Presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden said Tuesday that local officials, not criminals, bear the blame when vandals pull down statues of Confederate figures.
Facing reporters’ questions in person for the first time in three months, Mr. Biden said local officials “have a responsibility” to move racially charged memorials to museums. The former vice president said he draws a “distinction” between defacing Confederate statues and vandalizing other memorials to historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson.
“I can understand the anger and anguish that people feel by having, for years and years, been under the statue of Robert E. Lee, if you’re an African American,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s a difference.”
The Trump campaign has accused Mr. Biden of refusing to speak out against vandals who have defaced or destroyed a variety of monuments nationwide during protests over racial injustice.
Mr. Biden said he prefers that communities move deliberately to remove symbols of the Confederacy, such as the Mississippi legislature’s vote last week to remove the Confederate battle flag from its state flag.
“It’s always better to do it peacefully,” Mr. Biden said. “But don’t expect if you have sitting in front of you, after all these years, and we finally … are going through another phase of maybe responding to the systemic racism in America … don’t be surprised if someone pulls down the statue of Jefferson Davis.”
On the same day that Mr. Biden, 77, told reporters he get tested “constantly” for possible cognitive decline, the candidate appeared to mix up the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials in Washington.
He said tearing down statues of Confederate figures is “fundamentally different than pulling down the statue or going in the Lincoln Memorial and trying to pull … that’s a bad example, the Jefferson Memorial and grabbing Jefferson off his chair.”
A statue of Jefferson stands at the center of the Jefferson Memorial. A sculpture of Lincoln is seated in a chair at the Lincoln Memorial.