- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Allegations of inappropriate touching against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden have inflamed a rift between establishment Democrats in Washington willing to give him a pass and young activists across the country who say the accusations show the former vice president’s time is over.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other veteran Democrats in Washington rallied behind Mr. Biden this week, vouching for his character and batting away the idea that the accusations should prevent him from seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

“I don’t think it’s disqualifying,” Mrs. Pelosi said during a Politico event Tuesday. “He has to understand in the world that we’re in now that people’s space is important to them, and what’s important is how they receive it and not necessarily how you intended it.”

But younger party activists say that doesn’t cut it today.

College campus Democratic leaders said the allegations reinforce the view that 76-year-old Mr. Biden is out of step with their generation, and they’re not interested in waiting for him to catch up to today’s cultural norms.

They also said the party’s establishment should take note if they hope to harness the power of younger generations in the 2020 election.

Michael Rodrick, co-president of the University of New Hampshire College Democrats, said students on his campus are “very disappointed” with Mrs. Pelosi’s response.

“A lot of millennials and a lot of younger voters are looking for a candidate that is younger than Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders and I think the allegations enhance that idea that he is not with the time per se, and a lot of voters on campus are not going to consider him as an option on the ballot,” Mr. Rodrick told The Washington Times.

He said the former vice president’s fate has been a hot topic on campus since former Nevada State Assemblywoman Lucy Flores accused him of putting his hands on her shoulders, smelling her hair and kissing the back of her head at a 2014 campaign rally.

A second accuser came forward Monday with a story about how he rubbed noses with her at a 2009 fundraiser.

On Tuesday night, two more women came forward, describing uncomfortable encounters with the former vice president to The New York Times.

Caitlyn Caruso, now 22, said Mr. Biden put his hand on her thigh and held onto a hug “just a little bit too long” after she had described a sexual assault against her against her at an event on the topic three years ago at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

D.J. Hill, now 59, said the former vice president put his arm around her shoulder and then began moving it down her back when she and her husband, Robert Hill, were having their pictures taken with him at a 2012 fundraiser in Minneapolis. Mr. Hill then protected her by putting his own arm on Mr. Biden’s shoulder and making a joke to interrupt.

Mr. Biden is thought to be putting the final touches on a campaign launch, and the allegations have sent his closest allies into damage control.

Some former female staffers of Mr. Biden came forward to say they had never detected any inappropriate behavior, and he issued statements saying he respected his accusers’ feelings but never intended to upset them.

The allegations have created a conundrum for former colleagues who served with him in the Senate.

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, defended him Tuesday.

“I’ve known Joe Biden for so many years and he is a very friendly, affectionate individual who is a natural toucher — never found him to be inappropriate,” she told reporters.

But Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer dodged questions about Mr. Biden, saying voters will be able weigh the “pros and cons” and make a decision.

“Everyone deserves to be heard, so I salute the women who have come forward to tell their stories,” he said.

Defenses of Mr. Biden could ring hollow with young voters already seeing online video compilations of “Joe Biden being creepy,” and revisiting parts of his long record in the Senate — including the way he handled the televised Anita Hill hearings as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991.

“I think the headline is it is time to move past Joe Biden,” Taylor Blair, head of the Iowa State University College Democrats, told The Times.

He said the latest allegations are “one of the bullet points” in the list of problems for the former vice president.

“We don’t need to be catching him up to speed that it is weird to kiss a woman on her head and sniff her,” Mr. Blair said.

Mr. Rodrick said candidates who visit New Hampshire will be asked about the controversy and will be expected to take a firm stand.

“College students are looking for candidates to be saying this is a disqualifying factor or there needs to be some retribution or a response to his actions,” he said. “They don’t want him to get off scot-free.”

• Alex Swoyer contributed to this report.

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