It’s not hard to find pictures of Joe Biden getting very friendly with the people he meets, including images of the former vice president hugging and even kissing constituents and supporters.
But a 2014 incident recounted Friday by Nevada politician Lucy Flores has revived scrutiny of Biden’s interactions with women. Flores said Biden made her feel “uneasy, gross, and confused” after he kissed her on the back of the head during a campaign event when she was running for lieutenant governor.
Then in a Monday Hartford Courant report, a Connecticut woman said Biden touched her inappropriately and rubbed noses with her during a 2009 political fundraiser.
“It wasn’t sexual, but he did grab me by the head,” Amy Lappos said. “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.”
A spokeswoman for Biden declined to respond to Lappos’ allegations.
Biden issued a statement in response to Flores’ comments on Sunday.
“In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support, and comfort,” Biden said. “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.”
In response to Flores’ allegation, the two most powerful women in the Delaware General Assembly say Biden has always been respectful to women in their presence.
“I’ve knocked doors with him, stood outside grocery stores, been at events, taken pictures with him, and I’ve not once felt he ever presented himself in a different manner than was respectful to me,” said Democratic House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst of Biden, who represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate from 1973 to 2009.
Longhurst described Biden as “very personable.”
“Joe Biden’s the type of guy you don’t feel like he’s a politician,” she said. “He’s your best friend and you’ve known him forever.”
As for Flores, Longhurst said, “I wasn’t there, so I didn’t see it. I’ve never seen that and I’ve been around him for a long time.”
Senate Majority Leader Nicole Poore, also a Democrat, said she has known Biden for decades, since working with the former vice president and his wife on their breast health initiative.
“I cannot speak of any inappropriate actions, but I never want to take the voice away from anyone,’’ Poore said of Flores.
Delaware Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long has campaigned with Biden multiple times over the years.
“I am a nurse who is very comfortable with people and I have not had anything unusual or that ever made me feel uncomfortable,” said Hall-Long, also a Democrat. “People love him, to make eye contact and talk to him. He’s a classic retail politician. I’ve never seen anybody better.”
Erik Raser Schramm, chairman of Delaware’s Democratic Party, said in a statement Monday that Flores “deserves our empathy and attention.”
“The discomfort that is palpable in her recent accounting of a 2014 interaction with Vice President Biden is not only valid, it’s vital for us to discuss openly, publicly, and honestly,” Schramm said.
“We know Joe well and we know he has dedicated much of his public life to fighting for equality and women’s rights,” he added. “That makes it all the more significant that he continue to use his stature as one of our nation’s leaders to invite this important dialogue.”
Biden’s critics also point to his interaction with Delaware U.S. Sen. Chris Coons’ daughter during a 2015 swearing-in ceremony in Washington, D.C.
In a photo from the event, then-13-year-old Margaret Coons appears to pull away from Biden as he leans in to whisper in her ear just after her father was sworn in.
Coons said there was nothing inappropriate about the conversation, and that Biden was praising his daughter’s composure and offering to connect Margaret with Biden’s daughter.
“She did not think of it as anything,” Coons said. “All three of my kids have known Joe their whole lives.”
A 2015 photo of Biden placing his hands on the shoulders of Stephanie Carter, wife of former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, and whispering into her ears has also been cited as evidence that he crosses boundaries and makes women uncomfortable. But Carter wrote a post on Sunday denying that.
“After the swearing in, as Ash was giving remarks, [Biden] leaned in 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 wrote. “But a still shot taken from a video — misleadingly extracted from what was a longer moment between close friends — sent out in a snarky tweet — came to be the lasting image of that day.”