Former Vice President Joe Biden said Friday he "shouldn’t have been so cavalier" during an interview with radio host Charlamagne Tha God in which Biden defended his record with the black community and chided the host — in jest, a campaign aide later said — that "if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black."
Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic nominee to face President Donald Trump in November's general election, appeared on The Breakfast Club on Friday morning.
There, the popular radio show host pressed Biden on some of Biden's past positions, such as his support of the so-called crime bill of 1994 — the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act — which many criminal justice advocates argue encouraged mass incarceration of people of color.
"I’ve been critical of you," Charlamagne Tha God, 41, said at the top of the interview.
He went on to probe Biden, 77, about criminal justice and drug issues and Biden's potential running mate and what Biden felt the Democratic Party owed black voters for their overwhelming, lasting support.
Biden's own abiding strength with black voters dramatically reversed his primary chances in early March against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — leading to a string of smashing victories that drove Sanders from the race.
Charlamagne Tha God noted that Friday, saying they had "saved your [Biden's] political life."
Charlamagne Tha God said he believed "Democrats take black voters for granted."
"Vote’s a quid pro quo, right. It’s not like I don’t want to vote," he told Biden. "I just want to know what candidates will do for us and in exchange for our votes."
Biden went on to defend his work — arguing the '94 crime bill did not increase incarceration nationwide, which he said was influenced by other factors, and touting his work with black leaders and their support more broadly.
He also talked about his stance on decriminalizing marijuana, said there were "multiple black women" being considered for his ticket and he pushed back on an idea Charlamagne Tha God put to him that he wasn't offering enough leadership to contrast with Trump during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Joshua Lott/Getty Images Former Vice President Joe Biden
The interview at times shaded into contentiousness with Biden raising his voice to a near-yell as he made his points, sometimes scolding the host.
Responding to what Charlamagne Tha God described as Biden seeming to recede from the spotlight in responding to the coronavirus, Biden said he was following proper social distancing, criticized Trump's approach and pointed to the tens of thousands of people dead, including many in the black community.
"And you guys are wondering what’s he doing," Biden said. "Come on man, get a life, get a life. This guy’s been incredibly terrible."
At other times, he and Charlamagne Tha God laughed and exchanged pleasantries. For much of it, the host asked Biden a question and listened as the former vice president spoke at length.
At one point, a Biden aide cut in to say Biden was out of time for more questions, but Biden waved him off. "I’ve talked too much," he told Charlamagne Tha God. "I apologize."
But the headline-grabbing moment came at the very end, when the aide again cut in to say that Biden had to end the interview. Biden said it was because his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, needed the same home studio for another appearance.
"You can’t do that to black media," Charlamagne Tha God said.
"My wife has to go on at 6 o’clock," Biden said, looking at his watch and adding, "Uh-oh I’m in trouble."
Charlamagne Tha God told him to stop by for another interview at The Breakfast Club's New York City studio. "It’s a long way until November, we got more questions," he said.
"You got more questions, but I tell ya, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black," Biden said.
"It don’t have nothing to do with Trump, it has to do with the fact I want something for my community," Charlamagne Tha God said back.
Biden replied: "Take a look at my record man. … I have a record that is second to none."
His "ain't black" comment trended on Twitter and drew criticism (and some defenders who said his remark paled next to Trump's own history).
The Trump campaign also seized on the controversy, according to The New York Times, with one surrogate telling reporters he was "negative race-baiting."
Rich Fury/Getty Charlamagne Tha God
In a statement, Charlamagne Tha God reportedly said, "Black people have invested a lot into [Democrats] and the return on investment has not been great. ... So let's see what you got. Votes are quid pro quo. You can't possibly want me to fear Trump more than I want something for my people."
Speaking on MSNBC later Friday, Rev. Al Sharpton said that what Biden said was "inappropriate." He criticized parts of Biden's history and praised others, such as Biden's work to reduce the federal prison population.
"Deal with the record and don’t say things in jest, that’s inappropriate, and people can be black and still make wrong political decisions. But Charlamagne Tha God is not one of them," Sharpton said.
Symone Sanders, a Biden senior aide, appeared on MSNBC on Friday as well and said that Biden's comments "were said in jest."
"What Vice President Biden was saying is: He will put his record and his track record up with the African-American community and in the African-American community up against Donald Trump any single day, period. There is no comparison," she said.
On a call Friday with the U.S. Black Chambers, Biden said: "The bottom line of all this is perhaps I was much too cavalier. I know that the comments have come off like I was taking the African-American vote for granted. But nothing could be further from the truth. I've never ever done that and I've earned it every time I've run."
"I shouldn't have been such a wise guy," he said.