CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien has had her share of on-air run-ins with conservatives, but it was a Democrat, not a Republican, in the hot seat on Thursday -- the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, no less.
O'Brien grilled Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) on Vice President Joe Biden's "chains" remark, asking him as one of the top black congressmen what he made of it. Cleaver's answer? "Absolutely nothing."
"I would never have even paid attention to it but for the fact that campaigns nowadays are waiting for any kind of little nugget to create an atmosphere of more and more discord," Cleaver said. “It makes absolutely no sense that some kind of a little throwaway line is now being used to make Vice President Biden appear to have been throwing out these words in order to somehow attract dumb African Americans who if they hear the words chains are going to automatically vote for him and President Obama.”
O'Brien said Cleaver was "extrapolating" with the "dumb African Americans" description, and continued: "You cannot tell me that if in fact we were talking about Mitt Romney saying a line like that...that people would not be going crazy and crying about race-baiting and talking about tone and tenor and coded language. I think we would, wouldn't we?"
Cleaver said he wasn't "sure" about that, and that any such remark would depend on the context.
"I know Vice President Biden and when you look at the video....there's only a sprinkling of African Americans there, clearly in the minority of that crowd," Cleaver said.
O'Brien pointed out that press reports indicated the crowd was roughly 50 percent black, at which point Cleaver switched tactics.
"Why would the vice president go into a setting like that where presumably half the people wouldn't have any understanding or feelings about what was going on?" Cleaver said. "The reality is that the discourse in our politics has become unsophisticated, unpolished, unnecessary and rather than trying to raise the discord to some degree both sides look for little things that would remove the discussion from the things that matter to something that's completely asinine."
TheBlaze's Will Cain, a contributor on the CNN panel, said it was hard to reconcile Cleaver's position that the campaign rhetoric has grown ugly while at the same time brushing aside Biden's remark.
"I don't understand how you can say our national discourse is poor and then say that's no big deal," Cain said.
"I've been black all my life so that comment I can tell you would have no impact on me," Cleaver said. "[Biden] was saying Wall Street has created a major problem in this country and Mitt Romney wants to come in and give those guys carte blanche to do it again and it would put you back in chains, you'd have another Wall Street collapse that would impact the nation and the world."
Cleaver continued, "I know that that statement by the vice president had absolutely no impact -- there's not a single black person in this country who's going to say 'by golly I've got to vote for Obama and Biden because Biden said something about going to put y'all back in chains."
Mediaite has the full clip:
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