Biden calls Trump a 'tragedy in two acts' who is 'locked in the past'

Ledyard King and Maureen Groppe

WASHINGTON – Former Vice President Joe Biden on Friday called President Donald Trump a "tragedy in two acts" for the way he characterizes people and is consumed with personal grievances.

"This country can’t afford more years of a president looking to settle personal scores," Biden said in a speech to union workers. "This country can’t afford four more years of a president locked in the past." 

Biden, who is expected by many to announce his entry into the 2020 presidential race in the coming weeks, spoke to a packed, and friendly crowd of electrical workers at a Washington hotel.

His remarks came the day after Trump poked fun at Biden's recent explanation that his propensity for touching other people was about making a "human connection."  

"People got a kick out of it," Trump said Friday of the doctored video of Biden he'd tweeted. "He’s going through a situation. You’ve got to sort of smile a little bit."

After Biden's speech, Trump tweeted that he has the support of members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

"I’ve employed thousands of Electrical Workers," Trump said. "They will be voting for me!"

But Kraig Lee, a 49-year-old Republican from Vicksburg, Michigan, who attended the speech, said Trump's “pockets of support are shrinking" in his state. 

"Hate can only carry you so far and he’s very divisive," Lee said.

Biden was more than halfway through his 40-minute speech before he mentioned Trump directly. He said Trump opposes the core values and beliefs of the nation in the way he treats people.

“What in the hell is happening?" Biden asked. "Our children are listening.”

Biden had invited four children up on stage, joking as he draped his arm around a boy that "he gave me permission to touch him." 

He'd made a similar comment at the beginning of his appearance after he hugged IBEW international president Lonnie Stephenson.

Biden's speech was his first following allegations of unwanted touching by several women.

Besides acknowledging with humor the recent controversy about his affectionate style, Biden also addressed what he called criticism from some on the far left for his willingness to work with Republicans.

Biden was forced to backtrack last month after being lambasted by progressives and LGBTQ activists for calling Vice President Mike Pence a decent guy this month.

The longtime politician made the case for Democrats and Republicans forging personal connections so the two parties can find ways to compromise instead of attacking each other. 

"Hard to get to yes in a compromise when you can't even talk to one another," he said. "Democrats and Republicans can do better."

Speaking to reporters afterward, Biden defended himself against criticism that the Democratic Party has become more liberal than he is. Biden said that while the definition of "progressive" seems to have changed into whether someone calls themselves a socialist, most members of the party are still basically liberal-to-moderate Democrats "in the traditional sense."

"We'll find out whether I can win in a primary," he said.

Biden also said his intention has been to be the last Democrat to announce if he decides to enter the 2020 campaign.

"Give everybody else their day, then I get a shot, then off to the races," he said.

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The IBEW members Biden spoke to are the kind of blue-collar workers who helped propel Trump to the White House in 2016.

"It’s good to be home,” Biden said after walking on stage. "You guys brung me to the dance"

Biden served 36 years representing Delaware in the U.S. Senate before his time as vice president.

Most polls have him leading the race for the Democratic nomination, according to RealClearPolitics.

The timing of that decision has been complicated by allegations of improper conduct that began when Lucy Flores, a former member of the Nevada Legislature, accused Biden in a March 29 New York Magazine article of "demeaning and disrespectful" behavior for an alleged 2014 incident.

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Since then, at least six other women have come forward with similar stories of Biden's unwanted conduct.

Biden, known for his hugging and hands-on politicking style, promised to be more "mindful and respectful" in a video released Wednesday.

"Social norms are changing. I understand that, and I’ve heard what these women are saying," he said in a tweet accompanying the video. "Politics to me has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That’s my responsibility and I will meet it."

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The allegations against Biden come amid #MeToo, a movement of mostly women speaking out against inappropriate behavior. It has led to the resignation and downfall of more than 100 entertainers, executives and politicians, including Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Kevin Spacey.

Former Minnesota Democrat Sen. Al Franken announced his resignation in 2017 following accusations of sexual misconduct. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., also stepped down, along with Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who resigned amid reports he discussed with female staffers the possibility they could be surrogates for his and his wife's baby.

Trump has been accused of having affairs with multiple women and making unwanted advances at others. In an “Access Hollywood” tape that surfaced during the final weeks of the presidential campaign in 2016, Trump was heard making lewd comments and bragging about groping women's genitals. Trump has denied the allegations.

Contributing: David Jackson, USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden calls Trump a 'tragedy in two acts' who is 'locked in the past'