A total of seven women have come forward with accusations of inappropriate behavior, with three of them speaking out after former Vice President Joe Biden responded to the previous allegations in a video posted to Twitter Wednesday.
Sitting cross-legged in a leather seat, Biden didn’t offer an apology but addressed the “gestures of support and encouragement that I’ve made to women and some men that have made them uncomfortable.”
The gestures the women recalled include inhaling the hair of former Nevada lawmaker Lucy Flores and kissing the back of her head; rubbing noses with former political aide Amy Lappos; resting his hand on the thigh of sexual assault survivor Caitlyn Caruso during an event on sexual assault at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and hugging her “just a little bit too long”; and, last but most likely not least, dropping his hand down the back of writer D. J. Hill at a fundraising event in Minneapolis.
On Wednesday, after Biden pledged to be “more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space,” three more women accused him of inappropriate behavior, as reported by the Washington Post. Vail Kohnert-Yount was a White House intern when, she said, Biden introduced himself to her in the basement of the West Wing and “put his hand on the back of my head and pressed his forehead to my forehead while he talked to me.”
Kohnert-Yount in a statement said, “I was so shocked that it was hard to focus on what he was saying. I remember he told me I was a ‘pretty girl.’”
Sofie Karasek met Biden at the Oscars along with a group of 50 sexual assault victims who appeared onstage with Lady Gaga. Karasek said that after the ceremony, she decided to share with Biden, who introduced Gaga’s performance, a story about a college student who’d committed suicide after being sexually assaulted, and, as reported by the Washington Post, “Biden responded by clasping her hands and leaning down to place his forehead against hers.”
The third women, Ally Coll, was a Democratic staffer working at a reception when she was introduced to Biden, who, she said, “leaned in, squeezed her shoulders and delivered a compliment about her smile, holding her ‘for a beat too long,’” the Washington Post reported.
No men have come forward, but all of the women have said Biden’s unwanted behavior wasn’t sexual but made them uncomfortable.
“Social norms have begun to change,” Biden said in his video response. “They’ve shifted, and the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset. And I get it.”
Biden is leading the 2020 Democratic pack in polls though he hasn’t officially announced his bid. He was expected to announce his run later this month.
After Flores suggested Biden be disqualified from running for president, a number of women came to his defense, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“He has to understand in the world that we’re in now that people’s space is important to them,” she said Tuesday, “and what’s important is how they receive it and not necessarily how you intended it.”
“I've always tried to make a human connection,” Biden said in his video. “That’s my responsibility, I think. I shake hands, I hug people. I grab men and women by the shoulders and say, ‘You can do this.’ And whether they’re women, men, young, old, it’s the way I’ve always been.”
“It’s the way I've tried to show I care about them and I’m listening,” he added.
After Biden’s response, actress and #MeToo activist Alyssa Milano, who rallied against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when he was accused of sexual assault, tweeted her support for Biden, writing, “My friend, Joe Biden” along with his video statement.
Joe Biden “is not a pervert or sexual harasser,” wrote Ana Navarro-Cárdenas, conservative co-host of “The View.” “Good he put out this video. Good he ‘gets it.’ I don’t know about everyone, but I’m done, done, done with this.”
Eric Holder, former attorney general under President Barack Obama, also lauded Biden’s response, calling it on Twitter a “genuine - appropriate - expression of determination to change by a great public servant. A stark contrast to another who occupies high office in our nation.”
In an effort to explain his actions, Biden in his video referenced personal tragedies he had suffered, like the loss of his first wife and baby daughter in a 1972 car crash and the death of his adult son Beau to brain cancer in 2015.
“Over the years, knowing what I’ve been through, the things that I’ve faced, I found that scores, if not hundreds of people come up to me and reached out for solace and comfort, something, anything that may help them get through the tragedy they’re going through. And so it’s just who I am.”
Biden, who in a previous statement said “not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately,” repeated that he is listening but defended his way of “connecting with people.”
“I hear what they’re saying, I understand it,” he said. “But I’ll always believe governing, quite frankly — life, for that matter — is about connecting, about connecting with people. That won’t change, but I will be more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space. And that’s a good thing.”
The accusations have not only led to questions of Biden’s fitness to lead a progressive Democratic Party into 2020, but also gave legs to claims that the 76-year-old is behind the times of the #MeToo movement — an accusation Biden rejected.
“I’ve worked my whole life to empower women,” said Biden.” I’ve worked my whole life to prevent abuse. So the idea that I can’t adjust to the fact that personal space is important, more important than it’s ever been, is just not thinkable. I will.”
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