Joe Biden has apologised for saying that if African Americans “have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black”, a remark which prompted a storm of controversy and fierce attacks from supporters of the president.
“I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy,” Biden said on a call with the US Black Chambers, an African-American business group, which was added to his public schedule. “I shouldn’t have been so cavalier.”
Biden also said he would never “take the African American community for granted”.
The former vice-president made the offending remark in an interview with Charlamagne tha God, a co-host of the radio show The Breakfast Club.
After Biden had been pressed on issues including the legalization of marijuana and his choice of running mate, a campaign aide interjected to say he had to wrap it up, prompting the host to say: “You can’t do that to black media.”
Saying “I do that to black media and white media”, Biden said his wife needed to use his studio.
Charlamagne said: “Listen, you’ve got to come see us when you come to New York, VP Biden. It’s a long way until November. We’ve got more questions.”
“You’ve got more questions?” Biden said. “Well I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”
“It don’t have nothing to do with Trump,” the host said. “It has to do with the fact [that]I want something for my community.”
“Take a look at my record, man!” Biden said, before claiming his record as a senator and vice-president was “second to none”.
Biden has been criticized and attacked for previous positions and comments on race, such as when he reminisced about past “civility” in the Senate by recalling his work with two senators who opposed racial integration.
His comment about black voters and Trump prompted fierce and instant backlash.
The South Carolina senator Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the upper chamber, tweeted: “1.3 million black Americans already voted for Trump in 2016. This morning, Joe Biden told every single one of us we ‘ain’t black’.”
Katrina Pierson, who leads the Black Voices for Trump advisory board, said: “Today he once again proved what a growing number of black Americans and I have always known: Joe Biden does not deserve our votes.”
Scott and Pierson featured on a press call quickly convened by the Trump campaign, in which Pierson reportedly grew defensive when pressed on Trump’s own lengthy history of racially insensitive comments.
Trump himself retweeted Scott’s view that Biden’s comments “are the most arrogant and condescending thing I’ve heard in a very long time” and commended an African American Fox News host, Harris Faulkner, as “A GREAT AMERICAN”.
Faulkner said Biden’s comment was “more than just a little offensive, it is short-sighted, it is a blind spot for this former vice-president”.
Before Biden’s apology, Symone Sanders, a senior adviser who is African American, said the comment was “made in jest”.
“Let’s be clear about what the VP was saying,” Sanders tweeted. “He was making the distinction that he would put his record with the African American community up against Trump’s any day. Period.”
Biden has committed to picking a woman as his running mate and two leading contenders, Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams, are black. Near the end of his interview on Friday, however, he was pressed on reports that he is considering Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, who is white.
Black voters “saved your political life in the primaries”, Charlamagne said, referring to Biden’s comeback from early defeats with a big win in South Carolina, and adding that such voters “have things they want from you”.
Biden said: “I guarantee you there are multiple black women being considered. Multiple.”