Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden — the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination for which he is not even officially running — has suddenly got a whole lotta problems.
While there are, at last count, 187 Democrats running for president, Mr. Biden has longed been considered Top Dog. As former veep for Barack Obama, Mr. Biden is literally The Chosen One’s chosen one. He’s got name recognition worldwide (for those of you still trying to figure out how to say the South Bend, Indiana, mayor’s surname) and an enormous political machine at the ready should he decide to run.
But now Mr. Biden’s past peccadilloes are coming back to haunt him.
Joe’s always been a touchy-feely guy. He grabs men in bear hugs and sidles up to women from behind, massaging their shoulders, often squeezing his face right next to theirs or whispering in their ears. Sure, it’s a little creepy, but that’s just how Joe has always been, and the septuagenarian does it all with that big dental implant smile, so who can stay creeped out?
But it’s a whole new world — a #MeToo world — out there and avuncular Joe is now fast becoming Handsy Joe.
Last week, Lucy Flores, a former Nevada assemblywoman who was running for lieutenant governor in 2014, accused Mr. Biden of inappropriately touching her during a campaign rally, saying she felt uncomfortable and demeaned by his touching. Mr. Biden’s fellow Democrats, especially the ones who are already running for president, let him twist in the wind — or pounced on the allegations outright.
“I believe Lucy Flores,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said in Iowa on Sunday. “And Joe Biden needs to give an answer.” When Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont was asked whether Ms. Flores’ accusation disqualifies Mr. Biden from running for president, he said: “That’s a decision for the vice president to make.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said she has “no reason not to believe” Ms. Flores. “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 said Sunday. And former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Mr. Biden’s actions were cause for concern. “Certainly, I think it’s very disconcerting and I think that women have to be heard and we should start by believing them.”
Then on Monday, another woman came forward with new accusations. Amy Lappos told The Hartford Courant that “Biden touched her inappropriately and rubbed noses with her during a 2009 political fundraiser in Greenwich when he was vice president.”
“It wasn’t sexual, but he did grab me by the head,” she told The Courant. “He put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me. When he was pulling me in, I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth.”
And she said Mr. Biden crossed the line. “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.”
Of course, there are dozens of photos of Mr. Biden laying his hands on women — not allegations of unwanted touching, mind you, but photos nonetheless. But the photos are not always what they seem — or what gets reported. In one famous 2015 shot, Mr. Biden is offering support to Stephanie Carter as her husband, Ash Carter, is being sworn in as defense secretary.
In her own piece on the photo that ran Sunday on the website Medium, Mrs. Carter said she was “the sole owner of my story” and defended Mr. Biden. She said Mr. Biden “leaned in to tell me ‘Thank you for letting him do this’ and kept his hands on my shoulders as a means of offering his support.”
Mr. Biden, for his part, defended his handsy ways — which he called “expressions of affection” — and said he did not believe he “acted inappropriately.”
“In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully,” he said in a statement Sunday.
“But it was never my intention. I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear. But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will.”
This isn’t the first time Mr. Biden’s “expressions of affection” have been questioned, and it won’t be the last — especially if he jumps into the 2020 race. And you know he will.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @josephcurl.
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