Former Vice President Joe Biden began his first speech since numerous women publicly accused him of inappropriate touching ... by joking about inappropriate touching.
“I just want you to know. I had permission to hug Lonnie,” Biden said, referring to the embrace he shared with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) President Lonnie Stephenson moments earlier, as he walked on stage to deliver a speech to an IBEW conference in Washington, DC.
Later during his speech, Biden made a second joke about inappropriate touching when a group of kids joined him on stage.
“By the way, he gave me permission to touch him,” Biden said, his hand draped around a boy’s shoulder.
Biden went on to make a *second* joke about inappropriate touching pic.twitter.com/fkzYM743no— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 5, 2019
In both instances, the crowd responded to Biden’s jokes with laughs and cheers. But many others interpreted Biden’s quips as an attempt to minimize the accounts of seven women who have accused him of touching and kissing that wasn’t sexual in nature but crossed a line.
Biden addressed the accusations in a video he posted on Twitter on Wednesday. In it, he stopped short of apologizing but vowed to be “more mindful about respecting personal space in the future.”
Following his speech on Friday, a reporter asked Biden directly if he thinks he owes a “direct apology” to the women who have come forward to accuse him of inappropriate conduct. Biden indicated he does not.
“The fact of the matter is I made it clear that if I made anyone feel uncomfortable, I feel badly about that. That was never my intention,” Biden said. “I’m sorry I didn’t understand more. I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything I’ve ever done.”
While some saw Biden’s comments during his speech on Friday as a gaffe, others — including FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver — interpreted it as “a strategy ... to appeal to the sorts of Democrats who aren’t very well represented on Twitter. And it might work.”
That may be so. But by turning inappropriate touching accusations against him into a punchline, Biden indicated that he isn’t being as “mindful” about his behavior as he promised to be.