Former Vice President Joe Biden joked twice about having permission to touch people on Friday during his first public appearance since several women alleged he made them uncomfortable in encounters over the years.
After his speech at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Construction Conference in Washington, DC, Biden also said that while he was sorry he didn’t understand more about the how his behavior made women feel, he made clear he was not apologizing for any of his intentions, telling reporters, “I am not sorry for anything that I have ever done — I’ve never been disrespectful, intentionally, to a man or a woman.”
Biden’s comments were the most direct response so far to allegations he made women feel uncomfortable with the way he touched them. Lucy Flores, a former Nevada assemblywoman, penned an essay last week detailing a 2014 encounter during which the former vice president made her feel “uneasy, gross and confused” when he came up from behind her and kissed the back of her head. Several women have since come forward with similar stories about Biden.
Biden used humor during his speech on Friday in reference to the allegations. After being introduced by IBEW president Lonnie Stephenson, Biden told the crowd, “I just want you to know. I had permission to hug Lonnie.”
Biden returned to the subject with another joke midway through his remarks — after inviting a group of children at the event up onto the stage, Biden put his arm around one of the kids and said to laughs, “By the way — he gave me permission to touch him.”
Speaking to reporters after his speech, Biden said it wasn’t his intent to “make light of anyone’s discomfort.”
Biden addressed the allegations in a video released on Twitter Wednesday, but his remarks Friday were the first time he’s referenced the subject in public.
In Wednesday’s video, Biden said, “I’ve never thought of politics as cold and antiseptic. I’ve always thought it about connecting with people, as I said, shaking hands, hands on the shoulder, a hug, encouragement, and now, it’s all about taking selfies together. You know, social norms have begun to change, they’ve shifted, and the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset, and I get it, I get it.”
“I hear what they’re saying, I understand it, and I’ll be much more mindful, that’s my responsibility. My responsibility, and I’ll meet it,” he said.
Flores responded to Biden’s video, writing that she was “glad” that he “acknowledges that he made women feel uncomfortable,” but also pointing out he hasn’t apologized for his behavior.
“Given the work he has done on behalf of women, Vice President Biden should be aware of how important it is to take personal responsibility for inappropriate behavior,” Flores wrote, “and yet he hasn’t apologized to the women he made uncomfortable.”
Biden told reporters Friday he “wouldn’t be surprised” if other women come forward with allegations he made them uncomfortable, but he noted that he has had “hundreds and hundreds of people contact me who I don’t know and you know, say the exact opposite.”
Biden and his team are dealing with the allegations of unwanted touching as they prepare to make an announcement on his 2020 plans this month. Asked if the allegations will change the way he campaigns, Biden said it would.
“Well, I think it’s going to have to change somewhat how I campaign. It’s just like, you know, the new thing is selfies — everyone wonders why I take the selfie,” he said. “So they don’t put it on Instagram. So it’s not put on — I mean, if I have the camera, at least I make sure it’s a photo and I’m not doing something else, because you know, you have to wonder what everything is being used for. And so it’s all changed.”
Asked about when he is going to get into the race, Biden said his lawyers have told him he has to be careful about what he says because he doesn’t want to “start the clock ticking and change my status.”
“I am very close to making the decision to stand before you all relatively soon,” he said.
When a reporter asked him what the hold up was, Biden responded, “Putting everything together, man. Putting everything together.”