On Friday, a former Democratic nominee for Nevada lieutenant governor, Lucy Flores, wrote a first-person essay describing an incident in 2014 when then-vice president Joe Biden touched and kissed her from behind in a way that made her uncomfortable. On Sunday morning, Biden released a statement defending his actions, saying he did not believe he acted inappropriately. “It was never my intention,” Biden said.
Flores was a 35-year-old on the campaign trail in Nevada when Biden offered to come to one of her rallies to help boost voter turnout. While waiting on the side of the stage, Flores said that the vice president came up to her from behind, put his hands on her shoulders, leaned in close to smell her hair, and then kissed the back of her head.
“I couldn’t move and I couldn’t say anything,” Flores, a former member of the Nevada Assembly, wrote in New York Magazine’s the Cut. “I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me.”
Flores said the incident made her feel powerless. “He stopped treating me like a peer the moment he touched me,” she wrote. “Even if his behavior wasn’t violent or sexual, it was demeaning and disrespectful.”
On Friday, Biden’s spokesperson, Bill Russo, said that “Neither then, nor in the years since, did [Biden] or the staff with him at the time have an inkling that Ms. Flores had been at any time uncomfortable, nor do they recall what she describes.”
Biden’s statement Sunday did not directly address Flores’s claims, but denied that he ever intended to make anyone uncomfortable. “In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately,” Biden said.
“I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear. But 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,” he said.
In response to Biden’s statement, Flores told Jake Tapper on Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union that the vice president was missing the point. “I’m glad that he’s clarifying his intentions. Frankly, my point was never about his intentions,” she said.
Flores said she came forward in part because of past allegations against Biden that hadn’t been taken seriously. “If he’s saying that he never believed that was inappropriate, then frankly I think that’s a little bit of a disconnect,” Flores said.
Flores told BuzzFeed News on Sunday morning that she has not been contacted by Biden or his team since she published her essay. Biden did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Biden’s political career has in many ways been defined by his advocacy to end sexual violence against women. As vice president, Biden was a champion for addressing the problem of sexual assault on college campuses, and in 1994, he helped write the Violence Against Women Act.
But Flores’s story is not the first time that the former vice president has faced allegations of touching women inappropriately. In 2015, Biden was on camera squeezing a woman reporter around her waist from behind. The same year, during the swearing-in ceremony for defense secretary Ash Carter, Biden put his hands on the shoulders of Carter’s wife, Stephanie, and then leaned in close to whisper in her ear. The behavior has occurred so frequently that New York Magazine dubbed him “the president of Awkwardly Whispering in Women’s Ears.”
On Sunday morning, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway addressed the recurring allegations against the former vice president.
“If anybody just types in ‘Creepy Uncle Joe Videos’ you come up with a treasure trove,” Conway said. “I think Joe Biden has a big problem here because he calls it affection and handshakes, his party calls it completely inappropriate.”
Flores decided to speak publicly after rumors of Biden’s potential run for president in 2020. “Hearing Biden’s potential candidacy for president discussed without much talk about his troubling past as it relates to women became too much to keep bottled up any longer,” she wrote in the Cut.
On the campaign trail, Democratic candidates for president expressed support for Flores’s claims. “I believe Lucy Flores,” Elizabeth Warren said at a campaign event in Iowa.
Democratic candidate Julián Castro also stated that he believed Flores. “We need to live in a nation where people can hear her truth,” Castro said. Asked if Biden should still consider running for president, Castro said, “He’s going to decide whether he’s going to run or not. And then the American people, if he does, will decide whether they support him or not.”
Ruby Cramer contributed reporting to this story.