The usage of the words “fine people” has been widely used to characterize President Trump as a racist by those who mistakenly think he was referring specifically to the white supremacists at the Charlottesville protest in 2017 when he stated there were “very fine people on both sides” of the protest. The Charlottesville protest was triggered by a movement to remove Confederate monuments after a white supremacist murdered nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
Yet a newly-unearthed clip of former Vice President Joe Biden from 1993 when he was a senator and serving as the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman shows him using the words “fine people” to refer to a group that also supported preserving Confederate statues — the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).
As the New York Post reports, Biden made his remarks during the Senate confirmation hearing for then-Supreme Court nominee Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Biden referred to a speech by Sen. Howell Heflin (D-AL), who supported Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-IL.) in her efforts to deny renewal of a Confederate flag design patent to the UDC.
“I, too, heard that speech and, for the public listening to this, the senator made a very moving and eloquent speech,” said Biden. “As a son of the Confederacy, acknowledging that it was time to change and yield to a position that Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun raised on the Senate floor, not granting a federal charter to an organization made up of many fine people who continue to display the Confederate flag as a symbol.”
Biden continued, “The charter would have given them the right, the imprimatur of the federal government to do that. It had nothing to do with the First Amendment, Judge, so don’t worry. But the senator made a very significant speech rivaled only, in my view, by a private speech given to me personally by a man whose office I now occupy, Sen. John Stennis from Mississippi.”
When Biden launched his 2020 campaign, he stated of Trump’s 2017 remarks about Charlottesville, “And that’s when we heard the words of the President of the United States, that stunned the world and shocked the conscience of this nation. He said there were ‘some very fine people on both sides.’ Very fine people on both sides?”
Here are excerpts from the August 2017 exchange that has been widely used to pillory Trump:
Trump: I will tell you something. I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it. And you had, you had a group on one side that was bad. And you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group – you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent.
Reporter: Do you think what you call the “alt-left” is the same as neo-Nazis?
Trump: Those people – all of those people, excuse me – I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups, but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.
Reporter: Well, white nationalists –
Trump: Those people were also there, because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue Robert E. Lee. So – excuse me – and you take a look at some of the groups and you see, and you’d know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you’re not. Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So this week, it’s Robert E. Lee, I noticed that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after. You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop? […]
Reporter: Mr. President, are you putting what you’re calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?
Trump: I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I’m saying is this: You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs — and it was vicious and it was horrible. And it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side. There was a group on this side. You can call them the left — you just called them the left — that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.
Reporter: (Inaudible) … both sides, sir. You said there was hatred, there was violence on both sides. Are the —
Trump: Yes, I think there’s blame on both sides. If you look at both sides — I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either. And if you reported it accurately, you would say.
Reporter: The neo-Nazis started this. They showed up in Charlottesville to protest —
Trump: Excuse me, excuse me. They didn’t put themselves — and you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. You had people in that group. Excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.
Reporter: George Washington and Robert E. Lee are not the same.
Trump: George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down — excuse me, are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson?
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