GREENWOOD — A pair of organized protests erupted towards the end of former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign event in South Carolina on Thursday night, one calling on him to end all immigrant deportations and another urging him to reject corporate donations.
Biden responded to the first set of protesters by telling them they should vote for Republican President Donald Trump instead and the second group by telling them to stop listening to one of his 2020 Democratic primary opponents, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
The protests interrupted what was otherwise a standard Biden town hall, in which he spoke for more than an hour to a crowd of more than 800 at Lander University in the Upstate city of Greenwood on issues ranging from education to race relations to curing cancer.
Biden remains the clear front-runner to win the S.C. Democratic primary in February, leading all polls that have been conducted in the state by double digits. Biden's visit to South Carolina came a day after the Democrats' fifth debate where he again came under fire from several rivals seeking to weaken his advantage 100 days before the primary.
The first protests began gradually, when a woman started telling Biden in Spanish that she fears being deported and wanted him to stop defending President Barack Obama's record on deportations. A man who was translating for her then pressed Biden to say that he would end all deportations.
"In 2008, I was a volunteer for Obama because I had hope and I believed in the promises that he made to the immigrant community," the man said. "The fact is that over those eight years, over three million people were deported and separated from their families."
Biden said he would keep any disagreements he had with Obama private, but he strongly disputed any comparison between Obama's record and Trump's, noting that Obama sought to defend children of undocumented immigrants and focused deportations on criminals and recent arrivals.
"I will not stop all deportations if you commit a crime; that's a felony," Biden said.
At that point, about a half-dozen other people stood up in the crowd, started making their way to the stage and chanted, "Not one more deportation." Biden allowed the man to come to stage and tried to engage him on whether he thinks someone who commits murder should be deported, but the chants drowned him out.
The protesters were ultimately escorted out by security before they could be further identified.
Another pair of protesters, including S.C. progressive activist Elaine Cooper, then began yelling at Biden to reject corporate donations. Biden responded that he already does and told them to "stop listening to Bernie," referring to Sanders.
When the protests were over, the next audience member who was granted a question tried to rejuvenate the celebratory mood in the room.
"I just want to say how much respect I have for you and your record of service," he said, greeted by loud cheers.