WASHINGTON - Former Vice President Joe Biden issued a video statement Wednesday after multiple women have come forward to accuse him of inappropriate contact.
“I’ve never thought of politics as cold and antiseptic,” he said in the statement posted on Twitter. “I’ve always thought it about connecting with people, as I said, shaking hands, hands on the shoulder, a hug, encouragement, and now, it’s all about taking selfies together. You know, social norms have begun to change, they’ve shifted, and the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset, and I get it, I get it. I hear what they're saying, I understand it, and I'll be much more mindful, that’s my responsibility. My responsibility, and I’ll meet it, but I’ll always believe governing quite frankly -- life, for that matter, is about connecting, about connecting with people.
“That won’t change, but I will be more mindful and respectful of people's personal space, and that's a good thing, that's a good thing,” he added. “I’ve worked my whole life to empower women. I've worked my whole life to prevent abuse, I've written, and so the idea, that I can't adjust to the fact that personal space is important, more important than it's ever been, is just not thinkable. I will. I will.”
Social norms are changing. I understand that, and I’ve heard what these women are saying. Politics to me has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That’s my responsibility and I will meet it. pic.twitter.com/Ya2mf5ODts— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) April 3, 2019
Since former Nevada lawmaker Lucy Flores has come forward to accuse Biden of kissing her on the back of the head in 2014, more women have said Biden made them uncomfortable in an interaction with him. Flores made the allegation in an essay published Friday on The Cut.
The Hartford Courant reported Amy Lappos posted on a Facebook page Sunday that Biden rubbed noses with her during a 2009 political fundraiser. Lappos was working as a congressional aide to Rep. Jim Himes of D-Connecticut.
“It wasn’t sexual, but he did grab me by the head,” Lappos told The Courant Monday. “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.
“I never filed a complaint, to be honest, because he was the vice president. I was a nobody," Lappos said. “There’s absolutely a line of decency. There’s a line of respect. Crossing that line is not grandfatherly. It’s not cultural. It's not affection. It's sexism or misogyny.”
Lappos told The New York Times she came forward after seeing the treatment Flores received.
A representative for Biden initially referred The Courant to a statement he issued Sunday in response to Flores’ allegation.
“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,” the statement said. “If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention. I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear. 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.”
On Tuesday, two women told The New York Times they felt uncomfortable when Biden interacted with them.
Writer D.J. Hill said she became “very uncomfortable” when Biden put his hand on her shoulder and dropped it down her back at a 2012 fundraiser in Minneapolis. Hill, 59, said her husband saw the interaction and interrupted, putting his hand on Biden’s shoulder and making a joke.
Caitlyn Caruso, a former college student and sexual assault survivor, said Biden put his hand on her thigh while she was at an event on sexual assault at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas when she was 19.
“He uncomfortably physically affectionate, left his hand on my thigh, maybe in an attempt to console me, but regardless, it crossed my boundaries and made me feel uncomfortable,” Caruso, now 22, told Univision News.
Vail Kohnert-Yount told The Washington Post she was working as a White House intern in 2013. She was asked to step aside when exiting the West Wing so Biden could enter.
“He then put his hand on the back of my head and pressed his forehead to my forehead while he talked to me. I was so shocked that it was hard to focus on what he was saying. I remember he told me I was a ‘pretty girl,’” Kohnert-Yount told The Post.
“I do not consider my experience to have been sexual assault or harassment,” Kohnert-Yount said. “But it was the kind of inappropriate behavior that makes many women feel uncomfortable and unequal in the workplace.”
Sofie Karasek told The Post she was one of 51 sexual assault victims who appeared onstage at the Oscars with Lady Gaga in 2016. Biden was there to introduce Gaga’s performance.
After the performance, Karasek met Biden and shared a story about a college student and sexual assault survivor who died of suicide. Biden responded by holding her hands and leaning down, putting his forehead against hers. The moment was captured in a photo that was covered by The Washington Post.
“He had a really emotional reaction,” Karasek said in an interview, The Post reported at the time. “I was surprised.”
Karasek told The Post on Wednesday she was appreciative of Biden’s support, but she felt Biden crossed into her personal space and made her feel awkward and uncomfortable. She said he “still didn’t take ownership in the way that he needs to” in the video statement.
“He emphasized that he wants to connect with people and, of course, that’s important, but again, all of our interactions and friendships are a two-way street,” she said. “Too often it doesn’t matter how the woman feels about it or they just assume that they’re fine with it.”
Ally Coll said she was helping run a reception while working as a Democratic staffer during the 2008 election cycle. She said she introduced herself to Biden, who leaned in, squeezed her shoulders and complimented her on her smile. Coll said Biden held her “for a beat too long,” The Post reported.
Coll said Biden’s video statement showed “a continued lack of understanding about why these stories are being told and their relevance in the #MeToo era.”
Editor’s note: This story has been edited to include more women who said Biden made them feel uncomfortable before he issued his video response.