President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday agreed with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott that the United States as a nation is not racist, but added that the country has a history of racism that cannot be overlooked.
Biden, pressed on if he thought America was racist, told NBC News in an interview Thursday, “No, I don’t think the American people are racist, but I think after 400 years, African Americans have been left in a position where they are so behind the eight ball, in terms of education, health, in terms of opportunity.”
“I think the overhang from all of the Jim Crow and before that, slavery, have had a cost, and we have to deal with it,” Biden added.
During a Thursday morning appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Harris was also asked to react to comments from Scott — made during the Republican response to Biden’s joint address to Congress — that the US is not a racist country. Scott waded into an array of hot-button policy debates and issues during his speech, including infrastructure, voting rights, policing reform and racism and discrimination, saying at one point that “America is not a racist country.”
“No. I don’t think America is a racist country but we also do have to speak truth about the history of racism in our country and its existence today,” Harris said. “I applaud the President for always having the ability and the courage, frankly, to speak the truth about it.”
Harris noted that domestic terrorism manifested by White supremacists is “one of the greatest threats to our national security.”
She continued, “These are issues that we must confront and it doesn’t — it does not help to heal our country, to unify us as a people, to ignore the realities of that and I think the President has been outstanding and a real national leader on the issue … We want to unify the country, but not without speaking truth and requiring accountability as appropriate.”
Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made history during Biden’s address by becoming the first two women to sit behind the President during a speech to a joint session of Congress.
During the speech, Biden laid out his plans for a sweeping spending proposal that could revamp the American economy with trillions of dollars of spending on physical infrastructure and what he administration calls “human infrastructure.”
As for concerns about the size and scope of the infrastructure proposals, Harris said the administration has been in “many meetings” with Republicans and Democrats, reiterating the White House’s broader definition of bipartisan.
“We’re very serious about that and very sincere in our hope that we can reflect the bipartisan nature of the American people on these issues,” she said.
Harris also addressed some of her immediate plans for tackling the crisis at the US southern border.
The vice president has been assigned the role of leading diplomatic efforts to the Northern Triangle countries, where the bulk of migrants coming to the US illegally are from. She reiterated that her focus is on root causes of migration, outlining her conversations with members of the Cabinet like Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, as well as with heads of state and other leaders.
“It will not be fixed overnight … but we are prepared to make the investment and to get in there for the long haul,” she said.
This story has been updated with comments from President Joe Biden.