(Bloomberg) -- Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden waded Tuesday into the debate over monuments that protesters are tearing down, arguing there’s “a distinction” between those of Confederate leaders and those of America’s founding fathers.

“It’s fundamentally different” for protesters to take down a monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis , the president of the Confederacy, than it is to take down one to George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Delaware.

While Washington and Jefferson owned slaves, they were not “in rebellion committing treason, running, trying to take down a union to keep slavery” as Lee and Davis were, he said. “I think there’s a distinction there.”

“The elected officials where those statues are have a responsibility to move, put them in museums, get them down,” he said. But if they fail to do so, “don’t be surprised if someone pulls down the statue of Jefferson Davis.”

Biden said he empathized with those who want to see monuments to Confederate leaders removed. “I can understand the anger and anguish that people feel for years and years by being under the statute of Robert E. Lee if you’re an African American,” he said.

Biden also said that he believes the government has a responsibility to protect monuments to leaders like Washington, Jefferson and Christopher Columbus. “I think there’s an obligation that the government protect those monuments because they’re different than -- that’s a remembrance. It is not a dealing with, you know, revering somebody who had that view. They had much broader views. They may have had things that were now, and then, distasteful,” he said.

“Toppling Christopher Columbus’s statue or George Washington’s statue or et cetera, that is something that is the government has an opportunity and a responsibility to protect from happening,” he added.

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