Nancy Pelosi offers advice to Joe Biden amid misconduct allegations: "Join the straight arms club"

Pelosi says Biden's alleged unwelcome contact does not disqualify him, but he needs to respect "people's space"

Published April 2, 2019 3:03PM (EDT)

Former Vice President Joe Biden; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Getty/Saul Loeb/AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Former Vice President Joe Biden; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Getty/Saul Loeb/AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Tuesday that she does not believe the allegations of unwanted kissing and touching against former Vice President Joe Biden are disqualifying for the presidency.

Pelosi, in an interview in front of a live audience with Politico, said she does not consider Biden's alleged inappropriate behavior "disqualifying," but noted the former vice president "has to understand that in the world we're in now, people's space is important to them. And what's important is how they receive it – and not necessarily how you intended it."

The California Democrat then revealed she has a very different style of interacting with people, and offered some advice to the former vice president: "Join the straight arms club."

"I'm a member of the straight-arm club," she said, extending a stiff arm out to demonstrate. "I just pretend you have a cold, and I have a cold."

Pelosi then noted she has known Biden for decades and shared that her grandchildren "love Joe Biden," adding: "He's a very affectionate person."

The speaker of the House's comments come in the wake of accusations from women who have said past interactions with Biden, who appears to be on the verge of announcing a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, made them feel uncomfortable.

Former Nevada assemblywoman Lucy Flores on Friday claimed Biden put his hands on her shoulders, smelled her hair and kissed her on the head in 2014 at a campaign rally supporting her bid for lieutenant governor in an op-ed published Friday. Flores said Biden's unwanted contact made her feel uncomfortable and was unacceptable.

"My brain couldn't process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused," she wrote. "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."

Amy Lappos, a former congressional aide to Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., also came forward Monday with allegations of unwanted touching against the former vice president, claiming Biden touched her inappropriately and rubbed noses with her while at a political fundraiser in Connecticut in 2009.

Flores, for her part, said she was encouraged to come forward now because she believed Biden's past behavior with women was not being scrutinized as he prepares for a possible presidential run. She argued the former vice president's conduct was "disqualifying" for a presidential candidate in an interview Sunday with CNN.

Lappos said she decided to speak up about her Biden's past behavior in the wake of allegations made by the Nevada Democrat. She noted a major imbalance of power at play in her interaction with Biden, claiming that imbalance had kept her silent out of fear of being dismissed or blamed .

"I never filed a complaint, to be honest, because he was the vice president. I was a nobody," Lappos told the Hartford Courant on Monday. "There's absolutely a line of decency. There's a line of respect. Crossing that line is not grandfatherly. It's not cultural. It's not affection. It's sexism or misogyny."

Biden issued a sweeping statement Sunday, saying, "In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately."

"If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully," he added. "But it was never my intention."

The allegations made against Biden drew scrutiny to the former vice president's past public interactions with women and mixed history on women's issues. Critics in recent days have surfaced infamous images of Biden tightly embracing a female reporter from behind and clasping his hands above her waist, whispering into many women's ears and touching women's faces and necks. In a now-viral photograph from 2015, Biden can be seen putting his hands on the shoulders of Stephanie Carter, the wife of former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, and whispering in her ear. The incident, which occurred during her husband's White House swearing-ceremony, at the time received significant media attention and was described as "extremely odd, and creepy."

Carter on Sunday said the photograph of her and Biden had been "misleadingly extracted" from her husband's swearing-in ceremony and that the former vice president had offered to support her. In an essay published Sunday on Medium, titled "The #MeToo Story That Wasn't Me," Carter said she wanted to "reclaim" the story behind the widely-discussed picture of her and Biden.

"I won't pretend that this will be the last of that picture, but it will be the last of other people speaking for me," Carter wrote.

Biden's encounter with the teenage daughter of Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, Biden's home state, has also received significant attention in recent days. At a swearing-in ceremony for Coons in 2015, a video captured Biden holding the upper arm of the senator's 13-year-old daughter, leaning into her and whispering into her ear while she appears visibly uncomfortable. The former vice president can then be seen kissing her on the head, a gesture that appeared to make the girl flinch. Coons said this week that Biden's behavior did not bother his daughter, who has known the former vice president her whole life.

Biden's spokesman Bill Russo issued a new statement Monday, pushing back strongly against suggestions that the former vice president had a history of being handsy with women and making them feel uncomfortable.

"The vice president has issued a statement affirming that in all the many years in public life that he has shaken a hand; given or received a hug; or laid his hand on a shoulder to express concern, support, or reassurance, he never intended to cause discomfort," Russo said Monday. "He has said that he believes that women who have experience any such discomfort, regardless of intention, should speak and be heard, and that he will be among those who listen."

"But the important conversation about these issues are not advanced, nor are any criticisms of Vice President Biden validated, by the continued misrepresentation of the Carter and Coons moments, or a failure to be vigilant about a cottage industry of lies," Russo concluded.

By Shira Tarlo

MORE FROM Shira Tarlo

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2020 Election All Salon Ashton Carter Bill Russo Chris Coons Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Stephanie Carter