Biden spars with Trump on age, faces questions on women

Former US vice president Joe Biden is running for president in 2020, after mounting two unsuccessful campaigns for America's highest office (AFP Photo/SAUL LOEB)

Former US vice president Joe Biden is running for president in 2020, after mounting two unsuccessful campaigns for America's highest office

Former US vice president Joe Biden is running for president in 2020, after mounting two unsuccessful campaigns for America's highest office (AFP Photo/SAUL LOEB)

Washington (AFP) - Newly announced 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden faced scrutiny on multiple fronts Friday, as President Donald Trump knocked him for his age and an all-female panel questioned his past treatment of women.

It was unlikely the rollout that the former vice president had expected on the first full day of his White House campaign, but the attention from Trump himself served to signal Biden's status as the leading challenger in a crowded field seeking to oust the current president.

Biden's day in the public eye began with the 72-year-old Trump opening a fresh line of attack on his rival's age, saying Biden made him "look very young" by comparison.

"I'm the youngest person. I am a young, vibrant man," a smiling Trump told reporters at the White House.

"I look at Joe, I don't know about him," he said of Biden, who is 76 and would be the oldest person ever to serve as president.

"I would never say anyone is too old, but I know they're all making me look very young both in terms of age and I think in terms of energy."

Biden, speaking Friday on ABC's popular talk show "The View," acknowledged politics is a "show-me business" where voters assess not just a candidate's political platform, but his physical fitness for office.

"If he looks young and vibrant compared to me I should probably go home," Biden said of the president.

Trump is technically obese, has a penchant for fast food and avoids strenuous exercise. His doctor declared him healthy in February.

Keen to paint Biden as unfit for the job, he has nicknamed his potential rival "Sleepy Joe." Biden presented himself as a vigorous candidate, insisting he was more like "hyper Joe."

When he was asked Friday how he would beat Biden, whose working class appeal could help win back states Trump snatched in 2016 -- such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- the president was succinct: "I think we beat him easily."

But Trump is watching Biden's rollout carefully. The former VP is angling to win back lower-income white voters who propelled Trump to the White House in 2016.

Biden's opening campaign message Thursday featured a direct challenge to Trump's fitness for office, as he blasted his response to deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.

- Sorry, not sorry -

On Friday it was Biden on the back foot, as he faced awkward questions about his past actions -- and stopped short of making outright apologies for them.

Multiple women have accused Biden this year of touching them inappropriately in the past, and while they have not said the elder statesman sexually harassed them, his tactile style and invasion of personal space has come under increasing scrutiny in the #MeToo era.

"So I invaded your space. I'm sorry this happened," Biden said, referring to his efforts to console or thank or inspire women he has met over the course of his half-century political career.

"I'm not sorry in the sense that I think I did anything that was intentionally designed to do anything wrong or be inappropriate."

Biden was also pressed on his handling of an infamous 1991 Senate hearing that involved testimony by Anita Hill, who was aggressively questioned by an all-male committee about her claims of sexual harassment.

He said he recently called Hill to express regret over his handling of the hearings, but when asked by The View's hosts to apologize directly to her, he stopped short.

"I don't think I treated her badly," Biden said, adding that he believed her claims of harassment "from the beginning."

"There were a lot of mistakes made across the board. For that I apologize," he said.

Biden's team was quick to refocus attention on the positive, announcing he raked in $6.3 million in the first 24 hours of the campaign, outpacing all other Democratic contenders on their opening days.