeatedly cast Trump as a uniquely divisive president who frequently employs racist tropes in his rhetoric. Trump has come under fire for referring to nations with majority-Black populations as “shit-hole countries” and barring travel from several Muslim-majority countries early in his presidency. He has also routinely used racist nicknames for his Democratic opponents, including calling Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts “Pocahontas.”
The White House has denied that Trump’s characterization of the virus is racist. During a news briefing later on Wednesday, Trump responded to Biden’s comment by claiming no other president had done more for Black, Latino and Asian employment than he has, particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic. He went so far as to say he had “done more for Black Americans than anybody, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln.”
“Nobody has even been close,” Trump said.