WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden has a reputation for being a good retail politician who likes shaking hands, kissing babies and giving hugs. But his overly familiar style is getting new scrutiny in the #MeToo era.
It started with former Nevada State Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, who accused Biden of awkwardly smelling her hair and kissing the back of her head as he was standing behind her in preparation to go on stage for a 2014 campaign event. That was followed by a smattering of other accusations of inappropriate touching by three more women.
While these stories are news because Biden is contemplating a 2020 run for president, these stories are not new. It’s not hard to find photos and videos of the former vice president cheekily stroking someone’s hair or putting his hands on a woman’s shoulders. In D.C., people have been joking about this for years.
But his old-school political style is now being re-examined in a modern era where respecting a woman’s personal space is a recognized issue. That’s somewhat in conflict with the political reality that Biden is topping the early 2020 polls, even before he's technically announced.
Other 2020 Democratic hopefuls and the party don’t want to damage the person who might have the best chance of beating Donald Trump, so Democrats who are being asked about Biden are choosing their words carefully.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who is the de facto leader of the party until there's an official Democratic candidate for president, told Politico Tuesday that she doesn’t believe Biden’s actions are “disqualifying.”
“He has to understand in the world that we're in now that people's space is important to them, and what's important is how they receive it and not necessarily how you intended it," she said.
For some progressive voters, Biden's actions will turn them off from him. Especially when you couple it with his support of the 1994 crime bill and his treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings. But in trying to figure out where the disqualification line is, it’s unlikely that the other 2020-ers or Pelosi or the party is going to make his touchiness a litmus test, especially if Biden is the best guy to beat the current president.
This segment originally aired April 2, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.