Video of Joe Biden Saying the N-Word at a Senate Hearing Has Been Circulating — Here’s the Full Story


Opponents of Vice President Joe Biden have been circulating a 1985 clip of then-Senator Biden using the uncensored n-word at a hearing, absent crucial context. While the manipulation is obvious, the full story and video are worth taking a look at.

One clip that has been circulating on social media features Biden saying “We already have a n****r mayor and we don’t need another n*****r bigshot,” in what is a fairly obvious omission of the context that he was quoting someone else.

Prominent Trump supporters Diamond and Silk have also repeatedly promoted the claim, without circulating the clip.

There is currently a debate over the propriety of using the uncensored n-word even in a direct quote, so even in context, the video may be offensive to watch, but the context is important and fascinating.

Biden was questioning then-Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights William Reynolds over his nomination — by then-President Ronald Reagan — to be promoted to Associate Attorney General.

Specifically, he was asking Reynolds about his part in pre-clearing a Louisiana redistricting plan that was later struck down in court.

On December 17, 1981, shortly after the adoption of Act 20, the State of Louisiana submitted the plan to the Attorney General of the United States for preclearance as required by § 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973c. On June 18, 1982, the Attorney General, through his head of the Civil Rights Section, William Bradford Reynolds, informed the State that he would not object to the plan.

At that time, the Voting Rights Act required the state to pre-clear any redistricting plan, a provision that was struck down by conservatives on the Supreme Court in 2013.

And so it was that on June 5, 1985, Biden found himself pressing the nominee about that case. In doing so, he asked Reynolds about one of a number of allegations that arose during the redistricting effort.

Referring to the court case in which the plan was struck down, Biden said “As to the Governor, the Court concluded, quote: ‘The Governor’s opposition to the Nunez plan was predicated in significant part on his delineation of a majority black district centered in Orleans Par-rish.'”

Biden then added “And in confidential portions of your staff memo, they brought to your attention the allegation that an important legislator in defeating the Nunez plan in the basement said, quote: ‘We already have a n****r mayor; we don’t need another n****r big-shot.'”

This is the clip that was edited into an attack on Biden.

Biden was quoting from a confidential memo that had been submitted to Reynolds prior to his decision to approve the plan:

Lawrence Chehardy, the Tax Assessor of Jefferson Parish, who was integrally involved in Congressional reapportionment as the leader of the Jefferson Parish political establishment and one of the architects of the Nunez Plan, alleged chat Representative Charles Emile Bruneau of New Orleans told him at the time of the floor debates on Congressional reapportionment on November 5 or 6. 1981 that he is opposing the Jefferson/Nunez Plan because “We already have a nigger mayor (in New Orleans), and we don’t need another nigger bigshot.”

Representative Bruneau was the chairman of the reapportionment subcommittee responsible for the objected-to Louisiana House of Representatives apportionment plan of 1981. He was also one of the six members of the Joint conference committee which was responsible for developing a compromise plan after the Governor Treen’s veto threat and the House reversal on the Nunez Plan. Representative Bruneau voted against the Nunez Plan in all votes and voted for the submitted plan. He played a prominent role in the adoption of amendments in the Committee on Rouse and Governmental Affairs and on the Rouse floor which would eliminate the Nunez Plan.

Biden had also quoted the memo a day earlier during his first round of questioning to Reynolds, but the video of that passage degraded prior to being digitized, so it doesn’t make for a useful viral clip. He also promised to press Reynolds about the case throughout the hearing “in the same way we would a trial.”

Biden would go on to press Reynolds at length about the case, including another reference to the memo in question. You can read more of Biden’s grilling here.

Ultimately, Senator Biden was successful in blocking Reynolds’ promotion, in what then-Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz called a “skillful effort.”

As it turns out, the story does have resonance to the current campaign, because restoring and repairing the Voting Rights Act has become a key part of his platform.

Watch Biden’s full questioning of Reynolds above via C-Span.

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