House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters Monday that two accusations of inappropriate touching against former Vice President Joe Biden do “not at all” disqualify him from running for president in 2020.
Asked if the pair of allegations disqualify Biden from seeking the White House, Pelosi, making her way into the House chamber, replied: “I don’t think that this disqualifies him from being president. Not at all.”
The longtime California Democrat would not comment on whether the #MeToo claims could hinder a possible run by Biden.
Pelosi’s remarks followed reports that a then-congressional aide to Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) accused Biden of unwantedly rubbing his nose against hers during a fundraiser in Connecticut a decade ago. “It wasn’t sexual, but he did grab me by the head,” 43-year-old Amy Lappos, Biden’s second accuser, told The Courant on 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,” she said.
Biden on Sunday defended his interactions with women, saying he doesn’t believe he’s ever acted inappropriately. However, a Nevada politician’s assertion that the former vice president’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, who was first to accuse Biden of inappropriate touching, highlighted an aspect of his 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.
Appearing Sunday on CNN’s The Lead, Flores affirmed the former vice president’s treatment of woman was “disqualifying” for a presidential candidate. She told host Jake Tapper:
For me this isn’t the only problematic thing, I think his response in the way in which he handled the Anita Hill hearing was completely inappropriate and lacked empathy and frankly lacked accountability, saying he wishes there was something more he could have done. I think it’s again, a complete lack of accountability. You were the chair, you were the chair of that hearing, and you could have done anything you wanted. In addition to previous anti-abortion positions that he’s taken, et cetera, I find a lot of his background problematic.
In an apparent response to Flores’ remarks, Biden said it was never his intention to make women feel discomfort and if he did so, “I will listen respectfully.” He said:
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.
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.
Biden spokesman Bill Russo issued another statement addressing the controversy surrounding photos of the possible 2020 candidate interacting awkwardly with women, characterizing some of the images as “smears and forgeries.”
“The Vice President has issued a statement affirming that in all the many years in public life that he has shaken a hand, given or received a hug, or laid his hand on a shoulder to express concern, support; or reassurance, he never intended to cause discomfort,” said Russo. “He has said that he believes that women who have experienced any such discomfort, regardless of intention, should speak and be heard, and that he will be among those who listen.”
“But the important conversation about these issues are not advanced, nor are any criticisms of Vice President Biden validated, by the continued misrepresentation of the Carter and Coons moments, or a failure to be vigilant about a cottage industry of lies,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Democratic primary has sped on without Biden, with more than a dozen candidates in the race, including a record number of women and minorities. Veterans like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have shown surprising strength, while newer White House hopefuls like Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.