Over the weekend we were treated to the beginnings of a ruthless Democratic primary as former Vice President Joe Biden began taking incoming fire over past behavior on the campaign trail in 2014. Lucy Flores, the 2014 Democratic nominee for Nevada lieutenant governor, in an op-ed which dropped on Friday of last week, accused Biden of inappropriately kissing her head and touching her shoulders before a campaign event the two were attending in Nevada.
NBC News gives us some more background on the story:
In a New York magazine piece published Friday, Lucy Flores, the 2014 Democratic nominee for Nevada lieutenant governor, said that before a campaign event where Biden was set to campaign for her and other Democratic candidates, the then-vice president approached her from behind, placed his hands on her shoulders, smelled her hair, and gave her an uncomfortable kiss on the back of the head.
“I felt him get closer to me from behind,” Flores wrote. “He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified. I thought to myself, ‘I didn’t wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it. And also, what in the actual f—? 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. I was shocked. I was confused.”
That’s… strikingly similar to some of the things that Biden has been caught on camera doing. In fact, what Flores describes in her op-ed his Biden’s signature move, and it’s been documented. This isn’t even the first time he’s taken public flack for it, but it’s the first time he’s considering a run for higher office since winning with Barack Obama in 2012.
On Sunday, Biden addressed the issue with a statement on how he viewed the incident in question:
Former Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday addressed an allegation that he inappropriately kissed a Nevada candidate for statewide office in 2014, saying in a statement that “not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately.”
“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. 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,” he said. “And I will. 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. 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.”
Notably, there’s no denying that the embrace or “hug,” as Biden may be calling it, ever took place. There were probably enough people around waiting backstage at a busy campaign event to corroborate Flores’ claims.
It’s no coincidence this story drops days or weeks before Biden is expected to launch a campaign for the 2020 Democratic nomination, but this certainly complicates things. In fact, it’s rather obvious that some other campaign (or campaigns) is working to damage Biden before he even gets in the race as a means to, perhaps, dissuade him from even pulling the trigger.
Some Democrats, however, are willing to let this one go:
When asked about the allegation on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said, “Certainly one allegation is not disqualifying, but it should be taken seriously.”
What if it’s not one allegation? Would it take two allegations, or three for Durbin to say this disqualifies Biden from the nomination? With the four decades Biden has spent campaigning for various offices, is it not possible that a few more female staffers or candidates from around the country could be coaxed out to make a similar statement?
Naturally, Biden’s 2020 opponents latched on to Flores’ article:
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Saturday said former Vice President Joe Biden needs to provide an answer to allegations he inappropriately touched a Nevada politician at an event in 2014.
“I read the op-ed last night,” Warren said in Iowa on Saturday. “I believe Lucy Flores. And Joe Biden needs to give an answer.”
At the same event in Iowa, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro told reporters he too believed Flores and added, “we need to live in a nation where people can hear her truth.”
When asked whether Warren thought Biden should stay out of the 2020 campaign as a result of Flores’ allegation, she demurred to voters:
Asked by a reporter if the allegations should bar the Biden from entering the 2020 Democratic race, Warren responded, “that’s for Joe Biden to decide.”
Pushed further if it disqualifies any male candidate accused of inappropriate behavior from running, Warren said the final decision will be up to the voters.
“That is their decision whether or not to run, and it’ll be up to Democratic voters whether or not to support someone. That’s the process.”
Bernie Sanders also chimed in to say that while he believes Flores’ statement, it doesn’t disqualify Biden from a 2020 run:
“I have no reason not to believe Lucy and I think what this speaks to is the need to fundamentally change the culture of this country,” Sanders told CBS’ Margaret Brennan Sunday. “And to create environments where women feel comfortable and feel safe and that’s something we’ve got to do.”
“I think that’s a decision for the vice president to make,” replied Sanders. “I’m not sure that one incident alone disqualifies anybody. But her point is absolutely right that this is an issue not just of Democrats and Republicans, the entire country has got to take seriously. It is not acceptable that when a woman goes to work or is any kind of environment that she feels anything less than comfortable and safe. And this is an issue the entire country has got to work on.”
This story will continue to develop since Flores has gone public and already done a television interview which puts a face with the allegations. Biden had better work out a thorough and measured to response to this or his campaign will be derailed before it even leaves the station.
If Democratic voters are soured on Biden over this kind of behavior, it might be a short campaign for him. He’s been leading in national polls, but he’s not putting up big enough numbers to absorb this type of campaign scandal before the campaign begins.
It’s worth noting that Flores has been supportive of Bernie Sanders in prior election years and even traded endorsements with him. It’s entirely plausible that she’s coming out with her story now to push Biden out of the race which would definitely help Bernie who is nipping at Biden’s heels according to most primary polls.