Rep. Eric Swalwell went after former Vice President Joe Biden about 15 minutes into the second Democratic presidential primary debate on Thursday evening. Swalwell, who at 38 is one of the youngest candidates, said Biden, who is 76, should “pass the torch.” Biden rejected the California lawmaker’s critique.
“I’m still holding on to that torch,” Biden said with a smile.
If elected, Biden would surpass 73-year-old Donald Trump as the oldest president in U.S. history. Biden is currently leading all polls of the crowded Democratic field and Swalwell is near the back of the pack with support in the low single digits.
Swalwell brought up Biden’s age when he was asked a question about automation and artificial intelligence taking jobs from workers. He brought up comments that he said Biden made during his campaign for president in the 1988 election.
“I was 6 years old when a presidential candidate came to the California Democratic Convention and said, ‘It’s time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans.’ That candidate was then-Sen. Joe Biden,” Swalwell said. “Joe Biden was right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans 32 years ago. He’s still right today.”
Swalwell went on to suggest letting a new generation lead would be the best way to address a whole host of different issues.
“If we’re going to solve the issues of automation, pass the torch. If we’re going to solve the issue of climate chaos, pass the torch. If we’re going to solve the issue of student loan debt, pass the torch. If we’re going to end gun violence ... pass the torch,” Swalwell said.
The debate moderators then asked Biden if he’d like to respond.
“I would,” Biden said.
After his comment that he was “still holding on” to the torch, Biden pivoted to education. He outlined his support for various policies, including increasing funds for distressed schools, establishing universal pre-K, free community college and freezing interest on student debt for people making under $25,000 a year.
Heading into the debate, many of the Democratic campaigns expected that some of the lower-profile candidates like Swalwell might try to attack some of their more successful rivals. As the frontrunner, Biden is the likeliest target.
The Biden campaign declined to comment on the exchange.
A senior adviser for one of the other Democratic candidates told Yahoo News they thought Biden handled the situation “pretty well.” The adviser also predicted it wouldn’t be the last attack on Biden before Thursday night’s debate was finished.
“I’m sure more to come,” the adviser said.
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