OSAKA, Japan — President Donald Trump on Saturday defended former Vice President Joe Biden’s performance in the first Democratic presidential debate and said Sen. Kamala Harris got “too much credit” for her searing attack on Biden over his history on race and busing to desegregate schools.
Although he conceded that Biden “didn’t do well, certainly,” Trump said the facts might not have been on Biden’s side and that had he “answered the question a little bit differently, it would have been a different result.”
Speaking to reporters at a news conference after the G-20 summit in Japan, Trump said that the line of attack by Harris was “so out of the can,” suggesting it was rehearsed ahead of time.
“It wasn’t that outstanding, and I think probably he was hit harder than he should have been hit,” Trump said.
The president’s unexpected defense of Biden, the front-runner in the Democratic race to face him in 2020, came as Harris is receiving a fresh look from primary voters following her debate performance in Miami on Thursday.
Trump in the past has seemed to focus the bulk of his political ire on opponents he perceives as posing the biggest threat.
“You never know who’s going to be tough,” Trump said of his potential competitors. “One who you think is going to be tough turns out to be not so much.”
The president also announced that his administration would be releasing a new policy related to the issue of school busing that he said would be “very interesting” and “very surprising,” although he did not give any details.
Questioned about the policy, Trump told NBC News it would be released in the coming months.
In Thursday’s debate, Biden was put on the defensive when Harris challenged his record on desegregation and busing.
Biden decades ago led a bloc of senators who opposed using federal funds to desegregate schools by bussing students. He has faced mounting criticism in recent weeks for his comments about working with lawmakers who supported segregation and opposed civil rights during his early years as a senator.
Harris punctuated her fiery attack with an emotional story of her own experience as a young black girl growing up in California.
She told the story of a little girl who was part of a wave of children bused to integrate California schools, ending with, “That little girl was me.”
Biden’s defensive and meandering reaction led some analysts to conclude he had lost political ground during the debate.
“This was not Winston Churchill we’re dealing with, ok?” Trump said of Biden. “But it wasn’t — I don’t think — nearly as bad as they portended it to be.”
Biden tried to clarify his position on the issue Friday, telling an audience at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition convention in Chicago that “we all know that 30 seconds to 60 seconds on a campaign debate exchange cannot do justice to a lifetime committed to civil rights.”