MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Former Vice President Joe Biden is walking back some comments he made this morning about African Americans considering reelecting President Trump.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE BREAKFAST CLUB")
JOE BIDEN: If you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black.
KELLY: Joe Biden speaking on the radio program "The Breakfast Club." We'll hear from more on the reaction to his comments and some other news from the campaign trail this week. We are joined by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Hey, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.
KELLY: And NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid. Hello, Asma.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: Asma, you first, because you're covering the Biden campaign. What happened this morning?
KHALID: Well, Joe Biden went on "The Breakfast Club" this morning. And if folks aren't particularly familiar with that, it's a show. It's a radio show. And it's a fairly popular, influential show that particularly appeals to black millennials. And Biden hadn't been on the show before. Anyhow, you know, the host Charlamagne tha God was pressing Biden on a bunch of issues, asking him essentially what he intends to do for black voters. And at the end of the interview, Biden made this comment, you know, kind of unsolicited that if you don't know who to vote for between him and Trump, then you're not black. Charlamagne responded by saying that it's got nothing to do with Trump. He wants to talk about what Biden is going to do for his community.
And then earlier this afternoon, the former Vice President went on a call with the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce, and he tried to clean this mess up. He said that perhaps he was too cavalier in his comments and that he should not have been such a wise guy. He realizes now that his comments came off sounding as if he was taking the black vote for granted. But he says he's never ever taken African American voters for granted.
KELLY: Tam, let me pull you in here. President Trump is deeply unpopular among African American voters, but his campaign was all over this today. What did they say?
KEITH: Well, yeah. They responded very rapidly, amplifying Biden's comments in their social media channels, getting videos out. And then they scrambled together a conference call for reporters with South Carolina Senator Tim Scott. He is the only black Republican in the Senate, and he spoke on the call.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TIM SCOTT: I was struck by the condescension and the arrogance in his comment. I could not believe my ears that he would stoop so low to tell folks what they should do, how they should think, and what it means to be black.
KEITH: The Trump campaign has made quite a show of its effort to win over at least some small share of black voters in 2020, highlighting things like the criminal justice reform legislation President Trump signed. But amplifying this controversy serves another purpose for the Trump campaign besides persuasion. It could also help depress enthusiasm for Biden among a voter demographic that is very important to the Democratic base.
KELLY: Asma, how worried should the Biden camp be about that?
KHALID: Well, look; I mean, did this interview really turn off a voter who is already committed to Joe Biden? Probably not. But this was a huge platform for him to reach young black voters, and we know that Biden has an enthusiasm problem when it comes to all young voters, and that includes young African American voters. You know, I've spoken to young black voters who tell me that being Barack Obama's vice president just isn't enough. They're progressive, and they want to know what he's going to do on policy. And one of the more interesting moments from this all was when Charlamagne tha God pushed Joe Biden on, you know, the 1990s crime bill that he'd been fairly influential in writing. And he pointed out that how Biden is speaking about this and how he's responding to it differs from how Hillary Clinton handled it four years ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE BREAKFAST CLUB")
CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Mrs. Clinton said that the crime bill - we made a lot of mistakes with that, and she wanted to atone for that by becoming the next president. Like...
BIDEN: She was wrong. What happened was - it wasn't the crime bill. It was the drug legislation. It was the institution of mandatory minimums, which I oppose.
KELLY: Asma, just to situate this with the backdrop here, Biden's approach through the campaign so far has not been about stirring up, firing up the base of the Democratic Party. He's tried to present himself as a centrist, as the unifying candidate. Is that still his approach?
KHALID: It is. And, you know, in fact, this morning also he was on CNBC, and he pledged that he would not raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000. It was really the kind of first glimpses we got of some of his economic tax agenda. It's clear that he's not embracing a sort of full-throated economic progressivism, and it seems clear that he is making quite a play for some suburban voters who might be turned off from President Trump.
KELLY: Tam, last question to you, and I'm going to shift focus and ask you to look forward a bit in the campaign and ask about the conventions. Are we going to have them? We got some new hints this week.
KEITH: Yeah. So Democrats have been planning for the potential for a virtual convention. But the Trump campaign is still, at least publicly, very focused on the idea of an in-person convention. One Trump campaign aide I spoke to today said the president and those around him see this as an opportunity to have this dramatic moment where they say America is back and signal it with this convention. But today, GOP chairwoman Ronna McDaniel acknowledged in an interview that they could end up with something less than originally imagined.
KELLY: NPR's Tamara Keith and Asma Khalid, thanks to you both.
KEITH: You're welcome.
KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.