Joe Biden’s presumptive U.S. presidential campaign is already facing its first crisis. Former congressional aide Amy Lappos told the Hartford Courant on Monday that Biden touched her inappropriately, including rubbing noses with her, at a political fundraiser in 2009. The allegations follow an essay for The Cut by former Nevada Democratic legislator Lucy Flores in which she said the former vice president behaved inappropriately toward her at a campaign event in 2014.
"It wasn’t sexual, but he did grab me by the head," Lappos said. "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."
The allegations echo Flores' experience, which she described in her essay, published Friday. "I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified," Flores wrote. "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."
Flores said that while she’s not suggesting the encounter qualified as sexual harassment or as a criminal act, it was still out of line for the vice president to touch her, a relative stranger, in such an intimate way while in a professional setting.
In a statement responding to Flores' essay on Sunday, Biden said that he didn’t believe he had acted inappropriately, but that he will listen to women’s experiences. "In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support, and comfort," he 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." His team has not addressed Lappos' allegations.
No one has been exactly shocked at the charges against Biden. In fact, it has been somewhat of an open secret that good, ol' "Uncle Joe" has behaved creepily throughout the years — from whispering into women's and girls’ ears to kissing them in a similar manner to the way Flores said he kissed her. His camp alleges that some of the photos of him with women have been taken out of context — a point that was supported by Stephanie Carter, the wife of former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. In a Medium essay published Sunday, Carter wrote that a photo of Biden putting his hands on her shoulders was a moment between close friends, and that it has been misinterpreted. Flores responded to this by saying that unlike Carter, she didn't have an existing relationship with Biden when he allegedly invaded her personal space.
Several Democratic presidential candidates have said they believe Flores. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Biden “needs to give an answer” about the incident, while 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.” Julián Castro said that the American people must decide whether the allegations should disqualify Biden, while Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said it’s crucial to take these types of allegations seriously. Sen. Bernie Sanders said that he has "no reason not to believe Flores," who is a supporter of his, and that the incident speaks to "the need to fundamentally change the culture of this country." He did, however, add that he's "not sure that one incident alone disqualifies anybody."
Both women said that their experiences with Biden felt like an unwelcome invasion of their personal space, one that should not be acceptable. "The transgressions that society deems minor (or doesn’t even see as transgressions) often feel considerable to the person on the receiving end," Flores wrote in her essay. "That imbalance of power and attention is the whole point — and the whole problem."