Former Vice President Joe Biden had a good laugh during an interview aired Friday in response to California Sen. Kamala Harris's shift on busing following their tense exchange at last week's Democratic debate.
In what became her most memorable debate moment, Harris challenged Biden's opposition to federally mandated busing when he was in the Senate, telling him she benefited from the program to integrate schools. The face-off produced Harris' "That little girl was me" remark that drew widespread media attention.
However, Harris' stance on busing isn't completely clear, at least based on what she told reporters on Wednesday at a Democratic picnic in West Des Moines, Iowa, where she suggested the policy should be merely considered.
"I think of busing as being in the toolbox of what is available and what can be used for the goal of desegregating America’s schools,” Harris said, but when pressed on whether she believes in federally mandated busing, she responded, "I believe that any tool that is in the toolbox should be considered by a school district.”
During a CNN interview, Biden had a light-hearted response to Harris's softened support for busing.
“It’s so easy to go back 30, 40, 50 years and take a context and take it completely out of context," Biden told CNN anchor Chris Cuomo. "I get all this information about other people's past and what they've done and, you know, I'm just not gonna go there... we should be debating what we do from here."
He continued, "For example, this whole thing about race and busing. Well, I think if you take a look, our positions aren't any different as we're finding out."
"With Sen. Harris who says she sees it as a tool, not a must or all circumstance," Cuomo said.
"Yeah, well..." Biden responded before offering a chuckle and a grin, "look at my record."
The Democratic primary front-runner later said he knew he was going to be targeted on the debate stage, but that he "wasn't prepared" for the way Harris went after him.
“I was prepared for them to come after me, but I wasn’t prepared for the person coming at me the way she came at me. She knew Beau [Biden] and she knows me,” Biden said.
Biden also dismissed concerns about losing support among black voters, boasting various endorsements from black elected officials and lawmakers and arguing that "people know who I am."
Both Biden and Harris's campaigns got into a nasty feud on Twitter after the Associated Press reported her shift on busing, sparking a war of words between Kate Bedingfield, Biden's deputy campaign manager and communications director, and Ian Sams, Harris's national press secretary.
"It's disappointing that Senator Harris chose to distort Vice President Biden's position on busing," Bedingfield tweeted, "particularly now that she is tying herself in knots trying not to answer the very question she posed to him!"
"VP Biden said: 'Who the hell do we think we are that the only way a black man or woman can learn is if they rub shoulders with my white child?' He called busing an 'asinine concept.' C’mon. Y’all are better than this," Sams shot back.
Harris has seen a major surge in the polls since her widely praised performance at last week's Democratic debate. The U.S. senator from California has jumped into third place among the two-dozen candidates seeking the Democratic Party nod in the average of polls, according to Real Clear Politics. Several polls now put her close to Biden.