At the Democratic debate, Charles Barkley says 'both parties suck' at delivering for black voters

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent

DETROIT — One of the more unexpected guests making the rounds in the “spin room” ahead of the Democratic debate on Tuesday evening was basketball legend Charles Barkley. The former NBA star both called out President Trump’s latest inflammatory comments and doubled down on his past criticism that Democrats have taken black voters for granted.

“I think all politicians take black folks for granted. They talk to black folks every four years and that’s about it ... and then do nothing about it,” Barkley told Yahoo News. “Both parties suck in that aspect.”

Barkley previously criticized the Democratic Party’s handling of black voters when he campaigned in support of Doug Jones’s 2017 Senate bid in Alabama. At the time, Barkley said Democrats need “to get off their ass and start making life better for black folks and people who are poor.” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez subsequently said he “heard Charles Barkley loudly and clearly.”

At the debate Tuesday evening, Barkley said things have not improved.

“It’s an economic thing ... and that’s what both parties have been neglecting, especially the Democratic Party,” Barkley said. “Every black person I know has always voted Democratic and, with the exception of a few guys who can play sports, all those people are still poor.”

Barkley also criticized President Trump for recent comments widely derided as racist. Trump said that four Democratic congresswomen of color — three of whom were born in the U.S. — should “go back” to their “broken and crime infested” countries. Trump also dismissed a majority African-American congressional district in Baltimore as a “rodent infested mess,” claiming no “human being would want to live there.”

NBA legend Charles Barkley at the Democratic debate on July 30 in Detroit. (Photo: Hunter Walker/Yahoo News video)

“I’m leery of calling people ‘racist.’ He says some things that can be construed as racist,” Barkley said of Trump. “Some things he’s said are very wrong and flagrant.”

Barkley also said he was not at the debates to campaign for any particular candidate.

“I just wanted to come one time. Never been to one before,” he said.

Two candidates have caught Barkley’s eye, he said. He’s “leaning towards supporting” former HUD Secretary Julián Castro and also is considering South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. However, Barkley worried they might not “get enough traction to be counted” and said the primary process is “swayed towards certain candidates.”

“You can’t really judge anybody by seeing them on television, especially when you’ve got 20 people. Nobody gets a word in edgewise. That’s really unfortunate,” he said.

Barkley works as an NBA analyst on TNT, which is part of the WarnerMedia conglomerate along with Tuesday’s debate host, CNN. The basketball legend didn’t hesitate to criticize his sister channel’s debate structure.

“We can do a much better job. Especially CNN. We could do a much better job ... of doing like an individual night where we have plenty of time,” he said.

CNN has hosted town halls with individual candidates, but Barkley said he’d prefer a “sit-down” with some of the network’s leading hosts. Barkley had walked into the spin room with WarnerMedia executive Jeff Zucker, who oversees both CNN and TNT’s sports programming. However, Barkley said he had not brought his ideas for election coverage up with the network’s top executive.

“No ... he’s my boss,” Barkley said.

Zucker was standing a few feet away as Barkley critiqued the news network. Barkley seemed not worried about Zucker hearing his criticism of CNN — sort of.

“He’s not going to fire me,” Barkley said. “At least I hope.”

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