Biden says he was surprised by Harris attack at Democrats' debate

Former US vice president Joe Biden said he did not expect Senator Kamala Harris to confront him on racial issues at the debate (AFP Photo/WIN MCNAMEE)

Washington (AFP) - Former US vice president Joe Biden said in an interview broadcast on Friday that he had not expected Senator Kamala Harris to confront him on racial issues during their 2020 Democratic presidential candidate debate.

"I was prepared for them to come after me, but I wasn't prepared for the person coming at me the way she came," Biden told CNN in a reference to Harris.

Harris notably accused Biden, a former senator from Delaware, of opposing the busing of black students to schools in white neighborhoods during the 1970s as part of efforts to desegregate schools.

Harris's exchange with Biden was seen as a standout moment during the two debates among the two dozen candidates seeking to become the Democratic standard-bearer against Republican President Donald Trump in November 2020.

Harris, 54, the junior senator from California who is the only black woman in the 2020 race, surged in the polls following the debate, while the 76-year-old Biden saw his support slip.

Biden, who served for eight years as vice president to Barack Obama, America's first black president, told CNN he wasn't concerned because "the American people think they know me."

He also said he had received numerous endorsements from black political leaders.

According to a RealClear Politics average of national polls, Biden currently has the support of 26 percent of Democrats, with Harris next at 15 percent.

Biden was also asked by CNN how he would fare in a matchup with Trump.

"I beat him by just pointing out who I am and who he his, and what we're for and what he's against," Biden told CNN.

"This guy's the divider-in-chief. This guy is acting with racist policies. This guy is moving to foment hate, to split," he said.

"He's the bully that I've always stood up to," Biden said. "He's the bully who used to make fun, when I was a kid, of a stutter, and I smacked him in the mouth."

Asked about that later in a scrum with reporters on the White House lawn, Trump replied, "I don't think I'm a bully. I don't like being taken advantage of."