Facing an accusation of inappropriate behavior from a ex-lawmaker, former Vice President Joe Biden issued a statement Sunday defending his actions, adding that he would “listen respectfully” to women’s experiences.
Lucy Flores, a former Nevada lawmaker, accused Biden, 76, of inappropriately touching and kissing her back in 2014 when the vice president campaigned for her during her run for lieutenant governor.
Flores detailed her allegations in an essay, writing, “I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. … He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused.”
In an interview Sunday with CNN’s “State of the Union” she told Jake Tapper, “It was shocking because you don’t expect that kind of intimate behavior, you don’t expect that kind of intimacy from someone so powerful and someone who you just have no relationship whatsoever, to touch you and to feel you, and to be so close you in that way. So I frankly just didn't even know how to react. I was just shocked. I felt — I felt powerless.”
Biden, who is expected to announce his presidential bid any day now, responded to the allegations with a statement.
“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. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully.”
He continued: “But it was never my intention. I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear. But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will.
“I will also remain the strongest advocate I can be for the rights of women. I will fight to build on the work I’ve done in my career to end violence against women and ensure women are treated with the equality they deserve.
“I will continue to surround myself with trusted women advisers who challenge me to see different perspectives than my own. I will continue to speak out on these vitally-important issues where there is much more progress to be made and crucial fights that must be waged and won.”
Flores told Tapper that Biden’s Sunday statements were better than his previous comments.
“I’m glad that he’s willing to listen,” she said. “I’m glad that he is clarifying his intentions. Frankly, my point was never about his intentions. … It should be about the women on the receiving end of that behavior.”
“If he is saying that he never believed that that was inappropriate,” she continued, “then, frankly, I think that’s a little bit of a disconnect … because there has been documentation, both in photos, videos, stories that were written.”
Flores said she felt “so compelled to finally say something” because Biden’s behavior was not “being considered from the perspective of the woman on the other side of that power dynamic, on the receiving end.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on “Fox News Sunday” suggested that Biden apologize to Flores, whom she called “quite bold” in going “against the highest levels of her political party.”
“He calls it affection and handshakes,” said Conway. “His party calls it completely inappropriate.”
Biden, who according to recent polls is considered Democrat’s best chance of beating Trump in 2020, has repeatedly criticized and threatened to fight Trump — physically — for his behavior toward women. While campaigning for Hillary Clinton in 2016, Biden said he’d like to “take Trump behind the gym” after the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape that revealed Trump making lewd comments about women in what the president later categorized as “locker room banter.”
Biden repeated his sentiment toward Trump at an anti-sexual assault rally last year.
“A guy who ended up becoming our national leader said, ‘I can grab a woman anywhere and she likes it,’” he said. “They asked me if I’d like to debate this gentleman, and I said no. I said, ‘If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.’”
“Sexual assault is about power and the abuse of power more than it is about sex,” he also said.
When asked if Biden’s actions should disqualify him from running for president, Flores said yes.
“For me, it’s disqualifying,” she told Tapper. “I think it’s up to everybody else to make that decision, considering again the entire scope of his background, of the positions that he’s taken.”
Flores added: “For me, this isn't the only problematic thing. I think that his response to the way in which he handled the Anita Hill hearing was completely also inappropriate and lacked empathy and, frankly, lacked accountability. Saying that he wishes that there was something more he could have done, I think, is just a complete lack of accountability. … You were the chair of that hearing, and you could have done anything you wanted.”
Amid Flores’s accusation, Biden, who has been reported kissing foreheads at speaking events and overstepping physical boundaries with women, has been on an apology tour for his treatment of Anita Hill whom he questioned during a 1991 Senate hearing after she accused Clarence Thomas, then a nominee for the Supreme Court, of sexually harassing her.
Biden reissued apologies to Hill indirectly, saying Tuesday, “When Anita Hill came to testify, she faced a committee that didn’t fully understand what the hell it was all about. And to this day I regret I couldn’t come up with a way to get her the kind of hearing she deserved given the courage she showed by reaching out to us.”
“We all have an obligation to do nothing less than change the culture in this country,” he added. “A white man’s culture, it’s got to change. It’s got to change.”
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