Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is said to be considering a third bid for the presidency, on Sunday finally addressed an allegation that has rattled his campaign-in-waiting and has overshadowed other ongoing storylines in the 2020 race to be the Democratic nominee.
“In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort," he wrote in a statement issued by his communications team. “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.”
The statement is the latest in response to an allegation from Lucy Flores, a former member of the Nevada State Assembly and the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014, who wrote in a first-person essay on Friday that Biden had kissed her on the back of her head without her consent, prior to a speech she gave at a campaign rally he attended.
Flores, who discussed her allegations Friday with The Daily Beast, appeared on CNN Sunday. While she was waiting to deliver her remarks at the rally, Flores told Jake Tapper, “very unexpectedly, and out of nowhere, I feel Joe Biden put his hands on my shoulders, get up very to close to me from behind, lean in, smell my hair, and then plant a slow kiss on the top of my head.”
Bill Russo, a spokesperson for Biden, initially issued a statement saying that the former vice president did not recall any such incident happening but that he respected Flores and her right to share this story. It was not until Sunday morning that Biden himself responded, issuing a statement of his own.
“I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear,” Biden continued. “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.”
Biden continued by saying that he would work hard to advocate for women and try to learn things from different vantage points.
“I will also remain the strongest advocate I can be for the rights of women. I will fight to build on the work I’ve done in my career to end violence against women and ensure women are treated with the equality they deserve,” the statement said. “I will continue to surround myself with trusted women advisers who challenge me to see different perspectives than my own. And I will continue to speak out on these vitally-important issues where there is much more progress to be made and crucial fights that must be waged and won.”
The accusation arrived at a perilous moment for Biden as the political world awaits a decision about a prospective run, with an announcement possibly coming next month. It also comes on the heels of the 76-year-old expressing regret for the way in which he handled confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, another key moment in his decades-long career that will again become a key point in the campaign.
“To this day I regret I couldn’t come up with a way to get her the kind of hearing she deserved,” he said of Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment and was the subject of sexist attacks herself as a result.
In the absence of a fully operational and running campaign, Biden has not been able to counter negative headlines with policy speeches or newsworthy moments from the trail.
Instead, a number of allies have raised questions about Flores’ account, even as she has remained steadfast in her telling of the story.
Cristobal Alex, the former president of Latino Victory Fund, wrote in a statement on Friday night that his alleged conversation with Flores about the incident, recounted in her first-person essay, was misrepresented.
“I had no idea that she felt this way until her call a few weeks ago,” Alex, who is reportedly set to work for a Biden campaign said. “Lucy should absolutely share her story. But please don’t misrepresent me.”
Additionally on Saturday, Henry Munoz, co-founder of the Latino Victory Project and the organizer of the 2014 rally in question, issued a statement in which he said there did not appear to be evidence of Flores and Biden ever being alone together.
“These are both individuals that I love and respect, and who have been supported by and who have supported the organization I co-founded to lift Latinx candidates,” he wrote. “Yet at no time were these two leaders alone together and I, and the organization I cofounded and those in attendance, do not believe that circumstances support allegations that such an event took place.”
Flores has responded by saying that she never contended that she was alone with Biden.
While Biden waits to formally join the presidential contest, his potential opponents have not held back about the controversy.
“I believe Lucy Flores, and Joe Biden needs to give an answer,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) told reporters in Iowa on Saturday. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro echoed that sentiment as well. And on Sunday, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper addressed the claim during an interview on "Meet the Press."
“I don't know all the details, but I think that's why we have an election,” he said. “But certainly it's very disconcerting. Women have to be heard and we should start by believing them.”
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway on Sunday said Biden’s behavior towards women puts him at odds with Democratic primary voters.
“He calls it affection and handshakes, his party calls it completely inappropriate,” Conway said in a Fox News Sunday appearance.
“If anybody just types in ‘Creepy Uncle Joe’ videos, you come up with a treasure trove,” Conway added. “It’s quite bold for her to go up against the highest levels of her political party.”
—Will Sommer and Victoria Albert contributed to this story