Former vice president Joe Biden has apologised for recent comments about working with segregationist senators in his early days in the US Senate.
“Was I wrong a few weeks ago?” Mr Biden asked a mostly black audience on a visit to South Carolina. “Yes, I was. I regret it, and I’m sorry for any of the pain of misconception that caused anybody.”
Mr Biden’s comments came as he and rival presidential candidate Kamala Harris were set to circle each other while campaigning on Sunday in South Carolina, the first Southern state to vote in next year’s primary and a crucial proving ground for candidates seeking support of black Democrats.
Mr Biden defended his record on racial issues and reminded voters of his ties to former president Barack Obama, whose popularity in South Carolina remains high.
The former vice president and the California senator probably will be pressed on their tense debate exchange over race and federally mandated school busing. Though the issue is not at the forefront of the 2020 primary, it could resonate in a state with a complicated history with race and segregation.
Without naming Ms Harris, Mr Biden referenced what he characterised as expected attacks from other campaigns eager to take him on.
Mr Biden said: “I’m going to let my record stand for itself and not be distorted or smeared.”
He recalled his support of Mr Obama’s criminal justice reforms and pointed out areas in which he disagreed, such as the three-strikes policy that led to longer sentences for repeat offenders.
He said: “I’m flawed and imperfect like everyone else. I’ve made the best decisions that I could at the moment they had to be made. If the choice is between doing nothing and acting, I’ve chosen to act.”
On the subject of busing, Mr Biden told voters: “I don’t believe a child should have to get on a bus to attend a good school. There should be first-rate schools of quality in every neighbourhood of this nation, especially in 2019 America.”
Mr Biden said US President Donald Trump is overtly racist and a divisive president who governs as though “any problem that we have is because of those drug-dealing Mexicans”.
Ms Harris, who planned appearances on Sunday in Florence, Hartsville and Myrtle Beach during her ninth trip to the state, has spent more time in South Carolina than any other state in the early primary landscape.