Vice President Joe Biden said on Sunday that he “never” acted inappropriately over his more than four-decade career in politics, in response to allegations that he kissed a former Nevada lawmaker — unsolicited — on the back of the head.
“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 said in a statement Sunday. “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,” the statement continues.
At no point does Biden address the recent allegations against him directly, nor does he apologize.
Biden’s accuser, Nevada Democrat Lucy Flores, says the incident occurred in 2014 when she was running for lieutenant governor. Biden had agreed to speak at one of her final events in the race and give her a much-needed boost in the polls. As she prepared to take the stage, Flores says she was jarred by the feeling of Biden coming up behind her and placing both hands on her shoulders.
”I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified,” Flores wrote in an essay published at the Cut. The vice president then leaned in and kissed her on the back of her head, she continued.
Biden spokesperson Bill Russo responded to the initial reports on Friday in a statement declaring that neither the vice president nor his staff recall the incident. They did say, however, that Flores had every right to come forward with her story.
Biden is already leading several 2020 presidential polls by a long shot even though he has yet to formally announce whether he plans to run. His decision could dramatically shake up a Democratic primary with a crowded field of candidates who lack his name recognition and high-profile stature in national politics.
Several declared 2020 candidates came out over the weekend to publicly back Flores’s side of the story.
”I read the op-ed last night,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said in Iowa on Saturday. “I believe Lucy Flores. And Joe Biden needs to give an answer.”
Former secretary of housing and urban development and 2020 candidate Julián Castro also extended his support to Flores. “We need to live in a nation where people can hear her truth,” he told reporters at the same Iowa event.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), too, said she had no reason not to believe the former Nevada lawmaker. “I think we know from campaigns and politics that people raise issues and they have to address them, and that’s what he will have to do with the voters if he gets into the race,” she told ABC’s Jon Karl on Sunday, speaking of Biden.
Biden’s behavior has long been dismissed by the media and public
Biden has a well-documented history of cozying up to women during public events. On multiple occasions, he’s been caught on camera getting into women’s personal space or making them visibly uncomfortable.
Rather than criticize Biden’s behavior, largely sympathetic media summaries of those incidents instead framed his questionable actions as simply “Joe being Joe,” and in effect became an extension of satirical memes that depicted Biden as a lovable everyman. As Vox’s Laura McGann explained on Friday:
The images bled together over the years into the persona of Uncle Joe. When he dropped an F-bomb on a live mic, it was a classic Joe moment. When he made one of his many gaffes, it got added to numerous lists written in good fun. And when he did kind of creepy things to women at public events, well, that was just Joe being Joe, too.
All of those frames made appealing pitches just a few years ago. Editors would be happy to get a “lovable Uncle Joe strikes again” story. The environment is not the same now. Certainly the media is not nearly perfect when it comes to covering gender and power. But in the era of #MeToo, there is far less appetite for a story that makes light of a candidate behaving badly toward women.
Biden has a complicated and often mixed record on women’s issues that will inevitably continue to be put under the microscope should he decide to run. Even in light of the cultural shift brought by the #MeToo era and the growing consensus that the stories from victims should be believed, Biden already has defenders coming forward offering to clear his name. On Saturday night, the organizer behind the 2014 event that Flores detailed in her essay sought to cast doubt on Flores’s story, saying that the lawmaker was never alone with the vice president.
”I have thoroughly reviewed photographic documentation from the event, and spoken to nearly every principle in attendance, as well as staff associated with the event. To the best of our recollection, at no time were Lucy Flores and Vice President Biden alone,” Henry Muñoz, co-founder of Latino Victory Project, said in a statement.
Flores, in response, says she encourages Muñoz to go back and reread her essay. “I never claimed that I was alone with [Biden]. In fact, I very clearly say that this occurred in the chaos of a rally,” she said Sunday on CNN’s Face the Nation.
Flores added that she hopes Biden will someday respond to her allegation directly and “acknowledge that it was wrong.” Instead, what she got was a non-apology from the vice president, who, based on his statement Sunday, doesn’t believe an unwanted kiss to the back of the head rises to the level of what’s considered “inappropriate.”