- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 31, 2019

A former lawmaker’s accusation of unwanted touching by former Vice President Joseph R. Biden forced Democrats to revisit the #MeToo issue over the weekend as one of their own made it clear that she is unwilling to stay quiet for the good of the team.

Former Nevada state Assemblywoman Lucy Flores accused Mr. Biden, the putative front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, in an op-ed article over the weekend of putting his hands on her shoulders, smelling her hair and planting a kiss on the back of her head during her 2014 campaign rally for lieutenant governor.

On Sunday, Ms. Flores described the incident, which Mr. Biden had said he did not recall, as “disqualifying,” given what she called his history of “acting inappropriately with women” and a political climate in which young Democratic “foot soldiers” like herself are no longer willing to “keep our mouths shut.”

“We’re often pressured to keep our mouths shut about anything,” Ms. Flores told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We, as party loyalists, as party stalwarts, are foot soldiers for the party. We’re expected to, quote-unquote, keep our dirty laundry to ourselves. And it’s always in service to the party.”

Mr. Biden, who has yet to declare his candidacy, responded by vowing to “remain the strongest advocate I can be” for women. The Biden camp posted multiple declarations of support from former female staffers and colleagues who vouched for his character.

“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,” Mr. Biden said. “If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully, but it was never my intention.”

At the same time, the accusation raised questions about whether the 76-year-old Delaware Democrat’s physical, press-the-flesh campaign style may become a liability in the #MeToo era.

“Joe Biden is a longtime American political figure who came from the fleshy world of ‘60s and ‘70s politics, when everybody started to hug and kiss,” former Reagan White House speechwriter Peggy Noonan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It was different from the ‘40s and ‘50s. We’re hugging. We’re kissing. All that stuff is going on. That’s part of his story right now.”

Well before the Flores accusation, Mr. Biden had gained a reputation for his close encounters with women, such as a 2015 episode in which he rested his hands on the shoulders of Stephanie Carter, wife of then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, and then whispered into her ear.

Some of the encounters appeared friendly, others uncomfortable. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway pointed to a “treasure trove” of “creepy Uncle Joe videos” on the internet.

“I think Joe has a big problem here because he calls it an affectionate handshake, his party calls it completely inappropriate,” Mrs. Conway said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Of course, Mr. Trump has his own problems on that score. He has denied accusations that he engaged in unwanted touching or kissing with more than a dozen women, buttressed by his bragging on tape about being able to grab women by the genitals. But the hypocrisy risk is higher for Democrats, given their calls to “believe women.”

Ms. Flores agreed that the timing of her op-ed was political, spurred by Mr. Biden’s anticipated candidacy. She acknowledged that she supported Sen. Bernard Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary and attended former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign kickoff Saturday in El Paso, Texas.

Asked about Mr. Biden’s statement, Ms. Flores said, “I’m glad that he’s willing to listen. I’m glad that he is clarifying his intentions,” but “my point was never about his intentions.

“And they shouldn’t be about his intentions,” Ms. Flores said. “It should be about the women on the receiving end of that behavior. And this isn’t the first time, and it wasn’t the only incident where he was acting inappropriately with women.”

She emphasized that “never do I claim that this rises to the level of a sexual assault or anything of that nature.”

“What I am saying is that it’s completely inappropriate, that it does not belong in any kind of a professional setting, much less in politics,” Ms. Flores said. “That is something that we should consider when we are talking about the background of a person who is considering running for president.”

Many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates reacted over the weekend by saying they believed Ms. Flores — or had no reason not to — and that only Mr. Biden could decide whether the allegation was “disqualifying.”

“I read the op-ed last night. I believe Lucy Flores, and Joe Biden needs to give an answer,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, said at the Heartland Forum in Iowa.

Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who was also at the Iowa forum, said, “I believe Lucy Flores. I believe the vice president put a statement out today. He’s going to decide whether he’s going to run or not, and then the American people, if he does, will decide whether they support him or not.”

On Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said he didn’t believe that a single accusation of inappropriate behavior should be enough to keep Mr. Biden out of the 2020 presidential race, where he leads the crowded field of would-be nominees in virtually every poll.

“Certainly one allegation is not disqualifying, but it should be taken seriously,” Mr. Durbin said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

A Quinnipiac University poll released Friday found Mr. Biden, who served two terms as President Barack Obama’s vice president, with the support of 29 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters, followed by Mr. Sanders, at 19 percent.

Mr. Sanders questioned whether Mr. Biden should be ruled out as a candidate based on one allegation.

“I think that’s a decision for the vice president to make,” Mr. Sanders said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I’m not sure that one incident alone disqualifies anybody, but her point is absolutely right. This is an issue not just for Democrats or Republicans. The entire country has got to take this seriously.

Political strategist Cornell Belcher, a former Democratic Party pollster, said he was confident that Mr. Biden’s potential candidacy would survive the accusation, which appeared Friday in an essay by Ms. Flores in New York magazine called “An Awkward Kiss Changed How I Saw Joe Biden.”

“The culture has fundamentally changed, which is a problem for a lot of our older candidates, who, to your point, came up in a culture that was very different,” Mr. Belcher said on “Meet the Press.” “But I think he can survive it. And this is why he survives it: comfort. … Democrats are very, very comfortable with Joe Biden.”

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