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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke July 22, 2020

Biden was quoting a memo during a Senate hearing

If Your Time is short

  • Joe Biden was referring to a redistricting case and quoting a memo during the Senate confirmation hearings for William Bradford Reynolds for associate attorney general.

"Black lives do matter, but one person disagrees," begins a video attacking Joe Biden that was recently posted on Facebook by an account called Committee to Defend the President. 

"He’s praised KKK members," the narrator says as the words "Praised KKK member Robert Byrd" flash on the screen. 

"Wrote a bill that jailed Black Americans," the narrator continues, "repeated the N-word twice on camera and said busing would turn schools into a racial jungle."

Two quotes attributed to Biden appear: "We don’t need any more N***** bigshots" and "My children are going to grow up in a jungle, the jungle being a racial jungle." 

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

We’ve previously fact-checked some of the claims in this video. 

Biden was friends with former U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat who was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan. But Byrd renounced his views, and his public expressions of regret and shame over his involvement with the racist organization were well-documented by the time Biden — and former President Barack Obama — praised him at his memorial service in 2010. 

Biden also opposed court-ordered busing to integrate public schools, saying in 1977 that "unless we do something about this, my children are going to grow up in a jungle, the jungle being a racial jungle with tensions built so high that it is going to explode at some point."

But in this fact-check, we’re addressing the other quote attributed to Biden, in which he uses the N-word. 

Featured Fact-check

The video cites a C-SPAN video from June 5, 1985. We found a clip that a user created on Feb. 11, 2020 and titled: "In 1985, Joe Biden twice says the N-word." 

In the clip, Biden is referring to a court ruling when he says: "The court concluded, quote: ‘The governor’s opposition to the Nunez plan was predicated in significant part on his delineation of a majority Black district centered in Orleans Parish.’ And in confidential portions of your staff memo, they brought to your attention the allegation that an important legislator, in defeating the Nunez plan in the basement, said, quote: ‘We already have a (n-----) mayor; we don’t need another (n------) big-shot.’" 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Biden was speaking from his perch on the Senate Judiciary Committee during one of the confirmation hearings for William Bradford Reynolds, who then-President Ronald Regan nominated to be associate attorney general of the United States. 

The court ruling Biden was reading from struck down a Louisiana redistricting plan because it was biased against the state’s Black residents. Reynolds, who headed the Justice Department’s civil rights section, had told the state of Louisiana the federal government wouldn’t object to the plan. Biden focused on the case during his hearing in part because the former head of the civil rights section during the Nixon administration described the plan as "a blatant racial gerrymander," the Washington Post reported at the time. The Senate committee ultimately rejected the nomination. 

Biden was wielding the quote with the racist slur as evidence against Reynolds’ fitness for the position.

"There was clear, clear evidence of intent to discriminate against Black folks," Biden went on to say during the hearing, addressing Reynolds. "I have been here 13 years, and you are one of the best lawyers we have ever had sit in front of us that worked for the federal government. And you are clearly not a racist. You are not out there saying, ‘Man, I want to get those Blacks.’ And then I sit back and I ask: If that is the case, how could he look at all this and not come to the conclusion that something was rotten in Denmark?" 

Our ruling

It’s true that Biden twice used the word on camera, as the video says. But context matters, and the video doesn’t make clear that Biden was quoting from a passage in a court ruling when he said it. Someone watching this could understandably — and wrongly — believe that these were Biden’s own words. They weren’t. 

We rate this claim False.


Our Sources

Facebook post, July 16, 2020

PolitiFact, Robert Byrd wasn’t a Grand Wizard of the KKK but he once led a local chapter, Aug. 15, 2019

The White House, Remarks by the president and vice president at a memorial service for Senator Robert C. Byrd, July 2, 2010

PolitiFact, Biden said that without ‘orderly integration’ his children would grow up in a ‘racial jungle,’ June 29, 2020

The New York Times, Joe Biden on crime and mass incarceration, June 27, 2019

C-SPAN, User clip: In 1985, Joe Biden twice says the N-word, created Feb. 11, 2020

U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, William Bradford Reynolds confirmation hearings, June 4, 5, 18, 1985

The Washington Post, Reynolds’ foes claim moral high ground, June 24, 1985

The New York Times, Senate committee rejects Reynolds for justice post, June 28, 1985

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Biden was quoting a memo during a Senate hearing

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