In the last week, a total of four women have accused former vice-president Joe Biden of inappropriate contact. The first allegation was made last Friday by former Nevada lieutenant governor nominee Lucy Flores, who wrote in the Cut that Biden kissed her head at an event for her 2014 campaign: “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.”
Three days later, Amy Lappos told the Hartford Courant that in October 2009, while volunteering at a fundraiser in Greenwich, Connecticut, for Representative Jim Himes, Biden also touched her inappropriately. “It wasn’t sexual, but he did grab me by the head,” Lappos told the Courant. “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.”
Today, the New York Times published the accounts of two young women who allege that Joe Biden touched them in an inappropriate manner:
Caitlyn Caruso, a former college student and sexual assault survivor, said Mr. Biden rested his hand on her thigh — even as she squirmed in her seat to show her discomfort — and hugged her “just a little bit too long” at an event on sexual assault at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. She was 19.
Ms. Caruso, now 22, said she chalked up the encounter at the time to how men act, and did not say anything publicly. But she said it was particularly uncomfortable because she had just shared her own story of sexual assault and had expected Mr. Biden — an architect of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act — to understand the importance of physical boundaries.
“It doesn’t even really cross your mind that such a person would dare perpetuate harm like that,” she said. “These are supposed to be people you can trust.”
The Times also published the account of D.J. Hill, a writer who met Biden in 2012 at a fundraising event in Minneapolis:
“When she and her husband, Robert, stepped up to take their photograph with the vice president, he put his hand on her shoulder and then started dropping it down her back, which made her “very uncomfortable.”
Her husband, seeing the movement, put his hand on Mr. Biden’s shoulder and interrupted with a joke. Ms. Hill did not say anything at the time and acknowledged that she does not know what Mr. Biden’s intention was or whether he was aware of her discomfit.
“Only he knows his intent,” she said. But norms are changing now, she said, and “if something makes you feel uncomfortable, you have to feel able to say it.”
At this point, prominent Democrats have attempted to stay fairly neutral on the matter. “I don’t think it’s disqualifying,” Nancy Pelosi said in an interview with Politico. “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 and not necessarily how you intended it.” And on Sunday, prior to the second allegation by Amy Lappos, Bernie Sanders said he had “no reason” to doubt Lucy Flores’s allegation, and that he was “not sure that one incident alone disqualifies anybody.” (According to Axios, some of Biden’s advisers believe Sanders is “at least partly behind the anti-Biden campaign.”)
Kirsten Gillibrand weighed in with a little more force, although she stopped short of calling the Flores allegation disqualifying: “Lucy Flores felt demeaned and that’s never okay. And if vice-president Biden decides to run for president this is something he’s going to have to address directly with the American people.” Other Democratic senators, like Dianne Feinstein and Joe Manchin, defended the former VP. Feinstein called Biden “a warm, tactile person. He reaches out and he touches and it’s like this and that. It’s hardly sexy.” Feinstein claimed it’s “a new thing that people have been affronted by it. Over 25 years I’ve never seen that before.”
It’s unclear how the additional allegations will change senators’ responses to Biden’s behavior, or how it will affect Biden’s own response. On Sunday, responding to Flores, Biden said in 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. But it was never my intention.”