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Biden responds to allegations of touching: I’ll respect people’s “personal space”

The former vice president says his past behavior has been about “connecting” with people.

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaking onstage.
Former US Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the University of Pennsylvania’s Irvine Auditorium February 19, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Former Vice President Joe Biden — who is expected to announce a 2020 presidential bid soon — says he’s ready to respect people’s “personal space” after new attention came to allegations he had acted inappropriately with women.

“I shake hands, I hug people, I grab men and women by the shoulders and say, ‘You can do this.’ Whether they are women, men, young, old, it’s the way I’ve always been. It’s the way I show I care about them, that I listen,” he said. “Social norms have begun to change, they’ve shifted. And the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset. And I get it. I get it. I hear what they’re saying, I understand it. And I’ll be much more mindful. That’s my responsibility and I’ll meet it.”

Biden offered no direct apology for his past actions but said he would be mindful of changing norms around physical contact.

Biden’s statement seemed to suggest that he intended to adjust the way he behaved moving forward but did very little to acknowledge any specific experiences of the women who have come forward.

In an essay published in New York magazine’s The Cut last week, former Nevada lawmaker Lucy Flores said Biden had come up behind her, smelled her hair, and kissed the back of her head, making her feel uncomfortable in the process. Former congressional staffer Amy Lappos told the Hartford Courant that Biden had rubbed her nose with his nose at a fundraiser. On Tuesday, two additional women told the New York Times that he had touched them in way that made them “uncomfortable”: College student Caitlyn Caruso said he had put his hand on her thigh, while D.J. Hill said he had moved his hand from her shoulder to her back.

Biden addressed the allegations in very broad strokes.

He noted that there were “gestures of support and encouragement that I’ve made to women and some men, and I’ve made them uncomfortable,” but chalked up the behavior to his desire to connect with people while governing.

“I’ve never thought of politics as cold and antiseptic. I’ve always thought about it as connecting with people. Shaking hands, hands on the shoulder, a hug. Encouragement,” he said.

Biden also suggested that his career working on policy to advance gender equity — including the Violence Against Women Act — served as a testament to how committed he was to changing his behavior.

“I’ve worked my whole life to empower women, my whole life to prevent abuse. The idea that I can’t adjust to the fact that personal space is important ... is just not thinkable.”

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