Joe Biden releases video pledging to be ‘more mindful’ of respecting ‘personal space’
Move was most extensive effort yet by Biden to quell furor ahead of likely presidential nomination bid
Former US vice-president Joe Biden has attempted to tamp down a controversy over allegations of unwanted physical contact with women, releasing a video in which he pledged to be “more mindful” of respecting “personal space.”
The move marked the most extensive and personal effort yet by Mr Biden to quell the furore ahead of a likely bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. An announcement is expected later this month.
In recent days, four women have said Mr Biden made them feel uncomfortable when he touched them at political events in past years.
“The boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset and I get it. I get it. I hear what they’re saying,” Mr Biden said in the two-minute video posted on Twitter.
“I will be much more mindful, and that’s my responsibility,” he said. “I’ve worked my whole life to empower women. I’ve worked my whole life to prevent abuse.”
After a former Nevada politician, Lucy Flores, said last week that Mr Biden made her feel “uneasy, gross, and confused” when he kissed the back of her head at a 2014 campaign event, Mr Biden released a statement saying he believed he never acted inappropriately during his many years in public life.
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
Three more women followed suit with similar complaints. Mr Biden’s political team has tried to contain the damage, encouraging women who have known him to come forward with positive accounts of their interactions with him.
Ms Flores could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday. She supported US Senator Bernie Sanders during his 2016 Democratic presidential campaign. Mr Sanders is running again, and his campaign has denied any involvement in her going public with her story.
There was no immediate response to Mr Biden’s statement from leading Democratic contenders. US Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren and former congressman Beto O’Rourke, among others, have expressed sympathy for Mr Biden’s accusers and have said they deserve to be heard.
President Donald Trump poked fun at Mr Biden on Tuesday over the allegations. On Wednesday, the Republican president, who during his 2016 campaign faced multiple accusations from women of unwanted sexual contact, wished his potential rival luck, saying it was up to Biden to decide if he should apologise.
But his propensity for hugging and physical touching has come under new scrutiny in the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp as awareness about sexual assault and harassment has grown and damaged the careers of dozens of men in politics and entertainment accused of sexual misconduct.
Sources close to Mr Biden told Reuters that preparations for a run had not been slowed by the controversy. “I don’t think there is anything to change the work we are doing,” one source connected to the putative campaign said. Another source who has been in contact with Biden’s team said the flap over his personal conduct had been anticipated. Both sources asked not to be named in order to speak freely about the campaign.
A top Biden donor, New York attorney James Kreindler, said his support of Mr Biden had been unshaken by the controversy. Dick Harpootlian, a prominent lawyer in Democratic Party circles in South Carolina, added he did not think it would harm Mr Biden’s bid. Public opinion polls have consistently shown Mr Biden to be atop the 2020 field, which features more than a dozen candidates. There is yet to be any evidence that he has suffered lasting political damage from the accusations. Tracy Sefl, a Democratic strategist in Chicago and former adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, said Mr Biden’s supporters were largely familiar with his public persona and unlikely to desert him over the issue.
The challenge for Mr Biden if he does mount a run, Ms Sefl said, was to appeal to voters who may be more sceptical about his behaviour. She suggested he place women in high-profile roles within his campaign as one way to send a signal he is adapting to the times. She also encouraged him to talk about his work supporting causes such as the Violence Against Women Act, which Mr Biden sponsored while in the Senate.
She recalled witnessing Mr Biden speaking in support of the legislation as vice-president. “He was as emotional as any woman in that room,” Ms Sefl said. “I want to see that should he be a candidate.”–Reuters