A woman whose photograph with Joe Biden has been used by critics as evidence that the former vice president has a history of inappropriately affectionate behavior came to the potential 2020 presidential candidate's defense on Sunday.
When Stephanie Carter attended her husband Ash Carter's swearing-in as secretary of Defense at the Pentagon in February 2015, photographers captured an image of Biden leaning toward her with his hands on her shoulders and his face pressed close behind her right ear.
That image, and several others captured over the years, have been used by Biden's detractors to depict the former vice president as "creepy Uncle Joe" on social media and in mocking memes.
Start the day smarter: Get USA TODAY's Daily Briefing in your inbox
That depiction became more problematic for Biden last week after Lucy Flores, a former Nevada assemblywoman, described an incident in an article for New York magazine where she said Biden made her uncomfortable when he put his hands on her shoulders, smelled her hair and gave her a "big slow kiss" on the back of her head at a political rally in 2014.
"In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection," Biden said in a statement on Sunday. He said he didn't recall the incident but doesn't think that he ever "acted inappropriately."
Carter said Flores' story had rekindled interest in the photo of her and Biden.
"Last night, I received a text from a friend letting me know that picture was once again all over Twitter in connection to Lucy Flores’ personal account of a 2014 encounter with Joe Biden," Carter said Sunday in a post on Medium titled "The #MeToo Story That Wasn’t Me."
"Let me state upfront that I don’t know her, but I absolutely support her right to speak her truth and she should be, like all women, believed. But her story is not mine," Carter said of Flores. "The Joe Biden in my picture is a close friend helping someone get through a big day, for which I will always be grateful. So, as the sole owner of my story, it is high time that I reclaim it – from strangers, Twitter, the pundits and the late-night hosts."
Carter recalled the day in detail, saying she was "uncharacteristically nervous" and that she slipped and fell on ice when they arrived at the Pentagon. She said Biden leaned toward her as her husband spoke "to tell me 'thank you for letting him do this' and kept his hands on my shoulders as a means of offering his support."
She recalled her horror as the photo, "misleadingly extracted from what was a longer moment between close friends," became "the lasting image of that day." She said she "felt awful" that Biden's kindness was being used as "supposed proof positive that he didn’t understand how to respect women."
"I thought it would all blow over if I didn’t dignify it with a response. But clearly that was wishful thinking," Carter wrote. "I won’t pretend that this will be the last of that picture, but it will be the last of other people speaking for me."
Carter is likely correct that the picture, particularly in light of Flores' allegation, will continue to haunt Biden as he decides whether or not to enter the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Several of his potential primary opponents have said they believe Flores and that Biden's behavior will ultimately be judged by the voters.
On Sunday, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said Flores, a Democrat, was "very bold to come forward" with her story and "go up against the highest levels of her own political party."
"I think Joe Biden has a big problem here," Conway said on "Fox News Sunday." While he may dismiss it as "affection and handshakes," in the #MeToo era Democrats find such behavior "completely inappropriate," she said.
Conway pointed to the allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination was almost "derailed" by "folks who had no evidence of what had allegedly happened 34 years ago." By contrast, "If anybody just types in 'Creepy Uncle Joe videos' you come up with a treasure trove" of "evidentiary information," she said.
Fox News host Chris Wallace pointed out that "there are women who have said much worse about your boss, President Trump, in terms of touching them inappropriately."
Conway said those allegations were covered "ad infinitum during the campaign" before turning the conversation back to Biden and the Democrats who "have to really grapple with what's going on in their own party with a man who was vice president of the United States until two years ago."
Even if Biden was only being friendly, his "intent is only partly or maybe not at all, relevant here. It's really how that woman felt. She feels that it was unwelcome," Conway said. She also slammed Biden for not apologizing to Flores.
"Why didn’t he do that? They never apologize to the individual," Conway said.
The allegations against Biden come amid #MeToo, a movement started nearly a decade ago that went viral in 2017 as women in Hollywood and across the country began sharing stories of sexual harassment and assault. It’s led to the resignation or 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.
More than a dozen women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct over the years, including eight women who have accused him of forcibly kissing them. Trump has denied the allegations. 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. The president has said that was "locker-room banter."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wife of ex-Defense secretary defends Biden, says viral photo of them used 'misleadingly'