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Joe Biden makes light of unwanted touching allegations: 'I had permission to hug Lonnie'

Former vice president still weighing 2020 run

Andrew Buncombe
Friday 05 April 2019 13:09 BST
Joe Biden jokes about inappropriate touching

Joe Biden has appeared to make light of allegations of unwanted physical contact, by twice claiming in a speech he “had permission to hug” people he put his arms around on stage. One of them was a child.

In his first public appearance since several women came forward with allegations of unwanted physical contact, the 76-year-old Democrat, who is still weighing up a 2020 presidential run, failed to directly address the accusations, other than with two purported jokes.

“I just want you to know. I had permission to hug Lonnie,” the former vice president said to widespread laughter, as he spoke in Washington DC before a largely male crowd at the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers, and was introduced by the union’s president, Lonnie Stephenson.

Later, according to TPM, Mr Biden subsequently made a similar “joke”, when he invited on stage a handful of children who had been running through the convention centre where the event was being held.

He shook their hands before putting his arm around the nearest boy. “He gave me permission to touch him.”

Mr Biden would likely be among Democratic favourites were he to decide to launch what would be his third run for the White House.

While he has said he has “95 per cent” decided to run, he will face questions about his age, his record on race relations and accusations – long talked about in Washington DC – of his awkward and uninvited physical interactions with women. Many nickname him “Creepy Joe’.

At least four women have recently come forward to accuse Mr Biden of such behaviour – Lucy Flores, a Democrat who served in the Nevada State Assembly, former congressional aide Amy Lappos, Caitlyn Caruso and DJ Hill. All said he either touched them or hugged them in a way that made them uncomfortable.

Joe Biden says he 'will be more mindful about respecting personal space'

Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by two-dozen women when he ran in 2016, has used the allegations to mock Mr Biden, going as far as to tweet a doctored video showed the former vice president appearing to put his hands on his own shoulders.

Asked on Friday, whether he considered Mr Biden a threat, Mr Trump replied: "No, I don’t see Joe Biden as a threat. No. I don’t see him as a threat. I think he’s only a threat to himself."

This week, Mr Biden sought to draw a line under the controversy by issuing a statement claiming he did not remember ever acting inappropriately, but saying that other people may remember events differently.

He also posted a video saying he would be more respectful and mindful of personal space.

“Social norms have become to change, they’ve shifted. And the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset. And I get it,” he said in the video.

“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.”

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