Joe Biden laments lack of personal connection in politics as he pledges to respect space

Ledyard King

WASHINGTON – Joe Biden's hands-on style of politicking has landed him in hot water after several women said the former vice president crossed a line with his unwanted touching. 

The likely 2020 presidential candidate's response?

Washington lacks leaders who want to develop close, respectful relationships that forge the political consensus needed to tackle the nation's major problems.

"Democrats and Republicans, we used to know one another," he told a labor group Friday during a speech in Washington. "If I know your husband or your wife and you're a senator or a congressman and I know they have breast cancer; or I know you have a son or daughter with an opioid addiction; or I know you just lost your brother or sister. It's hard to dislike you if I know you (and) make a personal connection."

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Biden has promised to do a better job respecting people's personal space, pledging to be more "mindful and respectful" in a video released Wednesday on Twitter.

However, in his address to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – a mostly male audience who warmly received him – Biden joked twice about the issue and didn't directly address the allegations of improper physical contact.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 05: Former Vice President Joe Biden and Brotherhood of Electrical Workers President Lonnie Stephenson greet on stage at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Construction and Maintenance conference on April 05, 2019 in Washington, DC. 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. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775324810 ORIG FILE ID: 1140627678

Instead, Biden tried to draw a contrast with President Donald Trump, whom he said has spent more time dividing the country and attacking opponents rather than bringing the nation together.

"We can work together to compromise but when we don't even know one another, what happens?," Biden said in his speech. "We attack each other. We attack each other based on motive. 'You in the pocket of the unions. You're in the pocket of big this. You're in the pocket of that.' Hard to get to yes and a compromise when you can't even talk to one another. Democrats and Republicans can do better."

Trump in return has mocked Biden's response and said he does not consider Biden, who is expected to announce his candidacy in the coming weeks, much of an impediment to his re-election.

“I don't see him as a threat," the president told reporters at the White House Friday. "I think he's only a threat to himself."

A number of former female staff members and prominent Democratic women have rushed to defend Biden. One of them, former Missouri Sen. Jean Carnahan, recalled in 2000 how Biden, then a senator from Delaware, comforted her following the death of her husband, Mel, in a plane crash.

"Joe took both of my hands in his and looked me in the eye for a long while before he spoke," Carnahan wrote in one of a series of tweets recounting her deep grief. "He said simply, 'I know, I know.' For a brief moment we were two souls joined by a loss that changed our lives. After that, Joe would often pause to ask how I was getting along."

FILE - In this May 22, 2013 file photo, Newly commissioned officer Erin Talbot, left, poses for a photograph with Vice President Joe Biden during commencement for the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. As former Vice President Biden's camp scrambles to contain any political damage over his past behavior with women, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has some words of advice: Keep your distance. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) ORG XMIT: WX121

"It was his empathy and encouragement more than that of any of my colleagues, that gave me strength to meet each day. And, yes, I sometimes, got a shoulder pat or even a head kiss," she continued. "Joe has a deep desire to share in the lives of others – their grief, pain, and joy."

But Biden's lack of an apology has not sat well with others.

"When women talk about the every day indignities we face – the too close hugs, the shoulder rubs – a huge hurdle is the fear that we'll be accused of overreacting. That we'll be laughed at," feminist author Jessica Valenti tweeted Friday morning before the speech. "Biden is proving that fear correct."

Lucy Flores, one of the women who has accused Biden of inappropriate contact, tweeted Friday it was clear Biden "hasn't reflected at all on how his inappropriate and unsolicited touching makes women feel uncomfortable."

"To make light of something as serious as consent degrades the conversation women everywhere are courageously trying to have."

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 WeinsteinMatt 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.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joe Biden laments lack of personal connection in politics as he pledges to respect space