Joe Biden's presidential hopes face crisis as second accuser details unwanted touching

Ben Riley-Smith

Joe Biden is facing the first major crisis of an as-yet-unannounced presidential bid after a second woman accused him of unwanted touching and Democrats debated if the claims should disqualify him.

The former US vice president was said to have pulled a woman’s head towards him to “rub noses” at a political event – an allegation that emerged just days after a similar claim became public. 

Amy Lappos, the former congressional aide who made the accusation, said the behaviour was not “sexual” but it was inappropriate and called on Mr Biden not to seek the White House. 

The developments have put Mr Biden’s conduct around some women, which supporters describe as affectionate but critics call “handsy”, in the spotlight and raised questions about his presidential hopes. 

Mr Biden comfortably tops polls for who should win the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination to take on Donald Trump, though the vote is still 20 months away.  

Amy Lappos, central in black and white top, and Joe Biden, left, at an event in October 2009 Credit: Courtesy of Amy Lappos

However unlike more than a dozen rival candidates, Mr Biden has waited before jumping into the ring – though an announcement is widely expected and could come within weeks. 

Nancy Pelosi, the most senior Democrat in the House of Representatives, treadled a careful line on Tuesday when addressing the claims, aware of the political implications of her reaction. 

She said the claims should not “disqualify” Mr Biden from running for office but urged him to reconsider his behaviour in the future. 

“I’ve known Joe Biden a long time. My grandchildren love Joe Biden. I mean he’s an affectionate person, to children, to senior citizens, to everyone. That’s just the way he is,” Ms Pelosi said. 

However she urged him to join the “straight arm club” by meeting people with a handshake. 

“He has to understand in the world that we’re in now that people’s space is important to them. And what’s important is how they receive it, not necessarily how you intended it," she said. 

Lucy Flores said that Joe Biden had acted inappropriately at a political event in 2014 Credit: AP Photo/John Locher

Democratic 2020 candidates also offered nuanced responses to the allegations, stating that they believed the women but stopping short of calling for Mr Biden not to launch a bid. 

Sen. Kamala Harris of California said she believed his accusers but that it's up to Mr Biden to decide whether to run.

Over the weekend, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren said Mr Biden "needs to give an answer" about what occurred. Another 2020 hopeful, Kirsten Gillibrand, said: "If Vice President Biden becomes a candidate, this is a topic he'll have to engage on further."

Ms Lappos’s account emerged on Monday after she posted about her experience online and later gave an interview to the Connecticut newspaper The Hartford Courant. 

The incident occurred at a 2009 political fundraiser Greenwich, Connecticut, when Mr Biden was vice president and Ms Lappos was an aide to congressman Jim Himes. 

She told the paper: "It wasn't sexual, but he did grab me by the head. He put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me. When he was pulling me in, I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth.”

She added: “There's absolutely a line of decency. There's a line of respect. Crossing that line is not grandfatherly. It's not cultural. It's not affection. It's sexism or misogyny."

Joe Biden's talks to customers during a stop at Cruisers Diner in Seaman, Ohio, in 2012 Credit: AP

A few days before the claim emerged, another woman, Lucy Flores, said Mr Biden had once put his hands on her shoulders, smelt her hair and kissed the back of her head at a political event. 

“Yes, of course, I want him to change his behavior. And I want him to acknowledge it was wrong,” Ms Flores said in an interview about the incident, which happened in 2014 when she was running as a Democrat to be Nevada lieutenant governor. 

The claims have led to days of debate on cable news channels about Mr Biden’s behaviour in light of the MeToo movement, which triggered a watershed moment in the discussion about sexual harassment.

In a lengthy statement issued after the first accusation and reportedly shared when approached about the second, Mr Biden denied acting inappropriately

Part of the statement read: "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. 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.”

Donald Trump took a shot  Mr Biden on Tuesday, mocking him over the allegations.

Former Defence Secretary Ashton Carter makes remarks as his wife Stephanie listens with  Joe Biden Credit: Getty

In a speech to a fundraising dinner for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the US president twice alluded to the claims.

Mr Trump told the dinner, which raised $23 million for Republicans running for the House of Representatives, a story about wanting to kiss a general he met in Iraq who had promised an expedient end to a campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria.

"I said, 'General: come here and give me a kiss.' I felt like Joe Biden," Mr Trump said, drawing laughter and applause.

Earlier, he told the crowd - which was dotted with members of the House - that they would be "going into the war with some socialists" in the next election.

"It looks like the only non-, sort of, heavy socialist is being taken care of pretty well by the socialists," Mr Trump said.

The President, who  has denied multiple accusations of sexual misconduct on his part, said: "Welcome to the world, Joe. You having a good time, Joe?"