The Republican National Committee pushed back Friday on President Joe Biden’s claim to have desegregated restaurants and theaters during the 1960s, quoting Biden himself.
Biden made the remark in a commencement address to a historically black college in South Carolina.
“This is all a lie, one he’s told over and over and over and over again,” RNC Deputy Rapid Response Director Kyle Martinsen said in a statement.
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Martinsen pointed to comments Biden made in 1987, when the then-senator described himself as sympathetic to the cause of civil rights and having worked at an “all-black swimming pool on the east side of Wilmington, Delaware” but not as an activist.
“I was not an activist. ... I was not out marching,” Biden stated. “I was not down in Selma. I was not anywhere else.”
Biden said during his speech at South Carolina State University that he had attended a black church and then went out to help desegregate public accomodations in the area.
“Biden didn’t attend a Black church. He wasn’t out marching for civil rights as a teen,” the RNC statement continued. “What he was doing, decades later, was befriending white supremacists and destroying millions of Black lives.”
The president used the speech to push the Democrats’ election overhaul legislation.
"You'll hear the president talk about the fact that Republican attacks across the country are not just on limiting who gets to vote, but about changing who gets to count the vote and whose vote is counted," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters flying with Biden to South Carolina on Friday.
Psaki described GOP efforts to tighten state voting laws as a “sinister combination of voter suppression and election subversion.”
South Carolina was important to Biden’s path to the Democratic nomination after disappointing performances in Iowa and New Hampshire. Biden came back to win the Palmetto State by a landslide, with the endorsement of Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina State University graduate, and strong support from black voters.
But Biden’s civil rights record has previously come under scrutiny, including from Vice President Kamala Harris during the Democratic primaries, based on friendships with segregationist politicians during his long Senate career and opposition to forced busing.
Biden spoke Friday about winning the support of Strom Thurmond, the longtime South Carolina senator and former segregationist, for an extension of the Voting Rights Act when the two served together on the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1982.
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The RNC had a different take on Biden’s record.
“It’s not one of civil rights,” the RNC official said. “It’s one of lies, racism, and destruction.”