Woman in viral shoulder-hug photo defends Biden

Dylan Stableford
Senior Writer

Stephanie Carter, the wife of former Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, is coming to Joe Biden’s defense amid claims the former vice president touched and kissed a woman inappropriately at a political event in 2014. Carter says a viral photo showing Biden touching her the following year was taken out of context.

The photograph shows the vice president with his hands on Stephanie Carter’s shoulders, possibly whispering into her ear, during her husband’s swearing-in ceremony on Feb. 17, 2015.

In a Medium post published Sunday, Carter said Biden did nothing inappropriate. The former vice president, who is weighing a presidential run, has been on the defensive over an alleged incident at a political event in 2014. Lucy Flores, who was a candidate for Nevada lieutenant governor, claims Biden approached her from behind and kissed the back of her head without her permission.

Vice President Joe Biden talks to Stephanie Carter as her husband, Ash Carter, (not pictured) delivers his acceptance speech at the White House as the new secretary of defense on Feb. 17, 2015. (Photo: Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Flores said Sunday she “felt invaded” and described the episode as “a violation of my personal space” but that she does not consider it a sexual assault or harassment, or that Biden had “a bad intention.”

In a statement, Biden said he does not recall his encounter with Flores but does not believe he ever “acted inappropriately.”

“Let me state upfront that I don’t know [Flores], but I absolutely support her right to speak her truth and she should be, like all women, believed,” Stephanie Carter wrote. “But her story is not mine. 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 said that on the day of her husband’s swearing-in, she slipped on ice and fell outside the Pentagon. Arriving at the White House, she was “self-conscious and tentative” about the fall when a reporter asked her if she was doing all right. Biden “could sense I was uncharacteristically nervous,” Carter wrote, “and quickly gave me a hug.”

Carter delivers his acceptance speech at the White House in 2015 as Biden and his wife look on. (Photo: Gary Cameron/Reuters/File)

And as her husband was giving remarks, Biden leaned in to tell her “thank you for letting him do this” and “kept his hands on my shoulders as a means of offering his support.”

But according to Carter, a still shot taken from a video “misleadingly extracted from what was a longer moment between close friends” and “came to be the lasting image of that day.”

In an essay published by New York magazine on Friday, Flores said that as she was waiting to take the stage at a political rally in Las Vegas in 2014, she “felt two hands on my shoulders.”

She wrote: “I found my way to the holding room for the speakers, where everyone was chatting, taking photos, and getting ready to speak to the hundreds of voters in the audience. Just before the speeches, we were ushered to the side of the stage where we were lined up by order of introduction. As I was taking deep breaths and preparing myself to make my case to the crowd, I felt two hands on my shoulders. I froze. ‘Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?’

“I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified,” she continued. “I thought to myself, ‘I didn’t wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it. ... Why is the vice-president of the United States smelling 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.”

In subsequent interviews, Flores said she decided to go public now because Biden is considering a presidential bid and she wanted to force Democrats to confront his inappropriate behavior as he decides to run for the White House.

“It’s so easy to Google ‘Creepy Biden’ and you get all these compilations of pictures and video evidence of young women and women looking very, very uncomfortable,” she told Politico. “When I started to see pictures of him behaving in the same way he did with me and with other women, it was very triggering.”

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