Skip to content
The Morning Dispatch: Biden Apologizes for ‘You Ain’t Black’ Gaffe
Go to my account

The Morning Dispatch: Biden Apologizes for ‘You Ain’t Black’ Gaffe

Plus, has Steve King reached the end of his rope?

Happy Tuesday! We missed you yesterday. Hope you had a great Memorial Day, and were able to take time to reflect on the sacrifices our countrymen have made to keep us a free country today. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As of Monday night, 1,662,768 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States (an increase of 19,522 from yesterday) and 98,223 deaths have been attributed to the virus (an increase of 503 from yesterday), according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, leading to a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 5.9 percent (the true mortality rate is likely lower, but it’s impossible to determine precisely due to incomplete testing regimens). Of 14,604,942 coronavirus tests conducted in the United States (441,027 conducted since yesterday), 11.4 percent have come back positive.

  • President Trump declared on Friday that places of worship are essential and stated he would override any governors that would prevent them from reopening. (Trump didn’t specify under what authority he’d pursue such an overruling.)

  • Updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control emphasized that while coronavirus can survive for hours or even days on surfaces, touching surfaces with virus on them is not the “main way” COVID-19 spreads. The organization also updated its “current best estimate” for the virus to project a 0.4 percent fatality rate among symptomatic cases and that 35 percent of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic.

  • Rental car company Hertz became one of the highest-profile companies to declare bankruptcy due to the pandemic. The company filed for bankruptcy Friday night and plans to restructure its debts to stay in business.

  • The NBA announced it is in talks to restart the 2019-2020 season in July at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida.

  • The United States is now restricting travel from Brazil, which has quickly turned into a coronavirus hotspot. The restrictions will affect only foreign nationals flying into the United States from Brazil, and will not have any effect on trade.

  • The Libertarian Party held its convention online over the weekend and nominated psychology lecturer and 1996 Libertarian vice presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen as the party’s presidential candidate.

‘You Ain’t Black’

On Friday morning, The Breakfast Club, a nationally syndicated radio show aired an interview of former Vice President Joe Biden by popular black radio personality Lenard Larry McKelvey, known to his listeners as Charlamagne tha God. The interview was, at times, contentious, and after 17 minutes, an aide could be heard off-camera interrupting to say, “Thank you so much. That’s really our time. I apologize.” 

Here’s the transcript from that moment:

Charlamagne: “You can’t do that to black media!”

Biden: “I do that to white media and black media because my wife has to go on at 6 o’clock … Uh oh. I’m in trouble.”

Charlamagne: “Listen, you’ve got to come see us when you come to New York, VP Biden. It’s a long way until November. We’ve got more questions.”

Biden: “You’ve got more questions? Well I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”

That last line caused a series of headaches for Biden’s team, and the Trump campaign and its allies were quick to respond. 

Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that the remarks sound “racist AF,” and Black Voices for Trump called Biden’s gaffe “racist and dehumanizing.”

Sen. Tim Scott, the lone black Republican in Congress’s upper chamber, expressed his frustration on Twitter: “1.3 million black Americans already voted for Trump in 2016. This morning, Joe Biden told every single one of us we ‘ain’t black.’ I’d say I’m surprised, but it’s sadly par for the course for Democrats to take the black community for granted and brow beat those that don’t agree.”

“We have been loyal to Democrats for a long time, black people have invested a lot into that party and the return on investment has not been great,” Charlamagne said in a statement to Mediaite about the end of the interview. “As Biden said in our brief interview when I asked him if Dems owe the black community ABSOLUTELY was his answer. So let’s see what you got!!! Votes are Quid Pro Quo. You can’t possibly want me to Fear Trump MORE than I want something for my people.”

Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to the Biden campaign, initially brushed off the former vice president’s comments as being made “in jest,” saying Biden was “making the distinction that he would put his record with the African American community up against Trump’s any day.”

But Biden himself felt the need to issue an apology of sorts shortly thereafter. “I should not have been so cavalier. I’ve never, never, ever taken the African American community for granted,” Biden said on a phone call with black business leaders. “No one should have to vote for any party based on their race, their religion, their background.”

