Joe Biden apology tour? Don't expect former veep to dwell on allegations in Friday speech

Ledyard King

WASHINGTON – Joe Biden's speech Friday to a labor union will be his first following allegations of unwanted touching by several women, but few expect the former vice president will spend a lot of time addressing the issue.

"He doesn't want it to become the Joe Biden apology tour," said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire who specializes in presidential politics and was speaking generally. "If he feels like he needs to speak more in depth, he'll find the proper opportunity to do it and it'll be one and done."

Biden, a Democrat who served 36 years representing Delaware in the U.S. Senate prior to his time as vice president, is expected by many to announce his entry into the 2020 presidential race in the coming weeks.

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.

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.

Related: Trump tweets video mocking Joe Biden's explanation for touching, making a 'human connection'

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"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."

The former vice president will be speaking Friday to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, representing approximately 775,000 members in the construction, manufacturing, railroad and utilities fields – the kind of blue-collar workers who helped propel Donald Trump to the White House in 2016.

It will be a friendly audience, given the union's antipathy to Trump, and one that's likely to be more interested in hearing Biden talk about the need to improve working conditions and paychecks than how he'll change his campaign style.

Former Vice president Joe Biden

“Nothing (the Trump) administration does or proposes is designed to enhance the quality of life or working conditions for our federal employees,” IBEW Government Employees Department Director Paul O’Connor said after the president proposed deep cuts in his 2020 budget.

A spokesman for Biden, 76, declined to say what he planned to say in his remarks Friday.

A rousing speech to a friendly audience and a tweeted video promising to change his behavior won't sweep away the challenge facing Biden, said Susan MacManus, a retired political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

"It's very clear the younger generation is not buying it," she said, noting that attention around Biden's behavior has overshadowed a presidential field that includes several strong female candidates after they saw sexism contribute to Hillary Clinton's defeat in 2016. "A number of women Democrats are saying, 'I've had enough.' Those two things together are really part of why there's outrage."

The allegations against Biden come amid #MeToo, a movement of mostly women speaking out against innappropriate 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.

President Donald 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. Trump has denied the allegations.

Several polls show Biden leading a large field of candidates even though he has yet to officially announce his candidacy.

About three in 10 Democrats (31%) said they agree Biden is "out of touch" with the challenges that younger Americans face today, compared to 52% who disagree, according to a Morning Consult/Politico poll released Thursday.

The poll of 1,945 registered voters nationwide has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. It was conducted from March 29 through April 1, about the time the first allegations against Biden surfaced.

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In addition, a third of Democrats (33 percent) agree that Biden is not progressive enough to make the changes Democrats need, compared to 48 percent who disagree.

A number of former female staff members and prominent Democratic women have come out to defend Biden. One of the latest was Stacey Abrams, who nearly won a 2018 race to become Georgia governor. 

"We cannot have perfection as a litmus test," Abrams said when asked her opinion of the video Biden released Wednesday. 

"The responsibility of leaders is to not be perfect but to be accountable, to say, 'I've made a mistake. I understand it and here's what I'm going to do to reform as I move forward.' And I think we see Joe Biden doing that," she said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joe Biden apology tour? Don't expect former veep to dwell on allegations in Friday speech