It was a standout moment in Thursday’s Democratic debate: Former Vice President Joe Biden appeared to stutter while speaking movingly about the stuttering children he has mentored.
Biden grew up with a stutter, and talks often about the bullying he faced.
“The little kid who says ‘I can’t talk, what do I do?’ ” Biden said, affecting a stutter on the I. “I have scores of these young men and women that I keep in contact with.”
Minutes later, President Donald Trump’s former press secretary Sarah Sanders sent a tweet with 15 I’s in a row – a typographical insult aimed at Biden.
“I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I hhhave absolutely no idea what Biden is talking about,” she tweeted, adding the tag #DemDebate.
Within moments, Biden’s twitter account engaged Sanders.
“I’ve worked my whole life to overcome a stutter,” he tweeted. “And it’s my great honor to mentor kids who have experienced the same. It’s called empathy. Look it up.”
A few minutes later Sanders responded, seeming to walk back her former comments.
“To be clear was not trying to make fun of anyone with a speech impediment,” Sanders tweeted. “Simply pointing out I can’t follow much of anything Biden is talking about.”
A few minutes later, Sanders apologized for her comments and deleted the offending tweet.
“I actually didn’t know that about you and that is commendable,” Sanders tweeted, in response to Biden’s missive about his work to overcome his stutter. “I apologize and should have made my point respectfully.”
Biden’s childhood stutter is a central part of his political story. He frequently talks about overcoming it on the campaign trail, and about using his story to give hope to children with similar problems.
Sometimes he affects a similar mock stutter while doing so.
He also detailed his battle with stuttering in an article in the Atlantic. He described a middle school teacher who mocked his stutter, asking him “Mr. Buh-Buh-Buh-Biden, what’s that word?”
Though he was popular in high school, elected class president, his peers called him “Dash,” a reference to the way he stumbled on his words.
When Biden speaks of his childhood stutter to voters, he describes it as both a source of his empathy and something he has overcome. He also often contrasts his struggle with Trump’s mocking of a disabled reporter and saying his stutter helped him learn to take on bullies.
An hour after the debate Biden was using his exchange with Sanders to raise money.
“If you believe we need to bring empathy back to the White House,” Biden said in a tweet that quotes Sanders and included a fundraising link, “chip in $5.”