Former Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he would not be seeking the presidency if it weren’t for the white supremacist violence that occurred in Charlottesville in August 2017 and President Donald Trump’s response to it.
At a fundraiser in Richmond, about an hour east of Charlottesville, Biden said he had been prepared to re-enter private life after forgoing a run against Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“I had not planned on running for the presidency,” Biden said. “And I mean that sincerely.”
Biden said his calculation changed “when those folks came out of the fields carrying those torches, chanting the anti-Semitic bile and their veins bulging, accompanied by the Ku Klux Klan, with such ugliness.”
“I never thought I’d see something like that again in my life. That’s when I decided,” Biden said.
Since Trump said there were “very fine people” on both sides of the Charlottesville rally, Biden said, his rhetoric has “gotten worse.”
“The way in which he refers to ... Mexicans, the way he refers to people of color,” Biden said. “The way he attempts to divide — and does deliberately divide the nation — to maintain power, is dangerous.”
Biden spoke to a crowd of about 150 gathered at The Boathouse, a seafood restaurant on the James River where guests ate fried oysters, vegetable spring rolls and hush puppies as they took in panoramic views .
He arrived at the venue shortly after 7 p.m. and began a roughly 30-minute speech at 7:35 p.m.
The host committee for the event included U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, D-4th, but he was unable to attend. Other state and local political figures in the crowd were Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus; Dels. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, and Debra Rodman, D-Henrico; and James “JJ” Minor, president of the NAACP’s Richmond chapter.
Biden made Charlottesville a key theme of his campaign kickoff video, and he began his speech Tuesday by saying there were “two reasons” Virginia is key to his presidential bid. After noting that an “extremely talented neurosurgeon” at the University of Virginia performed two aneurysm-related brain surgeries on him in 1988, Biden launched into an extended riff on the Charlottesville violence and what it represented.
“There’s always been a contest between good and evil in this country. Since the original sin of slavery, there’s always been this piece of us that had a minority who were white supremacists. And people who were haters,” Biden said.
Drawing ties to the massive KKK march in Washington, D.C., in 1925, he said racism has “always been the underbelly of our society.”
Samantha Cotten, a spokeswoman for Trump’s campaign, said in a statement that Biden would “set the clock back” on the economy.
Cotten said that while Biden “campaigns on job and economy-killing proposals, President Trump’s policies continue to work for Virginia’s business community and families alike.”