DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley took aim Monday night at the Democrat she’d like to face in the November election, calling it “offensive” that President Joe Biden gave “a political speech” at the South Carolina church where nine Black parishioners were slain in a 2015 racist attack.
“For Biden to show up there and give a political speech, it’s offensive in itself," the former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor said during a town hall on Fox News in Des Moines, Iowa. "I don’t need someone who palled around with segregationists in the ’70s and has said racist comments all the way through his career lecturing me or anyone in South Carolina about what it means to have racism, slavery, or anything related to the Civil War.”
Biden was in Haley’s home state Monday, delivering jabs at some of his possible GOP general election opponents without naming them. He took the pulpit at Mother Emanuel, a historic AME church in Charleston where nine Black parishioners were slain in June 2015 by a white gunman as they prayed during a Wednesday night Bible study.
As governor at the time of the shooting, Haley gained national attention for her response, which included signing legislation into law removing the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds. During her previous campaigns, Haley had advocated against removing the flag, portraying an opponent’s call to do so as a political stunt.
But Haley has been on the defensive for not explicitly naming slavery as the root cause of the Civil War when the question was posed at a campaign event. Her campaign responded Monday with a list of comments attributed to Biden that it said showed he’s racially insensitive.
During his speech Monday, Biden called it a “lie” that the war was about states’ rights.
“So let me be clear, for those who don’t seem to know: Slavery was the cause of the Civil War,” Biden said. “There’s no negotiation about that.”
Haley’s campaign followed Biden’s speech by sending reporters a timeline called “Biden’s Racial Comments and Actions,” such as a 1974 reference to himself as being “a token Black” in the Senate; saying in 1981 that George Wallace, the segregationist former Alabama governor, was “right about some things”; and, in 2007, saying then−Sen. Barack Obama was “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice−looking guy.”
Biden’s reelection campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Haley’s town hall came a week ahead of Iowa’s kickoff caucuses, the first official votes of the 2024 nominating cycle.
For Haley, the stakes are high. Amid an escalating battle for second place to GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, she and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have increasingly traded barbs as they aim to draw lines of distinction between themselves and secure the mantle as the top alternative to Trump.
On Monday, Trump’s super PAC released a video with an old clip of the then−South Carolina governor urging an audience not to reference people who entered the U.S. illegally as “criminals.” Those comments came a month after Trump’s 2015 campaign launch speech, in which he said immigrants from Mexico were bringing drugs and crime with them.
DeSantis’ campaign also released its closing argument ad for Iowa caucusgoers, taking Haley to task for her recent comments to New Hampshire voters that they would have the opportunity to “correct” the decision made by Iowa caucusgoers — a comment that could signal that she not only doesn’t expect to win Iowa, but that she doesn’t expect to place second, ahead of DeSantis.
Haley on Monday repeatedly accused DeSantis of “lying because he’s losing” and said Trump’s allies were intentionally misconstruing things she had said.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.
Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press