The Biden campaign—which has been centered on its support among black voters since its inception—would undoubtedly love for the candidate’s mea culpa to be the end of the story, but Team Trump is hoping to extend the comments’ shelf life. By Friday night, the president’s campaign had started selling #YouAin’tBlack t-shirts on its website and announced a $1 million digital ad campaign amplifying the remarks.

The comments come at an interesting time for both campaigns. As we reported earlier this month, Trump’s favorability is increasing among black men: An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll at the time found that 24 percent of black men approved of Trump’s job performance. But Biden’s ties with the African American community are strong—last week’s Fox News poll shows the former vice president leading Trump among black voters 76 percent to 12 percent, and 54 percent to 33 percent among non-white men.

The End of the Road for Steve King?

A week from today, the Republican Party will have its ninth opportunity to rid itself of one of the party’s most polarizing members when voters in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District head to the polls. But this is the first time it’s ever really tried.

Rep. Steve King was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2002, and has, in the 18 years since, been the primary sponsor of exactly one enacted bill: H.R. 2758, which in 2003 renamed the post office at 101 S. Vine Street in Glenwood, Iowa.

King has garnered far more attention for his penchant for hateful rhetoric and political posturing than he has for his voting record. “Some [illegal immigrants] are valedictorians,” he told Newsmax in 2013. “But they aren’t all valedictorians. … For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” At the Republican National Convention in 2016, he asked a group of panelists to identify “contributions” made by non-Western civilizations. “Go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people you are talking about,” he said, referencing non-white people. “Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?” Shortly before election day, King was caught on tape seemingly comparing immigrants from Mexico to “dirt,” and then caught repeatedly lying about the incident. More recently, after associating himself with several high-profile white nationalists abroad, King asked in an early 2019 interview with the New York Times: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

After those last comments, House Republicans stripped King of all his committee assignments—agriculture, small business, and judiciary—with House Republican Conference Chair, Liz Cheney, telling King to go find another line of work.

King, 70, has said his comments in the New York Times were “completely mischaracterized,” adding that he was referring “ONLY to Western Civilization and NOT to any previously stated evil ideology ALL of which I have denounced.”

This newfound congressional impotence—more than his controversial and bigoted comments—may spell doom for King’s political career, particularly amid a pandemic.

“Agriculture is facing an existential crisis in the supply chain, and he’s booted off the Agriculture Committee. You’ve got small businesses who are failing left and right, laying people off, can’t operate. And he’s on the Small Business Committee and gets removed from that,” said longtime Iowa GOP strategist David Kochel in an interview with The Dispatch. “Two very critical committees where the sort of expertise and the ability to get things into legislation would be important. And he’s a no-show.”

“He basically rendered himself kind of useless to the district and the needs of the district.”

King, whose campaign did not respond to a request for comment from The Dispatch, recently told voters in Sioux City that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy promised to “advocate” for the Iowa Republican getting his committee appointments back. But sources close to McCarthy told Politico no such deal was reached, and that the Minority Leader only agreed to let King make his case to the GOP Steering Committee that handles such decisions.

Here’s what GOP Steering Committee member Rep. Steve Stivers had to say about that:

King will face off against four primary challengers next Tuesday, but the most formidable by far is Iowa State Sen. Randy Feenstra, who has received the backing of large swaths of the institutional GOP and out-fundraised King nearly 3-to-1. 

Besides having more than $120,000 cash on hand, Feenstra’s campaign has received a boost from outside organizations like the United States Chamber of Commerce, Priorities for Iowa, and Defending Main Street—to the tune of several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Feenstra is “the only candidate that’s been able to be on the air at a time when that’s particularly important because of COVID,” Kochel said. “These candidates aren’t campaigning county-to-county like you’d normally do, so a lot of what you would expect to do in a campaign has to be replaced by paid messaging.”

“Whatever you think of Steve King, it’s clear he’s no longer effective,” Bob Vander Plaats—president and CEO of the social conservative Family Leader organization—says in one of these paid messages. “He can’t deliver for President Trump, and he can’t advance our conservative values. Thankfully, Iowa has a better choice.”

