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Joe Biden was quoting racist comments when he used the N-word in 1985

July 24, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: A video from a 1985 hearing exposes Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for using the N-word, stating: “We already have a n----- mayor, we don’t need any more n-----big shots!”

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Biden was not making the statement himself, he was reading a racist statement made by a state legislator during a redistricting process in Louisiana that was overseen by a deputy attorney general nominee. Biden was questioning the nominee under oath about the comments during a U.S. Senate hearing. 

THE FACTS: Social media users are twisting comments made by Biden during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing 35 years ago for the nomination of William Bradford Reynolds as  U.S. deputy attorney general. 

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Biden was using the comments at the time to build a case against Reynolds’ nomination, pointing out that he ignored racist comments by lawmakers and allowed them to gerrymander Louisiana’s congressional districts in a way that underrepresented Black residents. 

During the 1985 hearing, Reynolds faced questions from Senate Democrats about his record on voting rights as the assistant attorney general for civil rights. 

Biden specifically questioned Reynolds on a plan to redraw Louisiana’s congressional maps to create a mostly Black district in New Orleans. That redistricting map was called the Nunez plan. 

But Reynolds instead approved a different redistricting plan _ one that was backed by Louisiana Gov. David Treen and other white legislators who opposed the Nunez plan and led an effort to stop it. Treen’s plan split the mostly Black district, protecting a GOP congressman’s seat. A federal court had ordered Louisiana to redraw the map in 1983 because it gerrymandered the Black community.

Reynolds insisted he signed off on Treen’s plan because the Louisiana governor did not intentionally redraw the congressional map plans in order to keep a mostly Black district from forming in New Orleans. 

C-Span video footage of that 1985 hearing shows that Biden repeatedly asked Reynolds if he heard or saw any evidence that Louisiana’s politicians were intentionally discriminating against Black residents to keep them from having fair representation. Reynolds says he did not find any evidence that this was the case. 

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Biden points out that Reynolds did, however, receive a memo from his staff that highlighted racist comments made by legislators who opposed the majority Black district. 

Using the N-word in the quote, Biden said: “They brought to your attention the allegation that important legislators in defeating the Nunez plan, in the basement, said, ’“We already have a n----- mayor, we don’t need any more n----- big shots.” 

Biden argued that those comments, as well as other problems with the Louisiana governor’s plan, should have been a red flag for Reynolds, who should have never signed off on the plan. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee ultimately rejected Reynolds’ nomination in a 10-8 vote. 

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.


Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536