Biden says Trump is first racist U.S. president

"We've had racists and they've existed, they've tried to get elected president, but he's the first one that has," Biden said.

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By Allan Smith and Marianna Sotomayor

Former Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday called President Donald Trump the first racist president in U.S. history.

Biden offered the assessment at a virtual town hall organized by the Service Employees International Union after Suk Kim, a South Korean immigrant, detailed having being racially profiled at a supermarket and expressed concern over Trump's rhetoric about the coronavirus, including his referring to the coronavirus as the "China virus."

Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said he was "so angry" after learning of her experience before criticizing Trump for "his spreading of racism."

"The way he deals with people based on the color of their skin, their national origin, where they're from, is absolutely sickening," Biden said. "No sitting president has ever done this, never, never, never.

"No Republican president has done this, no Democratic president," he continued. "We've had racists and they've existed, they've tried to get elected president, but he's the first one that has. And the way he pits people against one another is all designed to divide the country, divide people, not pull them together.

Asked about the remarks at a news conference Wednesday, Trump cited the passage of the First Step Act, a prison reform measure, and a lower unemployment rate among Black and Hispanic Americans during his term "prior to the China plague coming in."

"I've done more for Black Americans than anybody with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln," Trump said. "No one else has even been close."

Trump has been accused of fomenting anti-Asian sentiment by referring to the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes, as the "China virus," "Kung flu" and the "China pandemic."

Several of the nation's presidents either held slaves or otherwise expressed racist views. The White House was constructed with slave labor.

The Biden campaign acknowledged previous racist presidents in a statement later but said Trump is different.

"There have been a number of racist American presidents, but Trump stands out — especially in modern history — because he made running on racism and division his calling card and won," senior adviser Symone Sanders said. "He deliberately foments both, intentionally causing indescribable pain because he thinks it advantages him politically."

Trump has previously claimed that Biden called him "racist" and "xenophobic" for restricting travel from China this year. Biden has labeled Trump's handling of the pandemic as xenophobic, although he did not tie the claim specifically to the travel restrictions.

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Biden's comments Wednesday appeared to be the first time he has directly called Trump a racist. He has previously accused Trump of having "fanned the flames of white supremacy" and compared the president to George Wallace, who ran for president on a segregationist platform.

Katrina Pierson, a senior Trump campaign adviser, said in a statement that Trump "loves all people, works hard to empower all Americans, and is supported by more Black voters than any Republican presidential candidate in modern history."

"No one should take lectures on racial justice from Joe Biden," she said.