The Slatest

It’s Starting to Seem Like Maybe Joe Biden Is Not Going to Handle This Well

Biden, seen from the side, speaks into a microphone against a dark background.
Biden speaks at an event in Dover, Delaware, on March 16. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

On Friday, a Nevada politician named Lucy Flores wrote that prospective presidential candidate Joe Biden smelled her hair and kissed her head, making her feel “uneasy, gross, and confused,” before she spoke at a rally in 2014. In response, Biden’s spokesman said in a statement that Biden did not recall doing what Flores said he did and didn’t have an “inkling” that she’d been uncomfortable during their interaction. The spokesman then issued a later statement under Biden’s name:

One of the organizers of the 2014 event in question released a statement as well, asserting that Flores and Biden had never been alone there; Biden’s spokesman also referred to the rally in his initial response as a “well-attended public event,” which could be read to imply skepticism that anything scandalous could have happened without being noticed at the time. Which is odd, because Flores’ original description of the incident made clear that there had been other people around when Biden touched her. None of the statements included an apology to Flores, or even a direct acknowledgement that she’d been made to feel uncomfortable.

On Monday a former congressional aide named Amy Lappos told the Hartford Courant that she’d also had a run-in with Biden that she found off-puttingly intimate:

“It wasn’t sexual, but he did grab me by the head,” Amy Lappos told The Courant 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.”

Biden hasn’t addressed Lappos’ account, but on Tuesday morning well-sourced Axios reporter Mike Allen wrote that the former veep’s “advisers” believe that “rival Democrats,” particularly Bernie Sanders, are responsible for the coverage of his alleged handsiness. Allen reports that Biden has told supporters that he is still going “full steam ahead” with his 2020 plans and that, according to “one prominent [Biden] backer,” he is ready to “kill Bernie.”

So, the outlines of an initial strategy are being sketched: When accounts like Flores’ and Lappos’ come out, Team Biden is going to rhetorically acknowledge that women have the right to discuss their experiences—but they’re not going admit to any wrongdoing, and then they’re going to try to undermine the women’s credibility by subtly questioning their memories and motives.

This isn’t necessarily an approach that’s electorally stupid in the short term, given Biden’s popularity with older voters who are more inclined to believe that the #MeToo phenomenon has “gone too far.” But it also seems more likely to alienate other Democrats than an alternative approach of, say, preemptively admitting to having sometimes made some women uncomfortable in a way that now provides the occasion for, you know, learning and growing. The latter approach would particularly make sense given that even progressive women who are generally critical of Biden haven’t been arguing that his treatment of Flores on its own is enough to make him unfit for office. Still, political campaigns (and people in general) don’t always think clearly when they perceive themselves as being under attack—and, historically, “what Joe Biden should say” and “what Joe Biden does say” aren’t always categories that overlap.