Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has repeatedly touted his support from black voters as a sign of his electability in the general election, but he reportedly caused frustration during a meeting last year when he said black “parents can’t read.”
Biden’s remarks, which were first reported by The New York Times on Thursday, came during a private gathering with prominent black mayors from Georgia.
Three people with direct knowledge of the meeting confirmed the account to the newspaper, noting that Biden had said that black communities face a problem because “parents can’t read or write themselves.”
Many of the attendees were reportedly “shocked” and “frustrated” by the former vice president’s comment.
When contacted, Biden’s campaign referred Newsweek to the statement it had given to The Times. That statement suggested Biden was referring to his personal experience.
“The Vice President regularly talks about how his father’s experience has shaped the way he feels about and views the relationship between parents and their children’s learning,” the campaign said in the statement.
The revelation came as Biden has slipped in national polls and has performed well below expectations in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary this month. Senator Bernie Sanders, who won the popular vote in Iowa and won overall in New Hampshire, has surged to frontrunner status in most national surveys.
Meanwhile, Biden has suggested that his campaign will rally in the upcoming Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary, which have significantly larger minority populations.
“Up to now, we haven’t heard from the most committed constituency of the Democratic Party, the African-American community,” Biden told supporters after his fifth-place finish in New Hampshire. He noted: “99.9 percent. That’s the percentage of African-American voters that have not yet had a chance to vote in America.”
But Biden’s support from black Americans also appears to have dropped substantially following his failure in the Iowa caucuses. According to polling data by Morning Consult released on Tuesday, Biden’s overall support from black voters has dropped to 35 percent, while Sanders’ support rose from 17 percent before Iowa to 27 percent – an increase of 10 points.