NEW YORK • Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Wednesday labelled Mr Donald Trump the first racist to become US president in remarks his Republican opponent's re-election campaign quickly rebuked.
Mr Biden, who was vice-president under Mr Barack Obama, the first US black president, fielded a question at a Service Employees International Union round-table event from a healthcare worker concerned about Mr Trump calling the coronavirus pandemic the "China virus".
He responded by saying it was "absolutely sickening" how Mr Trump "deals with people based on the colour of their skin, their national origin, where they're from".
He added: "No sitting president has ever done this. Never, never, never. No Republican president has done this. No Democratic president. We've had racists, and they've existed, and they've tried to get elected president. He's the first one that has."
The Trump campaign senior adviser Katrina Pierson fired back, calling Mr Biden's comments "an insult to the intelligence of black voters" given the one-time senator's past work with segregationist lawmakers.
A number of US presidents owned slaves or supported racist policies including the repression of native Americans and segregation of black Americans. Princeton University said last month it was dropping former president Woodrow Wilson's name from the school, citing his racist thinking and policies.
The Biden-Trump exchange marks an escalation in what had already been a heated clash on race in the campaign being waged between the two candidates ahead of their Nov 3 election contest.
Mr Biden has previously criticised Mr Trump for stoking racial division, saying he was motivated to run for office by his outrage over Mr Trump's assessment that "both sides" were to blame for violence between white supremacists and counter-protesters at a 2017 rally in Virginia.
Race became an even more central issue as protests raged over unarmed African Americans being killed by police in the aftermath of the May death of Mr George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer used his knee to press his neck into the pavement for over eight minutes.