In an essay for New York Magazine's website The Cut, Lucy Flores told a story about a campaign event involving Joe Biden in 2014. At the time, Flores was running for lieutenant governor of Nevada and the vice president agreed to speak at an event on her behalf. Shortly before she was set to go on stage, Flores says the vice president approached her.
As I was taking deep breaths and preparing myself to make my case to the crowd, I felt two hands on my shoulders. I froze. “Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?”
I felt him get closer to me from behind. 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 fuck? 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. There is a Spanish saying, “tragame tierra,” it means, “earth, swallow me whole.” I couldn’t move and I couldn’t say anything. I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me. My name was called and I was never happier to get on stage in front of an audience.
Flores acknowledged she did not know the vice president's intent, but stated, "Even if his behavior wasn’t violent or sexual, it was demeaning and disrespectful."
I’m not suggesting that Biden broke any laws, but the transgressions that society deems minor (or doesn’t even see as transgressions) often feel considerable to the person on the receiving end. That imbalance of power and attention is the whole point — and the whole problem.
Biden's camp was quick to respond to Flores' story, saying the vice president did not believe he had done anything untoward to Flores or any other woman. Per CNN:
In his statement, Biden said that he did not recall those moments in the same way. But he added: "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."
Biden also pledged to continue to be a strong advocate for women and equality, nodding at his work in the Senate to end violence against women.
Supporters of the former vice president defended his character and behavior, telling the New York Times he was a consistent, dependable ally to women.
“I have often been asked what it was like to work in the U.S. Senate (a famously all-male environment) in the early- to mid-1990s,” said Cynthia Hogan, who worked for Mr. Biden as a congressional aide and was his counsel when he was vice president, in an email Sunday. “I can happily answer that my experience was wonderful BECAUSE I was lucky enough to work for Joe Biden, who had promoted several women, including me, to leadership roles on the staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and who treated us with respect and insisted that others do the same.”
Amanda Loveday, a longtime Biden supporter in South Carolina, said, “We all express emotion in our own ways, and Joe Biden’s has always been with gratitude and respect.”
Biden's habit of touching women in a way many deem overly familiar is well-documented. His casual nature has actually been seen as a boon on the campaign trail, where he is seen as "more real" than other politicians. However, as the HuffPost notes, his behavior does not always seem as innocent as his supporters would argue.
His behavior also had more patronizing undercurrents. A big part of his act was remarking on the attractiveness of women, young and old. He would comment on how pretty young women were and warn their fathers to keep the guys away.
...[I]t’s clear some people were uncomfortable. The teenage daughter of Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), for example, visibly cringed and pulled away when Biden whispered in her ear and kissed her on the head.
One woman featured in a viral photo of Biden, which has been flagged as appearing especially lecherous, wrote on Medium that the picture was not at all what it seemed. According to Slate, Stephanie Carter, the wife of a former Obama cabinet member, believes the picture has been taken completely out of context. Carter says Biden was helping ease her nerves on a stressful day, not behaving inappropriately.
“Let me state upfront that I don’t know [Lucy Flores], but I absolutely support her right to speak her truth and she should be, like all women, believed,” Carter wrote in her essay, “The #MeToo Story That Wasn’t Me.” “But her story is not mine. The Joe Biden in my picture is a close friend helping someone get through a big day, for which I will always be grateful.”
According to Carter, she had slipped on some ice and fallen earlier in the day while visiting Arlington National Cemetery. When she and her husband went to the White House for the swearing-in ceremony, she was feeling “self-conscious and tentative (not a normal state for those who know me) about the fall — and perhaps about how much our life might change,” she wrote. Biden, she said, could sense she was nervous. He hugged her and placed his hands on her shoulders. In the moment captured in the photo, she said, he leaned in and whispered, “Thank you for letting him do this.”
The whole encounter was simply a show of support from an old friend, she wrote. “But a still shot taken from a video — misleadingly extracted from what was a longer moment between close friends — sent out in a snarky tweet — came to be the lasting image of that day.”
Biden's behavior in photo shoots is not his only characteristic that has raised eyebrows and hackles. Biden, the New York Times reports, has recently had to answer for his behavior as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Anita Hill hearings.
In an emotional speech, Mr. Biden said he recognized the part he played in the aggressive questioning that Ms. Hill faced during the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Justice Clarence Thomas, when she testified that Justice Thomas had sexually harassed her.
“She faced a committee that didn’t fully understand what the hell this was all about. To this day, I regret I couldn’t give her the kind of hearing she deserved,” he said, at an event in New York City honoring students who helped fight sexual violence on college campuses. “I wish I could have done something.”
But many, including Anita Hill herself, say Biden's response is far too little too late. Hill told the HuffPost that Biden disregarded her testimony and refused to hear all the witnesses she offered.
“There were three women who were ready and waiting and subpoenaed to be giving testimony about similar behavior that they had experienced or witnessed. He failed to call them,” Hill said. “There also rwere experts who could have given real information as opposed to the misinformation that the Senate was giving ... and helped the public understand sexual harassment. He failed to call them.”
Biden's distancing himself from his responsibility for the vitriolic questioning Anita Hill faced, has led many to question his commitment to women's rights.