clock menu more-arrow no yes

Joe Biden accidentally said “poor kids” are just as bright as “white kids”

The former vice president immediately corrected himself to say “wealthy kids.”

Presidential Candidates Hit The Soapbox At The Iowa State Fair
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden delivers a 20-minute campaign speech at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

DES MOINES — Campaigning in Iowa, Joe Biden had what has come to be known as a Joe Biden moment, telling a room of minority Iowa voters that “poor kids” are “just as talented as white kids,” before clarifying he meant “wealthy kids” — a gaffe that has since caught fire on social media.

“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,” Biden said at a presidential forum with the Asian and Latino Coalition, then correcting to: “Wealthy kids. Black kids. Asian kids. No, I really mean it. But think how we think about it.”

Biden’s campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement that 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.”

But attention around the comment had already escalated. President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign even highlighted the remarks in an email, saying, “This is not a gaffe. This is part of a pattern.” Trump has a long history of racist comments, and has repeatedly questioned the intelligence of black leaders. Biden delivered a speech in Iowa this week emphasizing the importance of the “words of a president,” calling out Trump for assigning “a moral equivalence between those spewing hate and those with the courage to stand against it.”

“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 added.

In the room, the moment was only a blip in the nearly two-hour event, where Biden gave rambling responses to fairly straightforward questions on immigration, unions, criminal justice, climate change, and gun control.

The moderator twice asked the former vice president to be more direct in his answers — and generally talk less. At one point, Biden gave a 10-minute response to a question on criminal justice that included the standard Democratic positions on gun control, like background checks and requiring safety locks, and the geography of the Delmarva Peninsula.

Biden has always been known for going off the cuff and saying things that get him into trouble (like when he waxed nostalgic about working with segregationist senators).

Outside that room in Des Moines, he had stepped again into what has come to define his campaign so far: a series of misspoken statements that don’t seem to have had too much of an effect on his lead in the polls but have raised questions about his past record and even his age.

“I don’t apologize for my passion,” Biden said, defending his speaking style to the group, then closing off the event with, “You’re all thinking, ‘Joe, go the hell home’. I’m leaving.”