At Poverty Forum, Joe Biden Says He Can Win in the South

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Monday defended his approach to working with Republicans, suggesting that those who cannot conceive of working with the opposition might as well “start a real, physical revolution.”

“Folks, look, if you start off with the notion there’s nothing you can do, well, might you all go home then, man?” he said. “Or let’s start a real, physical revolution if you’re talking about it. Because we have to be able to change what we’re doing within our system.”

Mr. Biden also expressed confidence about how he would fare in the South if he wins the Democratic nomination and faces President Trump in the general election. He said he planned on winning North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, and that he believed he could win Florida and Texas as well.

Mr. Biden made his comments at a presidential forum convened by the Poor People’s Campaign, which seeks to draw attention to issues like poverty and systemic racism. It is a revival of the campaign that was planned by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. before his assassination a half-century ago.

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Mr. Biden was one of nine candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination who were scheduled to speak at the forum, held at Trinity Washington University in the nation’s capital. He said poverty was “not only systemic, it is incredibly debilitating,” and he described it as “the one thing that can bring this country down.”

“For too many years, the animating principle of what’s happened is that with great income inequality, what’s happened is the charlatans have been able to pit black folks against white folks against Latino, et cetera,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Biden responded pointedly when the MSNBC host Joy Reid, the moderator of the forum, asked him how he would contend with the impediment presented by Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, who would almost certainly stand in the way of Mr. Biden’s legislative goals.

“Joy, I know you’re one of the ones that think it’s naïve to think we have to work together,” Mr. Biden said.

The Poor People’s Campaign is led by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, a civil rights leader from North Carolina, and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, the director of Kairos: The Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

The issue of poverty is at the heart of the campaign. In 2017, about 40 million people in the United States were in poverty, or roughly 12 percent of the population, according to the Census Bureau. To show the scope of the issue, however, the campaign says that by another measure, some 140 million people can be considered either poor or low-income.

“The word ‘poor’ has basically become a four-letter word for the past half a century,” Dr. Theoharis said in an interview. “If some politicians talk about it, it’s to punish and demonize people who are poor. And many, including many Democrats, refuse to even talk about the poor.”

The candidate forum was an effort to put a spotlight on the subject. “There has to be a narrative shift,” Dr. Barber said in an interview. “If we keep having an anemic, small, limited political debate and discussion, we’re going to keep getting what we’ve always gotten.”

Before the forum on Monday, the Poor People’s Campaign and the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal think tank, released the Poor People’s Moral Budget, a lengthy collection of policy proposals intended to help bring about a “moral economy.” The proposals included reducing military spending by nearly half and increasing taxes on corporations and wealthy people, including creating a wealth tax that mirrors what Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has proposed in her presidential campaign.

Organizers of the forum said Mr. Trump was invited to appear but did not respond. The Trump campaign declined to comment.

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