King knows he’s up against an onslaught—in both Iowa and Washington DC—and has made this onslaught a key pillar of his campaign. “Iowa’s 4th Congressional District Republican primary race is the epicenter of the battle against the swamp right now,” he wrote in a column for the Sioux-City Journal. “You’ve seen attack ads and mailers paid for by billionaire coastal RINO-NeverTrumper, globalist, neocon elites. These are the people who now own Randy Feenstra.”

“It’s not really about the issues anymore,” Kochel said. “It’s about him. And he is now trying to make it sort of a referendum on his victimhood. But let’s remember these are all self-inflicted wounds, and it’s basically left the district without a voice.”

Internal polling from the Feenstra campaign in early May shows the challenger within the margin of error against King, surging from down 31 points in late January to trail the longtime incumbent by only three.

Worth Your Time

  • One knockdown, drag-out presidential contest not enough to scratch the itch for you? Then read this excellent inside-look feature from Politico’s Matt Dixon about how Florida Republicans, from Marco Rubio to Rick Scott to Ron DeSantis, are already jockeying for the next big prize: the GOP’s 2024 presidential nod. 

  • Joe Biden’s “You ain’t black” gaffe last week highlighted once again the candidate’s career-long tendency to get himself into trouble with his mouth. But the response to it, Briahna Joy Gray writes in Current Affairs, demonstrated a different essentialist problem: many commentators took issue not with the content of the comment itself, but with the fact that it was Biden—a white man—who said it. “It’s obvious that someone like Biden is not in a position to define what does and doesn’t constitute true Blackness,” Gray writes. “But nobody should be portraying Black voters as a uniform bloc whose political loyalties are predetermined by their identity.” 

  • As the nation creeps toward 100,000 coronavirus deaths, it can be difficult to grapple with that number as anything more than an abstraction or statistic. This feature from the New York Times helps to put the tragedy into a more human perspective, with mini-eulogies for hundreds of the dead: “Jazz pianist and patriarch of a family of musicians… Fire chief who answered the call on 9/11… Prosecuted mobsters, drug dealers and corrupt politicians… Many will remember her half-moon cookies.” 

Something Unsettling

What’s more fun than going down to the lake for the weekend? How about crowding in cheek-by-jowl in the pool there? In the middle of a pandemic?

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Jonah’s Friday G-File wasn’t just a smackdown of Matt Damon’s smarmy supergenius know-it-all character from Good Will Hunting, but it would’ve been worth a read even if it’d stopped there. Fortunately, it proceeds into a discussion of what it means for human conventions to be “arbitrary,” and how even arbitrary decisions quickly become networked into human society. 

  • David’s latest Sunday French Press takes a deep dive to debunk a newly fashionable historical revisionism: that “conservative Evangelical activism is built on white supremacy” and “Evangelical leaders mainly supported abortion rights” until they needed a new cultural issue to seize on in the late 1970s. 

  • And don’t miss David’s Memorial Day French Press, a meditation on how his deployment to Iraq at age 38 during the surge in 2007 reshaped his experience of Memorial Day, and how it is a day with “lessons for the crisis of the moment.” 

  • On the site today, Abby McCloskey and Angela Rachidi argue that the pandemic has demonstrated the need for a more robust discussion on paid family leave. “When people feel pressure to go to work while ill or when a family member is sick, it is problematic during typical times. During a pandemic, it can be fatal.” But they also caution against using a temporary situation like a pandemic as the basis for permanent policies.

  • Also on the site today, Chester E. Finn Jr. points out that in eliminating admissions tests like the ACT and SAT from consideration, the University of California is hurting exactly the students it’s trying to help.

Let Us Know

We don’t know what it’s like in your neck of the woods, but around here the bizarre Frankenschool we’ve been lurching through for the last couple months is coming close to an end. If you have kids, how is this summer going to differ from ordinary ones, if at all, thanks to the ongoing threat of the virus?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), Alec Dent (@Alec_Dent), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).