Joe Biden offered a rare apology on Tuesday night, saying he was sorry for using the phrase “partisan lynching” two decades ago to describe an impeachment proceeding. It came several hours after Biden had called President Donald Trump “despicable” and “abhorrent” for saying the impeachment proceedings against him was a “lynching.”
It is rare for Biden to offer a fulsome apology; his usually fall into the “I really regret some have taken totally out of context” category, as occurred in 2007 when he called then-candidate Barack Obama, whom he would later serve as vice president, “articulate and bright and clean.”
Tuesday’s apology marked how potentially significant his campaign viewed his use of the word, and also highlighted how Biden’s long history in public life has not always been an advantage.
Unlike his Democratic primary rivals, Biden has often had to clean up his past comments before taking a shot at Trump. Others have found their routes simpler, not having to take into account words from decades ago.
The latest example occurred after Trump on Tuesday morning said that the impeachment inquiry amounted to a “lynching.” Biden and many other Democrats and Republicans denounced his use of the word and said it was intended to deepen racial wounds.
“Impeachment is not ‘lynching,’ it is part of our Constitution,” Biden tweeted in response. “Our country has a dark, shameful history with lynching, and to even think about making this comparison is abhorrent. It’s despicable.”
Symone Sanders, his top black staffer and surrogate, wrote on Twitter, “Do not ever describe anything other than actual lynching, as a lynching.”
But on Tuesday night, CNN unearthed a video of Biden in October 1998 using a similar phrase while talking about the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
“Even if the president should be impeached, history is going to question whether or not this was just a partisan lynching or whether or not it was something that in fact met the standard, the very high bar, that was set by the founders as to what constituted an impeachable offense,” Biden said in an interview with Wolf Blitzer.
After several hours of criticism, Biden responded.
“This wasn’t the right word to use and I’m sorry about that,” Biden tweeted Tuesday night.
Biden quickly transitioned into a criticism of Trump, attempting to argue that he didn’t mean to use the word divisively, whereas Trump did.
“Trump on the other hand chose his words deliberately today in his use of the word lynching and continues to stoke racial divides in this country daily,” he wrote.
Biden, whose standing in the race has been supported by a huge advantage among black voters, was not alone, however.
The Washington Post identified at least five other Democratic lawmakers — current and former Reps. Danny Davis of Illinois, Gregory Meeks of New York, Jim McDermott of Washington, Charles Rangel of New York, and Jerrold Nadler of New York — who talked about a “lynching” or “lynch mob” when it came to Clinton’s impeachment.