Former Vice President Joe Biden is turning up the volume on his criticism of presidential primary rivals ahead of next week’s second round of Democratic debates where he’ll be standing alongside two of his most vocal political foes.
"I'm not going to be as polite this time,” the front-runner in the nomination race told supporters at a fundraiser in Detroit on Wednesday evening.
And asked by Fox News on Thursday if he’ll be more aggressive in next week’s showdown, Biden smiled as he simply teased “we’ll see.”
Biden already has started taking swipes at Sen. Cory Booker's record as Newark mayor, and pushing back at criticism from Sen. Kamala Harris. This, after Biden's once large polling lead over his 2020 rivals deteriorated following his less-than-stellar performance a month ago at the first round of Democratic presidential nomination debates, when he was cold-cocked by Harris.
In the defining moment of that debate, the California Democrat criticized recent comments by the former vice president spotlighting his ability to find common ground during the 1970s with segregationist senators with whom he disagreed, and over his opposition decades ago to federally mandated school busing.
Biden told reporters following his appearance on Wednesday at the annual NAACP convention that he "was probably overly polite in the way I did respond to an attack" in the first debate.
The former vice president was anything by “overly polite” this week, as he forcefully pushed back against repeated attacks by another rival – Sen. Booker of New Jersey – over Biden’s role as a senator from Delaware in crafting the landmark 1994 crime bill.
That legislation has been blamed by Booker, Harris, and many other Democrats for contributing to the mass incarceration of black people in the United States.
After Biden earlier this week unveiled a new, wide-ranging plan to reduce the country’s prison population, reform the nation’s criminal justice system and eliminate racial and income disparities in sentencing – which would reverse the stricter sentence terms for crack versus powder cocaine that were implemented by the 1994 law – Booker took aim at the former vice president.
The senator slammed Biden for being “the proud architect of a failed system" and argued that the crime bill “put mass incarceration on steroids and so I'm disappointed that it's taken him so long to own up to that.”
But Biden punched back at Booker's claim that he was the mass incarceration "architect," telling reporters "Cory knows that's not true."
The former vice president then jabbed at his rival's record -- criticizing the stopping and frisking of black men by Newark police during Booker's tenure as the city's mayor. He added that during his years as vice president, "the Justice Department took action against them, held the police department accountable. He (Booker) objected to federal interference."
Booker disputed those allegations.
Biden also turned up on the volume on his criticism of Harris over her support for "Medicare-for-all."
At the same time, he singled out another leading 2020 rival – Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont for being honest about the ramifications of implementing the single-payer health care plan.
Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont who’s making his second straight bid for the Democratic nomination, has long pushed for "Medicare-for-all." Sanders touts that under his proposal, premiums, co-payments and out-of-pocket expenses would be eliminated, but admits that taxes would increase.
But Harris has said she would implement the plan without raising middle-class taxes.
Biden – who’s the only one of the top contenders who opposes the plan, in which all Americans would obtain their health insurance from a government-operated program like Medicare – on Wednesday questioned her truthfulness.
“I find that people will say they’re for Medicare-for-all but they're not going to tax the middle class because we don't need to do that. Come on. My point is this is a fantasy world here,” Biden emphasized.
"I think we should have an honest debate. Look, you can't go out and you can't run for president and beat Donald Trump without leveling with the American people about what you're going to do and how you're going to pay for it. I'm anxious for that debate,” he added.
Biden won’t have to wait long. He'll be standing center stage on Wednesday night, surrounded by Booker on one side and Harris on his other side.
Mo Elleithee, the founding executive director of Georgetown University's Institute of Politics and Public Service and a Fox News contributor, noted that there’s a lot on the line for Biden next week.
Elleithee, a senior spokesman for Hilary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign who later served as communications director for the Democratic National Committee, said that “Biden needs to rebound. Biden needs to show people that last time was a fluke.”
Biden's new aggressiveness on the campaign trail is a shift from the first two months of his campaign, when he rarely engaged with his rivals.
Asked in early June if he would return fire, Biden told Fox News: “I think the worst thing we could do is get into a match where we’re going after each other in the Democratic Party. So I’m going to try my best not to be negative relative to my opponents.”
And he said that “just like I’m not going to go down to Trump’s level when he starts his attacks, I’m not going to go down to anybody else’s level when they start attacks.”
But he added he would respond at times to “set the facts straight.” He added, “I’ll respond to assertions. I’m not likely to go and point out what they’re doing.”