In the first set of Democratic presidential debates last week, California Sen. Kamala Harris unloaded on former Vice President Joe Biden in a racially charged condemnation of his praise of two segregationist Democrats and his past opposition to federally mandated busing to promote school integration. The tense exchange was the most memorable moment from the debate and appears to have impacted the polls, Harris climbing while Biden’s once commanding lead has slipped dramatically.

In an interview with CNN Thursday, Biden said that while he was prepared for his opponents to come after him, he wasn’t ready for the kind of attack launched by Harris – particularly given his civil rights record and Harris knowing his son Beau Biden, who tragically died from a brain tumor in 2015.

“I was prepared for them to come after me, but I wasn’t prepared for the person coming at me the way she came at me,” Biden told CNN’s Chris Cuomo in an interview airing Friday.

The former vice president stressed that he knows Harris well, noting that she even knew his deceased son. Her portrayal of his position on busing was unfairly taken “out of context,” he suggested.

Pointing out that Harris has since softened her view on busing and that his position is actually the popular one – including among African Americans, whom he noted had an “overwhelming response” to the issue and made clear that “they did not support it” in his state – Biden stood by his past opposition to federally mandated busing.

Pressed on why he didn’t push back harder during the debate, Biden said that he wanted to try to avoid getting into that particular “scrum” with his fellow Democrat.

“What I didn’t want to do is get in that scrum,” he said. “Do you think the American public looked at that debate, take me out of it, and thought, boy, I really liked the way that’s being conducted?”

The Democratic frontrunner also sent a clear shot across the bow of the Harris campaign, suggesting that if she insists on continuing to go low, he might be forced to stop taking the high road.

“I get all this information about other people’s past and what they’ve done and not done. And, you know, I am just not going to go there,” Biden told Cuomo. “If we keep doing that, that’s, I mean, we should be debating what we do from here.”

CNN notes that Harris campaign communications director Lily Adams put Biden’s lack of preparation on him in an appearance on CNN’s “New Day” Friday. She also attempted to take the personal aspect out of Harris’ critique, describing it as “a very real disagreement” that she wanted to put “on the record” in the debate.

The rapidly escalating feud between Harris and Biden began when the senator went after him hard during the NBC-hosted first Democratic presidential primary debate last week.

“Growing up, my sister and I had to deal with the neighbor who told us her parents couldn’t play with us because we were black,” said Harris. “And I will say also that, in this campaign, we have also heard – and I’m going to now direct this at Vice President Biden – I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground. But I also believe – and it’s personal – it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose bussing. And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bussed to school every day. And that little girl was me.”

Biden responded by describing her attack as a “mischaracterization” of his position on the issue of desegragation.

“It’s a mischaracterization of my position across the board,” he said. “I did not praise racists. That is not true, number one. … Number two, as the vice president of the United States, I worked with a man who, in fact, we worked very hard to see to it we dealt with these issues in a major, major way. The fact is that, in terms of bussing, the bussing, I never – you would have been able to go to school the same exact way because it was a local decision made by your city council.”

As The Daily Wire reported this week, Harris’ withering attack on Biden appears to have had a significant impact on polls, at least for now.

Related: Report: Biden’s Team ‘Freaking Out’ Over Dismal Debate Performance; Biden’s Team: He’s ‘On Fire’!

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