By MEG KINNARD Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden charged Saturday that Jim Crow is “sneaking back in” as he emphasized the need to ensure voting rights are protected, which he said is lacking under the Trump administration.
Biden drew several hundred people to a community center in Columbia as he opened his presidential campaign in South Carolina, home of the first-in-the-South primary and where black voters play a major role in the Democratic nominating process.
In criticizing Republican attempts to reconfigure voting rules, including establishing identification requirements, Biden recalled the racial segregation laws of the past known as Jim Crow.
“You’ve got Jim Crow sneaking back in,” he said, and added: “You know what happens when you have an equal right to vote? They lose.”
Biden centered much of his speech around the need to restore decency to the White House, continuing to make his campaign a full-throttle assault against President Donald Trump.
“Quite frankly, I’ve had it up to here,” he said. “Your state motto is, ‘While I breathe, I hope.’ It’s not a joke. We’re breathing, but God, we have got to have hope.”
Biden’s initial campaign agenda to South Carolina included a fundraiser and a Sunday morning visit to a black church in Columbia.
He opened his latest run for president with explicit appeals to white, working-class voters across the Midwest, pledging his support for unions and promising to rebuild the middle class. Now, Biden is trying to gauge whether his message will resonate among black voters whose backing will be crucial in South Carolina and elsewhere.
Ahead of her husband’s remarks, Jill Biden emphasized the couple’s long ties to South Carolina, saying they came to the state to grieve after their son Beau died of cancer in 2015.
“Joe and I love South Carolina,” she said.
The former vice president credited the late South Carolina Sen. Fritz Hollings with persuading him not to abandon public office after Biden’s first wife and daughter were killed in an auto accident weeks after his election to the Senate in 1972. Last month, Biden traveled to Charleston to eulogize his longtime desk mate and friend .
Biden also noted his friendship with Rep. Jim Clyburn, one of the top-ranking House Democrats. Clyburn, who typically doesn’t endorse a candidate before the South Carolina presidential primary, didn’t attend Biden’s event, but Biden noted one of Clyburn’s daughters is at the rally.
Elsewhere in campaigning Saturday by Democratic presidential candidates:
Sen. Bernie Sanders said one area in which he doesn’t fault President Donald Trump is his handling of North Korea, telling ABC’s “This Week” that Trump’s face-to-face meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un “is the right thing to do.”
Sanders called North Korea “a threat to the planet” and said the U.S. has to do everything possible to have China and others in the region put pressure on the North and “make it clear that they cannot continue to act this way.”
South Korean officials said North Korea fired several unidentified short-range projectiles into the sea off its eastern coast on Saturday. The launch came amid a diplomatic breakdown between the U.S. and the North.
“This Week” released quotes from the interview in Iowa ahead of its broadcast Sunday.
Campaigning in Iowa, Sanders told reporters that if he were in the House, he would hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt for his refusal to appear at a congressional hearing on the special counsel’s Russia investigation and its report.
“We have a separation of powers, we don’t have an authoritarian government,” Sanders said.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar is knocking Trump as being too soft on Russian President Vladimir Putin during their recent phone call.
Trump and Putin on Friday had their first known call since the release of the special counsel’s report on Russian election meddling, and Trump said he didn’t warn the Russian president against interfering in future elections.
Klobuchar told reporters after an event in Des Moines, Iowa, that her message would be very different.
“What I would say when I’m president to Vladimir Putin is that we’ve got your number, I’ve got the FBI after you, I’ve got the CIA looking at all of this, I’ve figured out what you guys are up to and we’re going to protect our elections and we’re going to put increasing sanctions on against you.”
Klobuchar also said she was frustrated that congressional investigators haven’t been able to question special counsel Robert Mueller, whom she described as “the witness we need to go after Russia so that they don’t attack our elections again.”
Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts is calling for more funding for the State Department.
His remarks while campaigning in New Hampshire evoked former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who said if funding for the State Department is cut, “then I need to buy more ammunition.”
Moulton said his own experience serving as a Marine in the Middle East showed the importance of diplomacy.
“When the State Department goes in first to these conflicts they prevent having to send American troops. So the more money that we invest in the State Department, it doesn’t just save ammunition. It saves American lives.”
Under his presidency, Moulton said, “we will see a lot less money in the military compared to the State Department.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren warned that the nation remains “at risk” for further foreign interference in its elections and that Trump “puts us squarely in trouble” with his public warmth toward Putin.
The Massachusetts Democrat told reporters after a campaign stop in Iowa that the special counsel’s report “demonstrated conclusively that Russia attacked our electoral system with the purpose of helping Donald Trump.”
She said Trump then “turns around two weeks later and says, ‘We’re all good on this’? We’re not all good on this.”
Trump tweeted on Saturday that his call with Putin the previous day was a sign of “tremendous potential for a good/great relationship with Russia.”
Warren wrapped up her sixth trip to Iowa with two events in the northern counties of the pivotal early-voting state, speaking to an estimated 150 people in Osage before addressing a crowd of more than 250 in Mason City. She touted her proposals for a 2% tax on wealth greater than $50 million and large-scale government ethics reform, among other issues.
In between her appearances, Warren also criticized Trump for maintaining his alignment with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un even after Pyongyang launched short-range projectiles off its coast.
“Trump is just all over the map,” Warren told reporters. “Foreign policy by tweet doesn’t work.”
Associated Press writers Bill Barrow in Columbia, South Carolina; Alexandra Jaffe in Des Moines, Iowa; Elana Schor in Osage, Iowa; Will Weissert in Dallas; and Hunter Woodall in Salem, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.