Joe Biden has hit out at Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley for failing to mention slavery as a root cause of the US Civil War
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The Republican presidential candidate has walked back her comments amid a barrage of criticism
US President Joe Biden has hit out at Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley after she avoided citing slavery as a central cause of the US Civil War at a New Hampshire town hall meeting this week.
Responding to a question from an audience member on Wednesday, Haley, the former US ambassador to the UN, said that the Civil War was fought over “how the government was going to run – the freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do.”
Haley turned the question back to the voter, who said that “it’s astonishing to me that you answer that question without mentioning slavery.”
Haley’s response also drew a fiery rebuke from both sides of the US political spectrum. Biden referenced her comments in a post on X (formerly Twitter) on Thursday, writing simply: “It was about slavery.”
Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor and one of Haley’s opponents in the Republican primary, told reporters in Iowa on Thursday that his GOP rival appeared to have “some problems with basic American history.” He claimed that her response was “incomprehensible word salad” and showed that the former South Carolina governor is “not a candidate that’s ready for primetime.”
Democratic National Committee chairman Jaime Harrison told CBS that it shouldn’t be “hard” to condemn slavery, and that doing so “is the baseline for anyone who wants to be president of the United States.”
A representative for Republican frontrunner Donald Trump declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
Amid growing backlash, Haley sought to clarify her comments in a Thursday radio interview. “I mean, of course, the Civil War was about slavery,” she told Good Morning NH with Jack Heath.
“That’s the easy part of it,” Haley added. “What I was saying was, what does it mean to us today? What it means to us today is about freedom.”
There is a broad consensus among historians that the US Civil War of 1861-65 was fought over the concept of slavery. The Southern states, which had seceded from the Union, opposed attempts by states in the North to impose limits on slavery, especially in western territories.
Haley has previously defended aspects of the Confederacy, the term given to the seceded states. The state she governed, South Carolina, was the first to secede – with Haley saying in 2010 that it had a right to do so.
In 2015 she signed a bill into law to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol following the murder of nine black people by white supremacist Dylann Roof. However, she was later criticized for describing the flag as a symbol of “heritage.”
Slavery was officially abolished by the US Congress on December 6, 1865.