Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, outlined a slate of economic proposals Friday in a new television interview, but also ignited controversy by telling a radio host that black voters torn between voting for him and President Trump “ain’t black.”
In an interview with CNBC, Mr. Biden pledged Friday that he would repeal the tax cuts signed by the president in 2017 and raise the corporate tax rate, and that he would not raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000, as he seeks to outline his plan for American economic recovery in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Biden gave some of his most detailed explanations of his economic policy. He rejected the idea that he would govern as an economic progressive, saying “I have a record of over 40 years, and I’m going to be Joe Biden. Look at my record.”
But it was his comments at the end of a testy exchange with Charlamagne Tha God, a host on “The Breakfast Club,” a nationally syndicated morning show popular with black millennials, that has dominated the conversation online. In the interview, during which the former vice president sidestepped a question about marijuana legalization and his running mate selection, Mr. Biden also made clear that he felt there was no reason black Americans would consider voting for Mr. Trump.
“If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump then you ain’t black,” Mr. Biden said.
The remark sparked immediate pushback on social media, with activists and conservatives jumping on Mr. Biden, 77, for acting as the arbiter of blackness. His words also exposed wounds among Democrats that date to 2016, when many leaders felt the party took black voters for granted.
Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black Republican in the U.S. Senate, released a statement on Twitter, reminding Mr. Biden that “1.3 million black Americans already voted for Trump in 2016.”
“This morning, Joe Biden told every single one of us we ‘ain’t black,’” Mr. Scott said. “I’d say I’m surprised, but it’s sadly par for the course for Democrats to take the black community for granted and brow beat those that don’t agree.”
Symone Sanders, a senior adviser for Mr. Biden, later tweeted that the comments were in jest.
In another part of the interview, Mr. Biden assured the radio host that he intended to inspire black voters in the general election. Using the appeal that worked for him in the Democratic primary, Mr. Biden said black voters knew him and his record, and would value his close kinship with former President Barack Obama.
On Friday morning, during the interview with CNBC, Mr. Biden said he would raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, more than its current rate of 21 percent but less than it was before Mr. Trump’s legislation, which lowered it from 35 percent. Mr. Biden also said he thought large corporations like Amazon should begin to pay their taxes, though he sidestepped a question on whether the large conglomerate should be broken up by the government.
“I think Amazon should start paying their taxes,” Mr. Biden said. “I don’t think any company, I don’t give a damn how big they are, Lord Almighty, should absolutely be in a position where they pay no tax.”
He continued: “What’s the capitalist system all about? The capitalist system is about everyone dealing fairly and dealing straight up with the American people and with their employees.”
The details come as Mr. Biden continues his transition from apparent primary winner to general election nominee. He is seeking to unite the party around a forward looking agenda that promises economic change, while matching the historic economic challenges now posed by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The latest jobs report showed millions more workers joined the ranks of the unemployed this week, bringing the total of jobless claims to nearly 39 million in just over two months. Mr. Biden has tried to pin the devastation on Mr. Trump’s administration, saying that it did not respond quickly enough to the looming pandemic threat.
“His slowness is costing lives and costing jobs and costing our ability to rebound,” Mr. Biden said Friday.
However, Mr. Biden’s comments were met with some criticism, as several progressive Democrats questioned whether his outlined corporate tax rate — and his pledge to only raise taxes on Americans making more than $400,000 — was a sign he could not deliver the programs capable of expansive change. Mr. Biden has, at times, oscillated between moderate policy proposals and embracing the rhetoric of systemic upheaval, a choose-your-own-adventure strategy which can allow progressive and moderate allies to see in his campaign what they want.
In separate media interviews this week, Mr. Biden addressed his ongoing search for a running mate and his agenda for black Americans, a key constituency in the Democratic electorate that helped save his primary campaign. Several of the candidates on Mr. Biden’s vice-presidential short list have publicly confirmed they have spoken with his team, including Representative Val Demings of Florida and Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.
“No one has been vetted,” Mr. Biden said. “There is a team put together to go down a preliminary list of people, ask their interests, ask them general questions.”
Of Ms. Klobuchar, he said: “What you don’t want to do is let out all the names that you’re vetting because if someone is not chosen the presumption is not necessarily true that there must be something wrong. That’s not the process.”