NEWS
06/04/2019 07:23 BST

The Growing Scandal Threatening To Derail Joe Biden's Bid For The Presidency

Biden is still the favourite to win the Democratic nomination.

Joe Biden’s highly-anticipated and hotly-tipped run for president in 2020 is threatening to derail even before it has officially begun, after seven women have  now accused him of touching them in ways that made them uncomfortable.

The former vice president has said he does not believe he ever acted inappropriately towards women but will “listen respectfully” to suggestions he did, the Press Association reports.

“The boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset and I get it. I get it. I hear what they’re saying,” Biden said in the two-minute video posted on Twitter.

“I will be much more mindful, and that’s my responsibility,” he said. “I’ve worked my whole life to empower women. I’ve worked my whole life to prevent abuse.”

The stories that Vail Kohnert-Yount, Sofie Karasek and Ally Coll shared with The Washington Post bore similarities to those of the four women who went public before them.

Kohnert-Yount said she was introduced to Biden in 2013 when she was a White House intern. Biden “put his hand on the back of my head and pressed his forehead to my forehead while he talked to me,” Kohnert-Yount recalled of the encounter, adding that the then-vice president had called her a “pretty girl.” 

Kohnert-Yount said she believes Biden’s intentions had been good and that she did “not consider my experience to have been sexual assault or harassment.”

“But,” she noted, “it was the kind of inappropriate behavior that makes many women feel uncomfortable and unequal in the workplace.” 

Biden, who is deciding whether to join the 2020 presidential race, released a new statement in response to allegations from a Nevada politician that he kissed her on the back of the head in 2014 and made her feel 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,” he said.

“If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.”

In the US, the former vice president is leading polls for the Democratic nomination and over on these shores he’s still best-remembered for for his jokey demeanour and bromance with Barack Obama which sparked thousands of memes.

But throughout Biden’s decades-long public career, there have been photos and videos that appear to show questionable contact with women, including Biden kissing a senator’s wife on the lips and whispering into a girl’s ear and then kissing her cheek as she appears to pull away.

As Biden considers launching a presidential campaign for 2020, these accusations of awkward or inappropriate contact are adding up, complicating his legacy of championing women’s rights and support for sexual assault survivors.

Amid the Me Too movement, there has also been renewed criticism of Biden’s handling of law professor Anita Hill’s testimony during the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Clarence Thomas.

Biden has previously expressed regret for the treatment Hill received at the time, although Hill has called this insufficient because he did not directly address his own role in the matter.

Late last month, Biden again offered up a non-apology on Hill, saying at an event in New York that he wished he “could have done something” to prevent attacks she faced after her sexual harassment allegations against Thomas, who was confirmed.

The then-Democratic senator from Delaware and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, did not allow testimony from other women who had similar allegations or could corroborate Hill’s allegations against Thomas.

So far the brewing scandal has not fatally damaged his standing in polls – despite a crowded field of Democratic hopefuls he is still way out in front with only Bernie Sanders anywhere near.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
Former Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the First State Democratic Dinner in Dover, Delaware last month.

And a clue to who Donald Trump views as his biggest competition for the top job came on Tuesday during a speech a fundraising dinner for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

In wide-ranging remarks that meandered for more than 80 minutes but often circled back to the 2020 race, Biden was the only potential rival Trump mentioned by name, Reuters reports.

Trump told the dinner, which raised $23 million for Republicans running for the House of Representatives, a story about wanting to kiss a general he met in Iraq who had promised an expedient end to a campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria.

“I said, ‘General: come here and give me a kiss.’ I felt like Joe Biden,” Trump said, drawing laughter and applause.

Trump struggled during his 2016 run for office with multiple accusations of unwanted sexual contact from women, particularly after videotaped remarks emerged of Trump bragging about groping women.

Biden, while campaigning for Trump’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, had said he would like to take Trump “behind the gym” to beat him up for the comments.

The president continued to mock Biden on Thursday, posting an edited version of his apology video on Twitter with the caption: “WELCOME BACK JOE!”

In the edited version, created by a pro-Trump Twitter user with the handle Carpe Donktum, a cutout of Biden creeps into the shot, appearing to smell the real Biden’s hair from behind. (A Patreon page linked to Carpe Donktum describes the person behind it as a “stay at home dad” with “time to pursue my passions,” which apparently include creating memes.)

Some women have spoken up in defense of Biden, including actress and sexual assault survivor Alyssa Milano and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Monday that, although she did not believe the allegations of inappropriate touching disqualified Biden from campaigning for the presidency, he should apologise and “understand [that] in the world we live in now, people’s space is important to them.”