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After heated debate on race and busing, Biden campaign struggles to respond

A second group of 10 Democratic presidential candidates took the stage to debate in Miami Thursday night. This time, participants included current poll leader former Vice President Joe Biden, whom several other candidates, including Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Eric Swalwell, targeted with both personal and political attacks. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, just back from Miami, joins me now, along with Yamiche Alcindor, our White House correspondent.

    Hello to both of you.

    Not much sleep last night.

    So, Yamiche, let me start with you. You have been talking to a lot of people. Clearly, the moment that people are talking about today from the debate was that exchange between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden.

    What are you hearing about that? What is — what are the campaigns doing to move beyond it? And how is it seen as changing potentially this campaign?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, these moments between Senator Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden really get to the core and the heart of the Democratic Party, what's at stake in this primary.

    So, on Kamala Harris' side, she interjected herself into the debate by saying, I'm the only black woman on this stage, and I need a moment to speak about race.

    And what she was doing there was saying, African-Americans and people of color, who make up the base of the Democratic Party, we need to be able to be given the time to speak on these issues.

    She then went in and told this very personal story about being bused as a little girl. And then, today, this morning, and really throughout the day, she's been rolling out these endorsements that people have been giving her, community leaders and elected officials in Iowa and New Hampshire.

    So she's really trying to build on that momentum.

    But on the Joe Biden camp side, the campaign is really struggling to explain his positions on federal busing and the federal government's role in busing. He said today he never, ever opposed busing.

    But PolitiFact, which is a news organization that looks at these things, he — they judged that as mostly false, that he has actually said, busing is a — quote — "asinine policy."

    So, campaign aides tell me they feel good about him still being the front-runner, but they're really struggling to explain his positions there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, you have been talking to these campaigns as well. What are you understanding about how they plan to either move beyond this or take advantage of it?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    For the Biden campaign, step number one was sending reporters a research packet of his statements from the '70s and some of the bills that he signed on to.

    But the trick, as Yamiche is talking about, is, one of those statements included a statement opposing or indicating that he had problems with busing. So there is a lot of confusion.

    I asked them for maybe a longer background briefing. And I said, or do you think that this debate is now over and he is moving on to other topics? It was interesting. They said, we're not going to give you an answer on that.

    I think, Judy, they're still deciding how this moment is evolving and if they need to respond again. Otherwise, what these campaigns are doing, Judy, they are hitting the road. Kamala Harris is planning to go to California, then to Iowa for the Fourth of July, then South Carolina, Joe Biden Iowa for the Fourth of July and then South Carolina.

    So they're going to be on parallel tracks that may raise up this general topic just for that reason alone.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, of course, there were eight other candidates on the stage last night. You mentioned them in your report.

    What stood out among this group? What is enduring there?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    When you talked to the campaigns in the room, they felt that — universally, that probably Michael Bennet was able to raise himself a little bit. It's hard to say if he's going to get many more points in polls. We will see.

    Kirsten Gillibrand, there's a lot of divide over whether she really became more prominent by being more assertive.

    It's interesting, Judy. For the whole night, she was the one who had to interrupt the most to get time. Everyone else sort of was getting direct questions. So we will see how that plays out.

    I think, as far as other people go, Pete Buttigieg did not speak much in the first hour. That was a disappointment for those of his supporters out there. Otherwise, Andrew Yang only got a few minutes to speak the entire night.

    And the other candidates whose name I'm not mentioning, if people out there don't remember who they are, that's an indication that they have got more work to do. And, really, Judy, when you talk to these campaigns, it's the next two months that are critical.

    They have got maybe one more debate to get up to that next tier, and that's probably it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Another debate in July, and then there's a skip. They skip August.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then in September after that.

    So, quickly, Yamiche, the name that did come up from time to time last night was President Trump. He and his people watching the debate, what are they making of this? What are they — how are they handling at all?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president, as well as Republicans, are really honing in and focused on one moment from yesterday's debate.

    And that moment is when all the candidates raised their hands to say, if they had government-funded health care, they would — they would cover undocumented immigrants.

    So the president hadn't tweeted about the debate until that moment, and then he tweeted this. I want to put this up so people can see. He wrote: "All Democrats just raised their hands for giving millions of illegal aliens unlimited health care. How about taking care of American citizens first? That's the end of that race."

    Also important to note, The New York Post put this on their front page. We should put that up for people to see. They wrote, "Who wants to lose the election?" And they used the picture of that moment.

    So what we have is Republicans really trying to capitalize on the Democratic debate by saying, here are all the issues that are wrong with these people.

    The Trump campaign tells me that they are really excited about people hearing about the Democrats' stories, because — and policies — because they think, the more people learn about that, the better positioned the president is then.

    We might even see some of the moments from the debate in political ads for the Trump campaign. So we will just have to see how this goes. But the president seems pretty happy with the way that the debate went.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, no break for anybody. It seems to me it all accelerates after these first debates.

    Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:


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