Biden: ‘I don’t think the American people are racist, but ...’

On his 100th day in office, President Joe Biden said the nation he governs isn’t racist, but he said Black Americans continue to suffer the aftereffects of 400 years of social, political and economic deprivation, for which the U.S. must atone.

Biden made his comments while responding to a question on NBC’s “TODAY” show from Craig Melvin, who asked the president if he thought America is racist.

“No, I don’t think the American people are racist,” Biden told “TODAY.” “But I think after 400 years, African Americans have been left in a position where they’re so far behind the eight ball in terms of education, health, in terms of opportunity.”

Melvin asked Biden specifically about the GOP response to the president’s first speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the sole Black Republican senator, said Democrats use race as “a political weapon” to divide the country.

While acknowledging that “our healing is not finished,” Scott said Democrats and liberals have turned the race issue upside down.

“It’s backward to fight discrimination with different discrimination,” he said. “And it’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”

“Race is not a political weapon to settle every issue the way one side wants,” Scott said.

In the “TODAY” interview that aired Thursday night on “NBC Nightly News,” Biden added, “I don’t think America’s racist, but I think the overhang from all of the Jim Crow (laws), and before that slavery, have had a cost, and we have to deal with it.”

Asked Thursday about Scott’s comment, Vice President Kamala Harris told ABC’s “Good Morning America,” “No, I don’t think America is a racist country, but we also do have to speak truth about the history of racism in our country.”

She added: “One of the greatest threats to our national security is domestic terrorism manifested by white supremacists. These are issues that we must confront, and it does not help to heal our country, to unify us as a people, to ignore the realities of that.”

Biden and other Democrats have cited institutional racism as a major national problem.

Scott also criticized the new president’s initial priorities — aimed at combating the deadly virus and spurring the economy — as wasteful expansions of big government.

“We should be expanding options and opportunities for all families,” said Scott, who preaches a message of optimism while remaining a loyal supporter of former President Donald Trump, “not throwing money at certain issues because Democrats think they know best.”

Citing the partisan battle over Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, which Congress approved over unanimous GOP opposition, Scott said: “We need policies and progress that bring us closer together. But three months in, the actions of the president and his party are pulling us further apart.”

Biden’s address came three months into a presidency that’s seen Republicans repeatedly accuse him of abandoning his campaign pledge to seek bipartisan compromises. While Biden cited a rosy roster of accomplishments and goals in his own speech — “America is on the move again,” he said — Scott said it was Republicans who had bolstered the economy and began to tame the pandemic.

“This should be a joyful springtime for our nation,” said Scott, citing the Trump administration’s role in helping spur vaccine development and beginning a revival of the staggered economy. “This administration inherited a tide that had already turned. The coronavirus is on the run!”

Scott cited low unemployment rates for minorities before the pandemic struck last year, calling it “the most inclusive economy in my lifetime.” And he praised GOP efforts including tax breaks to encourage business investments in low-income communities.

“Our best future won’t come from Washington schemes or socialist dreams,” he said, echoing the GOP’s oft-repeated theme that Democrats are pushing far-left plans. “It will come from you — the American people.”

Those messages could make Scott a positive messenger for the GOP in what could otherwise be a divisive 2022 election campaign, when the party has high hopes of winning control of the House and perhaps the Senate. Scott is strongly favored to be reelected next year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.