BOONE, Iowa — Former vice president Joe Biden on Thursday night told a group of mostly minority voters in Iowa that “poor kids” are just as bright as “white kids,” renewing questions around his history of gaffes and triggering a day-long back-and-forth between him and President Trump.
Biden, who has been leading in national and early state polling for the Democratic presidential nomination, was speaking on the subject of education at a town hall in Des Moines hosted by the Asian and Latino Coalition.
“We should challenge students in these schools that have Advanced Placement programs in these schools,” Biden said. “We have this notion that somehow if you’re poor, you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”
After a brief pause, he added: “Wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids, no, I really mean it, but think how we think about it.”
His remarks prompted a stir on social media Thursday night, with many focusing on the equivalence he drew, whether intentionally or not, between poor and minority children.
President Trump, who has used racist rhetoric without backing away from it, quickly sought to turn the incident into an indictment of Biden’s mental acuity.
“Joe Biden is not playing with a full deck,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “This is not somebody you can have as your president. But if he got the nomination, I’d be thrilled.”
Biden’s remark came during a campaign appearance late Thursday. He gave a stump speech and then answered a half-dozen questions from members of the Asian and Latino Coalition, which has been hosting a number of the candidates. Biden’s answers at times meandered, and he was urged several times by the host to keep his remarks brief to allow for more questions.
Earlier in the day, Biden had mixed up one of his standard lines while addressing a crowd at the Iowa State Fair, saying that Americans should “choose truth over facts.” He also referred to Margaret Thatcher instead of the more recent British prime minister Theresa May.
On Friday, Biden delivered remarks in Boone, Iowa, before a crowd of about 150 people, with a stable behind him. He did not refer to the gaffe — or Trump’s response — but in one indication of the risk for Biden in going off-script, he used a teleprompter, despite the rural setting and delivery of his standard stump speech.
Biden, when asked by reporters for his response to Trump’s comment, said, “It’s the second anniversary of Charlottesville coming up, and they need to divert something.”
Asked whether his collection of gaffes may hurt his electability, he said, “That will be determined pretty soon, won’t it?”
Several voters who had come to hear him here were not bothered by the latest misstep.
“It makes him human,” said Amy Christensen-Buenger, a 60-year-old from Mitchellville, Iowa, who remains undecided in the Democratic presidential contest. “We all make gaffes. We all screw up. How can you not, with as much as he’s in front of the cameras? I think it’s endearing.”
Tim Winter, chairman of the Boone County Democrats, introduced Biden by pointing to his history of gaffes but saying that they should be seen as a sign of authenticity and that Biden means well. Winter said afterward that he had not been aware of Biden’s comments the previous night.
“I attribute that to him campaigning all day long,” said Dianne Eppert, a 74-year-old retired state employee. “You wear down, whether you’re in your 20s or your 70s. And he corrected himself. I make gaffes every day. It’s just human nature.”
In a statement Friday, Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said Biden “misspoke and immediately corrected himself during a refrain he often uses to make the point that all children deserve a fair shot, and children born into lower-income circumstances are just as smart as those born to wealthy parents.”
She also took issue with the Trump campaign for having promoted a video of Biden’s gaffe on Twitter.
“As we approach the two year anniversary of Trump calling neo-Nazis and Klansmen ‘very fine people,’ Donald Trump is desperate to change the subject from his atrocious record of using racism to divide this country,” Bedingfield said, referring to Trump’s comments following the deadly confrontation in Charlottesville in 2017 between self-proclaimed white nationalists and protesters.
A few days after the tragedy, Trump said there “were very fine people on both sides” but did not specifically say that “neo-Nazis” or “Klansmen” are “very fine people.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, another Democratic White House hopeful, also sought to draw attention to Biden’s comments — as well as his campaign’s response.
“To quickly dismiss @JoeBiden’s words as a mere ‘slip of the tongue’ is as concerning as what he said,” de Blasio tweeted Friday. “We need to have a real conversation about the racism and sexism behind ‘electability.’ ”
Thursday was not the first time Biden’s comments on race have prompted scrutiny.
In January 2007, on the day he launched his bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Biden found himself defending comments made a week earlier in an interview with the New York Observer about then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).
In the interview, he called Obama “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
Biden issued a statement that day, saying: “I deeply regret any offense my remark in the New York Observer might have caused anyone. That was not my intent and I expressed that to Sen. Obama.”
A Monmouth University poll released Thursday showed Biden leading the Democratic field in Iowa, with 28 percent of likely 2020 Democratic caucus voters. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) placed second, with 19 percent support, up from 7 percent in April.