Joe Biden's #MeToo crisis: Where does the Democratic frontrunner stand now?

Joe Biden emerges from a damaging weekend after Nevada Democrat Lucy Flores alleges inappropriate physical contact

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published April 1, 2019 10:55AM (EDT)

Former vice president Joe Biden (Getty/Scott Olson)
Former vice president Joe Biden (Getty/Scott Olson)

Former Vice President Joe Biden is reeling from the ramifications of a accusation made against him by a former Nevada state legislator, one that may have changed the dynamic of his likely 2020 presidential campaign.

Biden's political crisis began with an article published last week in The Cut by Lucy Flores, who met Biden in 2014 when he was running for lieutenant governor in Nevada and the then-vice president visited the state to campaign on her behalf. By her account, their meeting rapidly became uncomfortable.

"I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair," Flores wrote. "I was mortified. I thought to myself, 'I didn’t wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it. And also, what in the actual fuck? Why is the vice-president of the United States smelling my hair?' He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused. There is a Spanish saying, 'tragame tierra,' it means, 'earth, swallow me whole.' I couldn’t move and I couldn’t say anything. I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me. My name was called and I was never happier to get on stage in front of an audience."

The other Democrats who have already entered the 2020 race have responded to this story in various ways. Most have stressed that they believe Flores, but have stopped short of urging Biden not to run for president.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said, "I have no reason not to believe Lucy," adding that while he was "not sure that one incident alone disqualifies anybody," he agreed with Flores that "it is not acceptable that when a woman goes to work or is in any kind of environment that she feels anything less than comfortable and safe."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said "I believe Lucy Flores," and urged Biden to "give an answer" regarding Flores' story. Former HUD secretary Julián Castro responded similarly, saying that he believed Flores and adding that "we need to live in a nation where people can hear her truth."

Biden, to this point, has responded only with a broad and general statement that expressed solidarity with women's struggles. He has not attempted to rebut her specific accusations, but has insisted that he had not intentionally done anything wrong. Earlier, through a spokesman, Biden had indicated he did not remember the incident in question.

"In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort," Biden's statement read. "And not once -- never -- did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention."

Flores' accusation has led to internet sleuths producing a series of images of potentially problematic Biden moments from the past. One of those concerned Stephanie Carter, the wife of former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who has come forward to say  that a February 2015 photograph of Biden touching her shoulders during her husband's swearing-in ceremony should not be considered a #MeToo moment.

Stephanie Carter told the Washington Post that while she did not know Flores, she supported "her right to speak her truth and she should be, like all women, believed. But her story is not mine. The Joe Biden in my picture is a close friend helping someone get through a big day, for which I will always be grateful."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

MORE FROM Matthew Rozsa