The short answer turned out to be … no, but it’s the right call — both ethically and strategically, as it turns out. Joy Reid launched her prime-time show on MSNBC last night with a splash, landing Joe Biden as her guest. Reid ended up probing Biden’s work in picking a woman of color as his running mate, but she declined to take up the challenge from Democratic Georgia state representative Vernon Jones:

Why not challenge Biden on this? Perhaps because it involves some specific context. Biden did use the N-word but only as quotes, and used it to block a nominee who had opposed a redistricting plan supported by civil-rights advocates at the time.

Breitbart dug up thirteen such instances, all of them from 1985, in a Senate confirmation hearing for William Reynolds, hoping to move up the DoJ ladder at the time. Reynolds had earlier opposed a Louisiana redistricting plan supported by civil rights groups but vehemently opposed by then-Rep. Charles Bruneau. Bruneau had publicly attacked the plan in starkly racial terms, repeatedly using the N-word. It’s pretty clear from the context reported by Breitbart that Biden used the Bruneau quote to embarrass Reynolds over his support for Bruneau’s campaign against the redistricting plan, not in a derogatory sense against African-Americans.

Breitbart’s Matthew Boyle argues it’s still fair game, especially on Reid’s platform, as she has reportedly attacked others for even quoting the term:

In fact, MSNBC’s Joy Reid—who on Monday evening takes over the primetime slot that former anchor Chris Matthews vacated—has repeatedly argued publicly that it is never acceptable for white men to use the N-word even when quoting someone else. Biden will appear on Reid’s new primetime program, The ReidOut, at 7:00 p.m. on Monday night—and it is unclear if she will ask him about this. Biden’s campaign has not responded to requests for comment from Breitbart News about these instances of his repeated use of the N-word in U.S. Senate hearings. But Reid has called out other politicians, including former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), when they have used it and has a long history of being opposed to any white people using it in any context, even if quoting someone else. …

In fact, MSNBC’s Joy Reid—who on Monday evening takes over the primetime slot that former anchor Chris Matthews vacated—has repeatedly argued publicly that it is never acceptable for white men to use the N-word even when quoting someone else. Biden will appear on Reid’s new primetime program, The ReidOut, at 7:00 p.m. on Monday night—and it is unclear if she will ask him about this. Biden’s campaign has not responded to requests for comment from Breitbart News about these instances of his repeated use of the N-word in U.S. Senate hearings. But Reid has called out other politicians, including former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), when they have used it and has a long history of being opposed to any white people using it in any context, even if quoting someone else.

That’s a fair argument, but applying it here would have been disingenuous. Context matters, and the context of these quotes make it clear that Biden was using the word as a way to paint Reynolds as racist, not to demean black voters. He used it to hold Reynolds’ feet to the fire. It must have worked, too; Reynolds didn’t get the job as associate attorney general, remaining in his post as assistant attorney general for civil rights for the entirety of the Reagan administration. (Reynolds passed away late last year.)

So ethically anyway, skipping this is the right call or at the very least is a defensible call. Still, the context didn’t matter to Rep. Jordan, and one has to wonder why Reid took an entire pass on the issue. If it had been a Republican repeatedly quoting the use of the N-word to argue against racism, as Biden did, would Reid have given that a pass? It seems unlikely, and asking it in a leading manner could have potentially helped Biden by emphasizing his fight against Bruneau and Reynolds. At least, it would have if Reid framed the question as softly as possible and if Biden was in the least adept enough to turn it to his advantage. Maybe Reid didn’t believe Biden could handle the question and decided to spare him, given the context. That seems defensible, as long as Reid extends the same grace to others who are similarly situated. (Will she? We’ll see.)

It also seems strategically sound, given how Biden answered some of her other questions. Who, precisely, are the “white folks” that are vetting the “women and men of color”?

With that as a response to a question Biden and his team knew would be coming, can we imagine what would have happened if Reid dropped the Reynolds-hearing question on him?