Former Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday defended his interactions with women, saying he doesn't believe he's ever acted inappropriately.
But a Nevada politician's assertion that Biden's kiss on the back of her head made her feel uncomfortable prompted some Democrats to question whether the 76-year-old is too out of step with his own party to run a successful 2020 presidential campaign.
The episode, recounted by Democrat Lucy Flores, highlighted an aspect of Biden's persona that has been publicly known for years: the affectionate whispers, hugs and shoulder squeezes he has long doled out to women, often on camera and at high-profile public events.
In a moment of national reckoning over sexual harassment and the treatment of women by powerful men, some Democrats said Biden's actions have taken on a new light.
"It looks different in 2019," said Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist. Cardona said that while Biden's behavior is not automatically disqualifying for the presidency, "it all depends on how he continues to respond to this. He has to acknowledge that his behavior made some women uncomfortable."
In a statement on Sunday, Biden said it was never his intention to make women feel discomfort and if he did so, "I will listen respectfully."
Several women who worked for Biden stepped forward over the weekend to vouch for his character. And Stephanie Carter, the wife of former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, disputed characterizations of her interactions with Biden during her husband's swearing-in ceremony.
Pictures of the then-vice president whispering in Carter's ear and placing his hands on her shoulders ricocheted across the internet at the time.
"The Joe Biden in my picture is a close friend helping someone get through a big day, for which I will always be grateful," Carter wrote in a post on the website Medium.
Flores' account of the 2014 incident comes at a crucial moment for Biden. He's been wrestling for months with a final decision on whether to run for president, blowing through several self-imposed deadlines. Advisers are now eyeing an announcement later in April.
But the Democratic primary has sped on without him, with more than a dozen candidates in the race, including a record number of women and minorities. Veterans like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have shown surprising strength, while newer White House hopefuls like California Sen.
Kamala Harris and Texan Beto O'Rourke have drawn big crowds and displayed early fundraising prowess.
Biden still leads most early polls, buoyed by broad name recognition and the goodwill he generated during eight years as President Barack Obama's No. 2. Given his experience and appeal with white working-class voters in Midwestern battleground states, he's also seen by some Democrats as the best-positioned candidate to defeat President Donald Trump.
Nancy Bobo, an Iowa activist who was among Obama's earliest supporters in the state, shares that view. She fears the episode with Flores suggests Democrats may try to tear down their most-qualified candidate.
"I can just see what's coming at him," Bobo said. "And it's going to come at him from the Democrats." None of Biden's potential rivals defended him following Flores' allegations.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she believed Flores and that Biden "needs to give an answer" about what occurred. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said, "Lucy Flores felt demeaned, and that is never okay.
If Vice President Biden becomes a candidate, this is a topic he'll have to engage on further." Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said, "I believe it's important to listen and take seriously any incident like this."
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Flores was "quite bold" to "go up against the highest levels of her political party" with the allegations and suggested that Biden should consider apologizing to Flores.
Conway deflected questions about the numerous women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, allegations he denies.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)