Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro on Friday defended his criticism of front-runner Joe Biden at the previous evening’s debate — saying he “wouldn’t do it differently” and insisting the apparent questioning of the former vice president’s mental acuity “was not a personal attack.”
“This was about a disagreement over what the vice president said regarding health care policy,” Castro, a former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, told CNN.
“I pointed out this big difference in our approach and, no, Americans need to know that,” he said.
The heated exchange between the two former Obama administration officials, which came as Biden discussed his health care proposal, provided perhaps the most explosive moment of Thursday’s forum in Houston. Castro accused Biden of bungling his pitch, shouting at him from across the stage: “Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago? Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago?”
Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager and communications director, said Friday the broadside “went over like a lead balloon” in the debate hall at Texas Southern University, telling CNN that Castro “hasn’t learned the lesson that attacking Joe Biden in incredibly personal terms is not the way to advance yourself” in public polling.
“I think it has generally been panned as being disrespectful and classless, and so, again, I think that was a mistake on Secretary Castro’s part, to say the least,” she added.
Castro asserted Friday that Biden “couldn’t hear me in the auditorium,” and claimed he would have similarly challenged “any opponent on stage” — not just the septuagenarian former six-term senator.
“We’re up there to debate, so I’m going to continue to point out the differences,” Castro said. “If we’re not there to point out the differences to the American people about our policy — not our personalities, but our policy — then why are we there?”
But Bedingfield argued Castro’s interjections were not meant to elucidate policy distinctions with Biden, and belied a more disparaging message. “I think the implication was very clear, and frankly, it was very disappointing,” she said.
Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to Biden, slammed Castro on Friday for taking “personal and cheap and, frankly, factually incorrect shots” at her boss. She also warned the offensive could backfire, citing California Rep. Eric Swalwell and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand as examples of candidates who targeted Biden on the debate stage before dropping out of the Democratic contest.
“I think if you look at the history of folks deploying these tactics in a debate, it hasn’t bode well,” Sanders told CNN.
Castro later Friday continued to stand by his line of attack, rejecting murmurs that the barb was pre-planned and dinging fact-checkers who called his attack inaccurate.