WASHINGTON – Congressman James Clyburn, D-S.C., a longtime friend of Joe Biden, said Tuesday that he "cringed" at the former vice president's comments that “you ain’t black” if you are not sure whether to vote for him or President Donald Trump.
Clyburn, who gave Biden a his coveted endorsement three days before his state's crucial February primary, told "The View" Tuesday, "Joe did not do as well as I hoped in responding, but I will say this, I go about my business every day comparing Joe Biden, to the alternative, not the Almighty."
"He is not a perfect person. None of us are. So what my decision now is to determine who I feel should be the next president of the United States, and I do that by comparing the candidates to each other, not to the Almighty,” Clyburn said.
Biden made the comments on Friday while an interview with African American radio host Charlamagne tha God's on The Breakfast Club radio show, where Biden emphasized his ties to the African American community, and touted his record on civil rights. At the end of the interview, Biden retorted: "If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black."
Rep. James Clyburn tells us he “cringed” at Joe Biden’s “ain’t black” comment, but says Biden “is not a perfect person — none of us are.”
“I would not have supported him if I did not think he was best suited to be the next president of the United States.” https://t.co/pmnCrwmnmq pic.twitter.com/5ZZmgghlvd
— The View (@TheView) May 26, 2020
The Trump campaign immediately slammed the remarks, calling them "disgusting" and quoting rapper Kanye West as saying, "I will not be told who I'm gonna vote on because of my color."
In a Trump campaign conference call with reporters later Friday, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the only black Republican in the Senate, said he was appalled by Biden's comments.
"I’ve been black for 54 years. I was struck by the condescension and the arrogance. I could not believe my ears that he would stoop so low," Scott said
Later Friday, on a call with members of the U.S. Black Chambers Inc, Biden apologized, saying, "I should not have been so cavalier. I've never, never, ever taken the African-American community for granted," and added he "shouldn't have been such a wise guy."
Clyburn is the House Majority Whip and the highest-ranking African American in Congress. His endorsement was considered a key turning point in Biden's candidacy, and is largely credited for helping boost Biden in South Carolina. "You brought me back," a beaming Biden told Clyburn after that endorsement.
It was no exaggeration. Clyburn is a landmark figure in a state where roughly 60% of all Democratic voters are black.
Exit polls indicated that nearly half – 47% – of Democratic primary voters in South Carolina said Clyburn’s endorsement was an important factor in their vote. Moreover, 24% said it was the most important factor.
Clyburn reiterated his support for Biden on Tuesday when asked about his message to African American voters who were offended by the comments, and attributed them to Biden misspeaking as he is "not a perfect person."
“We sometimes say things we do not really mean, they come out a little bit wrong, and that's what happened here. I think all of us know Joe Biden,” Clyburn said. “I know him, and he knows me. He knows the African American community very well.
"I've done a lot of stuff for Joe Biden over the years, and I would not have supported him if I did not think that he was best suited to be the next president of the United States. It's just that simple.”
Contributing: Nicholas Wu, Deborah Barfield Berry, Ledyard King, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Clyburn says he 'cringed' at Biden's 'you ain't black' comments but maintained support