The searing fight over race, inequality and history has come to dominate the Democratic presidential contest, with Mr. Booker angling for an advantage against Mr. Biden after watching Ms. Harris draw attention for weeks over her criticism of the former vice president over busing. This week, Mr. Booker has attacked Mr. Biden’s new criminal justice plan, highlighting his link to the controversial crime bill, which experts link to mass incarceration, and dubbing him “the proud architect of a failed system.”
Speaking at the National Urban League Annual Conference in Indianapolis on Thursday, Mr. Booker sought to frame the discussion as a referendum on Mr. Biden’s past.
“It is easy to call Donald Trump a racist now, you get no badge of courage for that,” Mr. Booker said. “The question is, what were you doing to address structural inequality and institutional racism throughout your life? Don’t just tell us what you’re going to do. Tell us what you’ve already done. Don’t just tell us you’re going to be a champion for our communities when you become president, if you haven’t been a champion already.”
Mr. Biden and his campaign have increasingly criticized both Mr. Booker and Ms. Harris, forcefully defending Mr. Biden’s record and openly drawing contrasts on issues ranging from health care to policing. Mr. Biden’s willingness to engage his rivals comes after his tepid response to Ms. Harris on the debate stage last month when she tore into his past opposition to busing initiatives, dealing him his most significant blow of the campaign to date.
Virtually everyone in Mr. Biden’s campaign, from the former vice president on down, subscribes to the idea that he can no longer seek to stay above the Democratic fray, a posture he tried to maintain in the early weeks of his campaign.