Biden Repeatedly Claimed He Was Arrested Trying to Meet Nelson Mandela — and Fudged Gun Violence Stats at Debate

Asked about the discrepancy this week, a Biden aide described the incident as a "separation" and not an arrest

Former Vice President Joe Biden gave a forceful debate performance on Tuesday night in South Carolina, days ahead of a critical primary vote there that he hopes will embolden his presidential campaign.

But in the bright spotlight of that possible turning point, his campaign has had to explain a series of recent gaffes.

While some of the misfires were merely a slip of the tongue, the vice president, 77, has this month repeatedly claimed he was arrested in South Africa while trying to visit the iconic anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela while Mandela was in prison.

Biden’s disputed story comes as candidates try to court the large black electorate in South Carolina, something he has zeroed in on throughout his 2020 campaign given his long record in office and his work in President Barack Obama‘s administration.

Andrew Young, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who was with Biden in the 1970s when they traveled to South Africa, told The New York Times that Biden’s statement was untrue.

“No, I was never arrested and I don’t think he was, either,” Young said.

Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Holds South Carolina Town Hall
Former Vice President Joe Biden. Sean Rayford/Getty Images
Joe Biden
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Asked about the discrepancy by reporters this week, a Biden aide described the incident as a “separation.”

“He was separated from his party at the airport,” said Kate Bedingfield, a deputy campaign manager, according to the Times.

After a reporter pointed out a “separation” didn’t mean an “arrest,” Bedingfield added: “It was a separation. … He was not allowed to go through the same door that the — the rest of the party he was with. Obviously, it was apartheid South Africa. There was a white door, there was a black door. He did not want to go through the white door and have the rest of the party go through the black door. He was separated. This was during a trip while they were there in Johannesburg.”

Biden has repeated the claim at least three times in February, saying that he had the “great honor of meeting [Mandela]” during his trip to South Africa.

“I had the great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him on Robben Island,” Biden said on Feb. 11 in Columbia, South Carolina. The Times noted that Soweto is more than 700 miles away from Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned.

In recent days, there have been other mistakes by Biden, who for months was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. He remains in the top group of candidates.

On Monday, Biden mistakenly told a crowd of supporters he was a “Democratic candidate for the United States Senate.”

Then at Tuesday night’s Democratic debate, he seemed to mixed up numbers and incorrectly claimed that more than “150 million people have been killed since 2007” due to gun violence — “more than all the wars, including Vietnam,” he said.

However, he reportedly meant to say 150,000 people had been killed.

According to state polls by RealClear Politics, Biden is leading in South Carolina with 30 percent — as Sanders, who has two of the three nominating contests so far, is at 22 percent.

“I think it’s just important that I win,” Biden told CBS News after Tuesday’s debate. “One point is enough, but I think I’m going to win by a lot more than that.”

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