Joe Biden addresses allegations of unwanted touching: "I’ve heard what these women are saying"

While Biden acknowledged he had heard his accusers, the former vice president did not directly apologize to them

By Joseph Neese - Shira Tarlo

Published April 3, 2019 4:21PM (EDT)

Joe Biden (Getty/Salon)
Joe Biden (Getty/Salon)

Former Vice President Joe Biden directly addressed the mounting allegations of unwanted kissing and touching, which have in recent days left a shadow looming over his possible 2020 presidential bid, by acknowledging that "social norms are changing."

"I understand that, and I’ve heard what these women are saying," Biden tweeted Wednesday afternoon. "Politics to me has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That’s my responsibility and I will meet it."

In an accompanying two-minute video, the former vice president detailed his style of retail politics, asserting his "gestures of support and encouragement" made to men and women alike were always meant to show that he cares. Politics, as Biden sees it, is "about connecting." But while he acknowledged he had heard his accusers, the Democrat did not directly apologize to them.

"I get it. I get it. I hear what you’re saying. I understand it," Biden said, looking straight into the camera. "And I’ll be much more mindful. That’s my responsibility — my responsibility — and I’ll meet it."

"But I’ll always believe governing — quite frankly, life, for that matter — is about connecting with people," the former vice president continued. "That won’t change, but I will be more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space. And that’s a good thing. That’s a good thing."

Without making a formal announcement, Biden seems to be suggesting a campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination is imminent.

"In the coming month, I expect to talk to you about a whole lot of issues," Biden said at the beginning of the video. "And I'll always be direct with you."

Former Nevada assemblywoman Lucy Flores claimed Biden put his hands on her shoulders, smelled her hair and kissed her on the head at a 2014 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." (Flores endorsed Bernie Sanders during the 2016 election and served on the board of the Sanders-aligned group "Our Revolution." Biden's camp reportedly believes Sanders' team or his allies are behind the Flores story, which the senator's campaign vehemently denied.)

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 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, which she claimed had kept her silent due to a fear of being blamed or dismissed.

"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."

Scrutiny of the former vice president's past public interactions with women and mixed history on women's issues has followed these accounts. Critics 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-in ceremony, received significant media attention at the time and was described as "extremely odd, and creepy."

Carter said the photograph of her and Biden had been "misleadingly extracted" from her husband's swearing-in ceremony, and the former vice president had been offering his support. 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.

Joseph Neese

Joseph Neese is Executive Editor of Salon. You can follow him on Twitter: @josephneese.

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Shira Tarlo

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