Joe Biden Saying Haiti 'Doesn't Matter' in 1994 Clip Resurfaces After Moïse Assassination

The White House described the Wednesday assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse as "horrific [and] tragic," but 27-year-old remarks President Joe Biden made about Haiti gained attention as the U.S. vows to provide assistance to its Caribbean neighbor.

Speaking with PBS host Charlie Rose in 1994, the then-Delaware Senator, alongside then-Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.), were talking about whether or not President Bill Clinton would invade Haiti, following the 1991 overthrow of democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The episode aired a week before the military junta that had taken control of Haiti signed an agreement allowing Aristide to return to power.

Biden responded to a question asked to both men as to whether or not Congress would give Clinton the power to invade Haiti if he asked for it.

"If you don't give him that authority, doesn't that weaken the President in the eyes of the world and in terms of whether the United States can be counted on to act," Rose asked.

Castle responded first, saying that he agreed that it would weaken Clinton's presidency, but not necessarily the United States itself. He also said that when he was at an event, people told him they were opposed to an invasion of Haiti, saying "[Clinton] has not made the public case, much less the Congressional case."

"And, and I think, I would be very reluctant not to give the President what he would request in the area of war powers but, by God, if I felt that the case was not made, that's a decision I would have to make, and I have the Constitutional responsibility to act in that way I believe," Castle added.

Biden responded, saying, "Charlie, it doesn't matter much anymore. The truth of the matter is, no one doubts our power. We don't have a superpower arrangement where we are in—where there's any power in the world that—The President of the United States could be turned down tomorrow on almost anything, and no nation in the world is going to say, 'Aha, the United States is weak.' No one is going to fool around with the 800-pound gorilla."

"So this notion, it used to be though if, when you had a situation where you had two competing superpowers, and we fail to enter into a circumstance where there was a third—, quote, 'third world' country, where there was a competition for control of that country and a competition for them being in one camp or the other, then, it had consequences that were real," Biden continued. "Quite frankly, if we decided tomorrow to go into anywhere or not go into anywhere, it's not going to change the calculus of NATO; it's not going to change the calculus of the Russians; it's not going to change the calculus of the Chinese; and they're the things that matter to us."

"The distinction between Bosnia and Haiti, for example. If, if, if some of us are right on Bosnia, that this ethnic cleansing has the potential to rear its ugly head in Ukraine in, in, in, in Belarus in the former Soviet Union, where they have major arsenals of nuclear weapons, where they have long histories of national wars, where ethnicity dominates, that is of phenomenal potential consequence to the United States," Biden said.

"If Haiti, a God awful thing to say, if Haiti just quietly sunk into the Caribbean or rose up 300 feet, it wouldn't matter a whole lot in terms of our interest," he concluded.

Shortly afterward, Biden addressed the racial makeup of Haiti being predominantly Black, comparing it to Reagan's invasion of Grenada to rescue American medical students.

"And he has always gone back to that in terms of defining the United States role of engagement, that that was—he wanted to get our house in order first. And that—it seemed to me, that he had the support of the American people in making those decisions. Has anything changed with respect to, to Haiti?" Rose asked.

"The only thing that's changed with respect to Haiti is that, an objective person could sit and say, 'Now wait a minute. Ronald Reagan said Grenada was in our national interest. He sent troops into Grenada, gave out more battle ribbons than troops actually landed in Grenada.' There was a phony thing about—I was deeply involved in that: the idea that we're saving American medical students. I mean, you know, that, that was a pretext for going. Nobody thought Grenada was of any consequence, no matter what happened, including the sites that were cited. I looked at all the, all the aerial reconnaissance—" Biden said.

"But are you saying then that the President, the only reason that the President might be thinking about invading Haiti is because of politics?" Rose responded.

"No, what I'm about to say is, that there, that was, in my view, a political judgment in the aftermath of Lebanon. Here, you have a different dynamic, a dynamic we're accustomed to over 200 years. You have a large group, a large constituency in the United States of America looks and says, 'Now wait a minute. Y'all went into Grenada for 40, 100, 70, not 500 medical students. And here there are thousands of Blacks being persecuted, killed, death squads, and you're not doing anything,'" Biden replied.

"Clearly, Haiti is no more or less in the interest of the United States than Grenada. So what you have—for example, a leading editor, of, of a paper in the Delaware Valley, wrote—asked their reporters to come down and talk to me and said, 'Why is Biden so concerned about Bosnia, and not about Haiti? Is it because Blacks are involved in Haiti—Blacks are what are at stake in Haiti, and in Bosnia they are Europeans, whites?'" he continued.

"There is that notion abroad in the Congress, in the country. It's not substantially different than when Lech Walesa came along and all the Poles in the State of Delaware and the United States of America focused, or when Israel is in trouble and the American Jewish community and those who believe strongly in Israel focus. Or—you can list, throughout our history, circumstances where our multi-ethnic community looks to things happening in a constituency that they are from, represent, or feel, having a stake in. So, the dynamic here, the political dynamic, isn't one, in my view, where the President says, 'You know, if I invade Haiti, do it quick, get it done, boy that's going to take people's minds off of—," Biden said.

"As Grenada did for President Reagan," Rose replied.

"But, there's a different political dynamic here, and that is that there is a large constituency in America that is saying, 'Hey wait a minute. Is the reason you're not paying attention over there because those folks are black folks?'," Biden said. "I think Somalia worked that way."

The racially charged discussion from nearly three decades ago resurfaced Wednesday on social media as Haitian officials and international aid workers scramble in response to Moïse's assassination and the ensuing chaos in Port-au-Prince. The clip was surfaced earlier on Wednesday by the account @QueerALaMode, listed as "Human Rights Watch Watcher," and has received over 111,700 views. It appears that the account is a critic of U.S. foreign policy from the left, with other tweets criticising colonialism and imperialism.

This is one of the most asinine things I've heard this man say - and there's been quite a bit of it.

— Sana Saeed (@SanaSaeed) July 7, 2021
joe biden haiti charlie rose
The White House described the Wednesday assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse as "horrific [and] tragic," but it is 27-year-old remarks President Joe Biden made about Haiti and racism which resurfaced this week as the U.S. vows to provide assistance to its Caribbean neighbor. Screenshot: YouTube

Biden also spoke in 1994 with Penny Bender, the Washington correspondent for the Gannett News Service, telling her that death and poverty were equal tragedies in both Rwanda and Bosnia. But he noted the potential effects of the Bosnian war were worse for the U.S. in the 1990s because of the possibility the region could devolve into a political powder keg similar to the events which led to World War One.

"Wherever there are bombs, wherever there are nuclear weapons...there is much greater attention," Biden said.

In January 2018, former President Donald Trump reportedly referred to Haiti and African nations as "sh*thole countries," prompting accusations of racism.

Winston J. Allen, a research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies think tank in Washington, told Bender at the time, "People don't normally want to deal with poor people because their problems are so complex. And the poor people around the world are usually Black."

Biden offered a very brief response to Moïse's assassination Wednesday, telling reporters outside the White House, "We need a lot more information but it's very worrisome about the state of Haiti."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki offered a lengthier statement through CNN Wednesday: "The message to the people of Haiti is this is a tragic tragedy. And we stand ready and stand by them to provide any assistance that's needed."

Newsweek reached out to the White House Wednesday afternoon for any additional remarks about the ongoing Haiti response.

Update (7/7/2021, 8:00 p.m.): This article has been updated to include more of the transcript of Biden's 1994 appearance on The Charlie Rose Show, and information on the Twitter account that first surfaced the video Wednesday.