Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii is taking aim at Democratic presidential nomination rival Sen. Kamala Harris over the California senator’s takedown of former Vice President Joe Biden during the first round of presidential primary debates.
Gabbard tweeted on Monday that the attack by Harris at last month’s debate over Biden’s stance on federally mandated school busing amounted to a “false accusation” that the former vice president “is a racist.”
And Gabbard downplayed the significance of the fiery encounter, which helped dramatically boost Harris in public opinion polls conducted after the debate.
The tweet from Gabbard come as questions persist on whether there’s any daylight between Harris and Biden when it comes to federally mandated busing. It also comes as the Biden campaign has pushed back against the criticism from Harris – and as at least one other Democratic presidential campaign has weighed in on the controversy.
Harris’ breakthrough debate moment came as she criticized recent comments by Biden spotlighting his ability to find common ground during the 1970s with segregationist senators with whom he disagreed.
The black senator and former California attorney general then highlighted how she benefited from busing as a young elementary school student during the 1970s in Berkeley, California.
“That’s where the federal government must step in,” Harris then said as she stared at Biden across the debate stage.
But last week – campaigning in Iowa – Harris characterized busing as an option for local school districts to choose rather than something mandated by the federal government.
Asked by reporters whether she supports federally mandated busing, Harris answered, “I think of busing as being in the toolbox of what is available and what can be used for the goal of desegregating America’s schools.”
Later that evening, University of Chicago Institute of Politics director David Axelrod weighed in.
Axelrod, who served as chief strategist for President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 election campaigns, tweeted that “It sounds here like
@KamalaHarris is now taking something more like the @JoeBiden position on school busing. So what was that whole thing at the debate all about?”
Gabbard, a longer-shot for the 2020 nomination, on Monday retweeted Axelrod’s original tweet and added “I agree with Axelrod. But let’s get real. It wasn’t a “whole thing” — it was a false accusation that Joe Biden is a racist.”
Both Biden and Harris’ campaigns got into a nasty feud on Twitter after the comments on busing by Harris went viral, sparking a war of words between Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager and communications director and Harris’ national press secretary, Ian Sams.
“It’s disappointing that Senator Harris chose to distort Vice President Biden’s position on busing,” Bedingfield tweeted, “particularly now that she is tying herself in knots trying not to answer the very question she posed to him!”
Sams shot back, saying “VP Biden said: ‘Who the hell do we think we are that the only way a black man or woman can learn is if they rub shoulders with my white child?’ He called busing an ‘asinine concept.’ C’mon. Y’all are better than this.”
Biden – in a CNN interview that aired on Friday, spotlighted that “this whole thing about race and busing. Well, I think if you take a look, our positions aren’t any different as we’re finding out.”
Biden on Saturday delivered an apology to a mostly black audience of several hundred in Sumter, South Carolina over his ‘segregationist senators’ comments.
“Was I wrong a few weeks ago?” Biden asked during the first day of a weekend visit to the state that holds the first southern primary. “Yes, I was. I regret it, and I’m sorry for any of the pain of misconception that caused anybody.”
Biden said on Sunday that he waited weeks to apologize because the mostly black audience in Sumter was the “first opportunity we had to do it in a fulsome way.”
Harris, speaking to reporters Sunday in South Carolina, said that Biden was “right to recognize the impact of his words and I applaud him for doing that, having the courage to do it.”
But pointing to their positions on federally mandated busing, she disagreed that she and Biden were on the same page, saying “there is still plenty of disagreement between he and I. And that remains.”
Meanwhile, the senior adviser and communications director for Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg appeared to jump into the war of words.
Lis Smith, a presidential campaign veteran who was director of rapid response for the 2012 Obama re-election campaign, tweeted last week that “The story of the 2020 Democratic primary shouldn’t be how individual candidates used debates to deep six rivals and push litmus test policies they’re gonna disavow once they get a poll back. Keep calm, carry on, and win the era!”
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn and Frank Miles contributed to this story